People who were overly criticized growing up usually display these 9 behaviors (without realizing it)

Lucas Graham by Lucas Graham | June 19, 2024, 12:08 pm

Everyone has heard the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Yet, this old saying doesn’t always ring true.

Words can indeed hurt, particularly when they come in the form of constant criticism during our formative years.

Frequently, those who were heavily criticized as children tend to develop certain behaviors in their adulthood without even realizing it.

The following article is about understanding these behaviors.

It’s about peeling back the layers to see how early experiences with criticism have shaped them.

1) They’re perfectionists

Sometimes, the echoes of criticism from the past can manifest as a constant strive for perfection in adulthood.

Overly criticized individuals often set unrealistically high standards for themselves in an attempt to avoid the sting of criticism they faced as children.

This perfectionism can seep into every aspect of their lives – from their professional performance to personal relationships, they are constantly trying to meet an unattainable standard.

Often, these individuals believe that if they do everything perfectly, they can finally escape the disapproval they felt growing up.

But this is a self-defeating cycle, as no one can achieve perfection all the time.

Unfortunately, this behavior is not always easy to recognize or address.

Perfectionism may seem like a positive trait on the surface but it often masks a deeper struggle with self-worth and acceptance.

2) They apologize excessively

This is something I’ve personally experienced and can attest to.

Individuals who grew up under a barrage of criticism often develop a habit of apologizing too often, even when there’s no need for an apology.

I remember a time when I was in college, and a classmate bumped into me accidentally.

Instead of him apologizing, I found myself saying sorry.

This wasn’t an isolated incident.

Over time, I realized that I was always the one saying sorry, even when it wasn’t my fault.

It was as if I was pre-emptively trying to diffuse any potential criticism.

This pattern of excessive apologizing is a common behavior among those who were overly criticized in their younger years.

It’s like we’re constantly trying to smooth things over, to keep the peace and avoid any possible conflict or judgement.

It’s important to remember that not everything requires an apology.

3) They struggle with decision making

Making decisions, big or small, can be a daunting task for those who were heavily criticized as children.

The fear of making a wrong choice and inviting criticism can lead to indecisiveness.

Individuals who experienced excessive criticism in childhood often show a higher level of indecisiveness in adulthood.

This behavior isn’t just about choosing between major life decisions like career paths or relationships.

It can extend to everyday choices like deciding what to wear or what to order at a restaurant.

The fear of potential criticism can make these decisions feel overwhelming.

But becoming aware of this pattern is the first step in learning to trust oneself and make confident decisions.

4) They have a hard time accepting compliments

Compliments are meant to make us feel good about ourselves.

They’re a recognition of our efforts, achievements, or simply our being.

However, for someone who was constantly criticized as a child, receiving compliments can be a confusing and even uncomfortable experience.

This is because they’re so used to hearing negative feedback that they don’t know how to process positive remarks.

They may dismiss compliments, downplay their achievements, or even suspect that there’s an ulterior motive behind the praise.

Understanding this behavior can go a long way in building their self-esteem and helping them accept positivity from others.

Remember, it’s okay to accept compliments graciously and believe in them.

5) They’re overly defensive

When criticism becomes a constant part of one’s childhood, it’s not surprising that the individual develops a strong defense mechanism.

Being overly defensive is a common behavior in those who were heavily criticized growing up.

These individuals may feel the need to justify their actions or decisions constantly, even when they’re not being judged or criticized.

It’s as if they’re always prepared for an attack, always ready to defend themselves.

The key is recognizing that not every situation requires a defense.

It’s important to understand that everyone makes mistakes and it’s okay to admit them.

Being defensive all the time can be mentally draining and can stand in the way of personal growth.

6) They often feel inadequate

Growing up with constant criticism can leave deep emotional scars, one of the most profound being a pervasive sense of inadequacy.

Despite their accomplishments, these individuals often feel like they’re not good enough.

It’s heartbreaking to see someone who is talented and capable, but they can’t see it themselves because their self-perception has been clouded by the criticism they faced in the past.

They may struggle to recognize their worth and constantly compare themselves to others, feeling like they always fall short.

It’s crucial for these individuals to understand that their worth is not defined by the criticisms they received as children.

We all have unique strengths and talents that make us valuable.

Recognizing this is a crucial step towards healing and self-acceptance.

7) They avoid confrontation

Conflict is a natural part of human relationships.

But for those who were overly criticized as children, confrontation can be a source of immense discomfort and anxiety.

I remember avoiding difficult conversations at all costs, even if it meant sacrificing my own needs or feelings.

This avoidance didn’t just apply to explosive arguments or heated debates.

It extended to simple disagreements or expressing differing opinions.

I was so afraid of displeasing others and inviting criticism that I often stayed silent.

However, avoiding confrontation doesn’t make the problems disappear, it only delays the inevitable.

It’s essential to learn to navigate conflicts in a healthy and respectful manner, expressing our thoughts and feelings without fear of criticism or judgement.

8) They have a high sensitivity to criticism

It’s only natural for someone who was heavily criticized as a child to develop a heightened sensitivity to criticism.

They may perceive negative feedback, even if it’s constructive and well-intentioned, as a personal attack.

This sensitivity can make them overreact to criticism or become overly upset by it.

This behavior can strain their personal and professional relationships, as they struggle to accept feedback and improve.

It’s important for these individuals to understand that not all criticism is harmful.

Constructive criticism can help us learn, grow and become better versions of ourselves. 

9) They’re often people-pleasers

The desire to avoid criticism can often lead individuals to become people-pleasers.

They go to great lengths to keep others happy, often at the expense of their own needs and desires.

This behavior stems from their fear of disapproval or rejection.

They believe that by always accommodating others, they can avoid the criticism they so fear.

But it’s crucial to understand that it’s impossible to please everyone all the time.

Constantly suppressing one’s own needs for the sake of others can lead to resentment and emotional exhaustion.

It’s important to balance consideration for others with self-care and assertiveness.

Learning to say ‘no’ when necessary is a fundamental part of this process.

It’s a journey

Understanding human behavior, especially behaviors stemming from experiences of excessive criticism during childhood, is a complex process.

These patterns aren’t just habits that can be switched off at will.

They are deeply ingrained responses developed over years of coping with harsh criticism.

It’s essential to remember that change takes time and involves a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance.

This journey may be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to break free from the shackles of the past and embrace one’s true potential.

At the end of the day, we are not defined by the criticisms we faced in our childhood.

We have the power to define ourselves by who we choose to become.