What We Can Learn From How We Criticize Others

Do you ever find yourself having strong judgemental feelings towards someone? Sometimes we can pinpoint our strong emotions to a certain characteristic or behaviour in that person. Other times it makes no logical sense.

The next time you feel confused about your critical reaction towards someone, reflect on this:

That critical voice is a road map to your own insecurities!

It's possible that what we criticize or dislike in others is a clear window into what we are critical about or dislike most in ourselves.

Sometimes our critical voice even points to the 'shadows' of our psyche, or what we feel embarrassed or ashamed about.

In this post we will discuss:

The process through which our critical voice actually reflects how we feel about ourselves

The role of the shadow self in how we criticize people

What we can learn from how we criticize others

Let's get right into it.

Our Critical Voice Is A Mirror

What we criticize in  others can reveal our own insecurities and how we feel about ourselves. How does this work?

Criticism of others is often a defence mechanism to avoid confronting our own shortcomings.

It is easier to criticize others than to look within and admit that perhaps we are engaging in a similar behaviour.

Our minds and bodies want to protect us from discomfort. Projecting our insecurities, fears, guilt, or embarrassment onto others gives us an external focus, which is less likely to cause any real distress.

An interesting exercise you can engage in is observing what you notice about other people first. Where does your attention go? We are more prone to noticing faults in others that we are struggling with ourselves.

The Shadow Self Guides Our Critical Voice

The shadow self gives us a way to conceptualize that critical voice and understand its roots.

What Is The Shadow Self?

We tend to protect ourselves from thoughts, behaviours, and urges we consider dangerous or incompatible with our values. It is easier to deny something we don't like than confront it. What we reject, or deny (knowingly or unknowingly) form our shadow selves.

Shadow self: The desires, impulses, instincts, emotions, weaknesses, and perversions we have pushes down, or repressed. These are hidden from our conscious awarenessThe elements of our shadow self often represent the parts of ourselves are we denying, rejecting, or that society will not approve of.

Our shadow self is not necessarily our 'dark side'. It is simply what we do not allow to surface because we feel guilty, ashamed, or inadequate.

Here are a few examples of what our shadow selves might be holding:

- Sexual desires or attraction that is unacceptable (or unrealistic)

- Experiences and desires that make us feel shame

- Experiences and desires that make us feel guilty

- Aggressive impulses

- Irrational wishes

- Jealousy

Strong emotions such as shame, guilt, disgust, and jealously are often a result of what we are harbouring in our shadow selves.

So, how does the shadow self guide our critical voice?

When you find yourself judging or criticizing someone harshly, most likely the hidden desires, feelings, and urges of your shadow self are making themselves known.

For example, if you find yourself being overly critical of someone else's choices, there is a chance that parts of that choice exist in your shadow self. Perhaps they embody something you are not allowing yourself to want, and seeing someone else have it can 'activate' a reaction from our shadow self (i.e. criticism or judgement).

What We Can Learn From How We Criticize Others

You've held up a mirror to yourself, learned about the work of your shadow self...now what? Here are a few key learnings you can apply to our own life and relationships.

1. How We Perceive Others Affects How We Feel About Ourselves

When we think well of others, it can help us feel better about ourselves. A study demonstrated that how positively we see other people is connected to how happy, kind-hearted and emotionally stable we are.

The research team found that if a person was able to describe others in positive terms, it indicated the positivity of that person's own personality. Some of strongest links were between positive judgements of others and:

  • How enthusiastic the person was
  • How happy the person was
  • How kind-hearted the person was
  • How emotionally stable and capable the person described themselves to be

In other words, having positive views of others feeds back into our positive self-image. We can use this knowledge to shift the way we see ourselves!

Practice thinking well of others and see how this changes how you see yourself.

If our external critical voice can reveal our innermost insecurities, our positive voice also uncovers all the wonderful things we have within- it works both ways!

2. Examine Your First Thought Carefully

The first thing you think about a person may be a projection of your own insecurities. This invites us to be curious about our reactions  and even give people a real chance.

For example, if you see someone who is unabashedly their true self and this is off-putting to you...get curious.

We won't click with everyone, and that's fine.

However, is there something about that person triggering you? Perhaps you would like to be courageous enough to not care what others think about you. Seeing someone else embodying the qualities we can't fully commit to may be uncomfortable and leaves us feeling inadequate. To manage this discomfort, we end up criticizing or judging them...essentially we 'other' the person so we can no longer identify with them.

If you recognize the reaction for what it is and gave that person a second chance, you may find they add value to your life and even motivate you to be your true self more often! Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

3. Understanding Our Judgements Of Others Opens The Door To Self-compassion

When we stand in judgement of others, we are often revealing the ways we have been unkind to ourselves.

Criticism of others, when combined with self-reflection, can be an opportunity for increased self-compassion. It's not always easy to be attentive to ourselves this way. Try approaching the parts of you that felt an impulse to judge or criticize someone else with compassion.

This can look like:

  • Self-soothing through deep breathing and self-holding exercises
  • Speaking compassionately to your past self who developed those insecurities
  • Trying to understand yourself without feeling like a 'bad person' or judging yourself harshly

Over To You

It's not easy to look within because what we find there can be uncomfortable. However, learning about ourselves can also be freeing.

Out critical voice may sabotage new connections before they develop into relationships. It can make us feel confused about ourselves and result in a lot of self-judgement: ....am I a bad person for feeling this way?

Understanding what the critical voice points to within us is empowering and gives us the freedom to choose rather than react.

Over to you: If you were to get to the root of your critical voice, what might you find there?

Until next time!

Sarah Ahmed

WellNest Psychotherapy Services