Criticism can be a useful tool when it is used in a healthy way.
But many people struggle to separate negative criticism from helpful, constructive criticism.
Negative criticism is a toxic behavior because it interferes with building and maintaining healthy relationships with other people.
Few people want to be criticized unless they ask for it. Even if they ask for it, there’s a difference between casting judgment and looking to use criticism as a tool to help someone improve.
Being critical of others all the time paints you in an unflattering light. People will see you as a complainer and someone to be avoided, especially when they have good news or feel happy about something. No one wants a perpetual storm cloud floating over them to rain on their sunny day.
Being an unwanted critic is a sure way to find yourself alone or surrounded by other negative, judgmental people. And that’s not a great way to live.
What can we do to stop being critical of others? Let’s look at some steps you can take.
1. Identify when you are projecting onto another person.
The judgments that we cast on others are often a reflection of what we have inside of us. Being critical of others often stems from our own sadness, anger, jealousy, or other difficult emotions.
Maybe someone acts in an irresponsible way by over-indulging in food, alcohol, or risky behavior. You may be critical of them even though you sometimes act in a similar way. It might be that you don’t want to face up to your own irresponsibility, so you turn a blind eye to it and criticize this other person instead.
Or perhaps you are critical of someone who you deem to be playing it safe, lacking ambition, not stepping out of their comfort zone, when these are all labels that you unconsciously apply to yourself but don’t want to admit to.
When you feel the urge to criticize someone, pause for a moment and ask yourself whether the thing you are about to criticize is something that you are projecting onto them, rather than the reality of the situation.
Learn more with this article of ours: How To Spot When You Are Projecting Onto Others
2. Understand that you don’t know how someone thinks or feels.
It’s so easy to look at another person and make snap judgments about their weight, looks, actions, personality, or whatever else.
The problem with those snap judgments is that they often come from our own limited perspective of that person.
The truth is, you don’t necessarily know why that person is the way that they are. And if you are critical of them based on your limited or imagined perspective, you are causing problems for yourself that need not exist.
A person with depression may look at someone smiling and feel anger or disgust. What do they have to be so happy about? Don’t they know how hard life is? How bad things are for a lot of people? How bad are things for someone like me?
The problem with that kind of criticism is that it assumes that the smiling person is happy, carefree, and without problems. That can be so very far from the truth.
Many people put on a smile and get on with their day because that’s just how they survive. Maybe they’re coping with a severe loss that you don’t about. Maybe they’re dying or dead inside from the trauma and pain that life has loaded onto their shoulders. Maybe they’re depressed and heartbroken too, but they still have some energy to put on a smile, so other people don’t ask too many questions.
Or perhaps a friend begins to show less commitment to a friendship and regularly fails to reply to messages promptly or says no to meeting up. It’s easy to think or say that this person is a bad friend or that they’re lazy and boring.
In fact, that friend might be going through something in their life that prevents them from giving as much of their free time and energy to a friendship, even one that is relatively close. That could be family issues, poor health, or financial/work stresses. But if they don’t feel comfortable talking about these things, it’s easy to make up a narrative to explain things.
So, to stop being critical of others, don’t assume you know what’s going on in their lives or minds.
3. Don’t confuse negative criticism with being helpful.
Many people who are too critical or judgmental don’t even realize that’s what they’re doing. They often feel like they are trying to be helpful and motivate others with their criticism.
The problem with that is that people really don’t want unsolicited opinions and advice most of the time. That type of advice is often just met with an eye roll and an “okay” because hey, why would they bother fighting with you about it if they clearly don’t understand what the problem is?
For some people, being rough and speaking your mind is a valuable quality that they would like other people to do for them. But that doesn’t work for everyone. Criticism may not pump up the person or get them motivated to get moving. It may just be a statement of how they aren’t doing things right or in a way you approve of.
Don’t make the mistake of confusing criticism with trying to help. Instead of being critical, try asking, “How can I help you?” That opens the door for the person to ask for advice or help if they need it or turn it down.
A good rule of thumb for life is to never give advice unless you’re asked for it. And even then, it may not be a good idea. Your advice may not go well, and then they will blame you.
4. Identify your jealousy.
Sometimes we are critical of others because we are jealous of them.
Maybe your life has been a bit tough lately, and money’s been tight. So when a friend buys a new car, it can trigger a series of negative thoughts about him:
“How can he afford that? Why does he get to have that, and I don’t? He doesn’t deserve that.”
And in turn, that comes out through snarky, backhanded comments when your friend is just trying to enjoy their new ride.
Or perhaps a co-worker gets a promotion over you and you respond by highlighting all of their flaws to demonstrate how your superiors made a mistake. Only, the decision has already been made and all your criticism serves to do is make your working relationship with that person awkward of downright hostile.
So, to be less critical of others, examine each criticism closely for signs of jealousy. If you find any, you’ll know that your criticism is unfounded and can zip your mouth before it spills out.
5. Accept yourself and your shortcomings.
Some negative criticism of others comes from unhappiness with oneself.
Defusing negativity and practicing greater acceptance with yourself is a reliable way to stop the negative narratives your mind spins about other people.
By practicing kindness and understanding with yourself and your shortcomings, you can more easily extend that same consideration to others.
After all, no one is perfect. If we were to be critical of every little flaw a person has, it’s all we would ever talk about – and it would destroy every relationship we have.
Just remind yourself that you are flawed and you do things that, if they were done by another person, you would probably be critical of.
If you can accept that you do these things and that it’s not always easy to avoid doing them – either through habit or because that’s just who you are – you will have more patience with others and a greater tolerance of them, who they are, and what they do.
6. Assume that other people are doing the best that they can.
Have you ever heard of the term “trauma-informed care”? It’s a principle in mental health care where the assumption is that people generally aren’t working to fail or do bad things.
Instead, they are doing what makes sense to them from the perspective of their life experiences, social experiences, mental health, and abilities.
It’s to look at what a person is doing and act from the perspective that even if they are doing the wrong thing or making bad decisions, they do not do it to be malicious. They’re doing it for reasons that may not be entirely clear or understandable.
And because of that, our actions toward these people should come with care and sensitivity.
People generally don’t set out to fail. They generally don’t set out to not live up to their own expectations, mess up their lives, or do bad things.
Are there malicious people in the world? Absolutely. But most people in the world aren’t malicious, even if they’re doing things that may harm you.
The word “trauma” carries with it a lot of stigma and negative perceptions. Some people think it only applies to terrible circumstances. But the fact of the matter is that everyday experiences can leave a profound, lasting impact on people.
A bad breakup can be enough to keep someone from wanting to show vulnerability to a new partner. Losing a job brings the worry of paying bills, taking care of family, losing a safe place to live, and affording food. Death is always hard, but it’s something we all face, sooner or later.
Trauma-informed care can teach us a lot about how to avoid judgment and stop being critical of others.
Act with the assumption that other people are doing the best that they can with the hand they were dealt with, and you won’t feel it necessary to pass judgment on their lives.
Granted, it’s not perfect. You can’t be a doormat to someone who is acting in a toxic way and just let them walk all over you if they are doing harmful things. But you can avoid letting that negativity fester and occupy your mind rent-free.
All you can ever control are your own actions. Letting go of that judgment and criticism of others is a liberating feeling that can help you be a warmer, more compassionate person for everyone – including yourself.
You may also like:
- How To Accept Others For Who They Are (Rather Than Who You Want Them To Be)
- How To Validate Yourself: 6 Tips For Self-Validation
- 12 Radical Acceptance Coping Statements To Deal With Difficult Situations
- 8 Ways To Not Be Arrogant (And How Confidence Is Different)