We’re all capable of being critical of others. Although it’s important to reign in our judgments and consider what we’re projecting out into the world, criticism is sometimes an involuntary reaction to something that we find upsetting.

However, there is a world of difference between being a little snarky about actions you might disagree with and being so critical of other people that you begin to fail to see the joy, light, and humor in the everyday.

People are vastly different, and, inevitably, we will sometimes have to agree to disagree or perhaps reflect on why we feel such negativity about a situation that (usually!) has very little to do with us.

Let’s run through some of the secret truths that lie behind the bitter facade that consumes people who don’t have a nice word to say.

Why Some People Are Overly Critical of Others

1. They’re on the Defensive

Overly critical people usually have a sensitive, fragile ego and lash out for fear that anything they can’t understand or relate to will crack away at their defenses.

Most of the time, criticism isn’t even a disagreement. It’s not because someone feels angry, upset, or betrayed. It’s because the outcome of somebody else’s decision making in some ways damages, threatens, or chips away at the critical person’s self-esteem.

It’s way easier to be the kind of person who is easily insulted, is constantly virtue signaling, and pointing out what everybody else is getting wrong.

Hence, it is far more challenging to absorb messages that contradict our own thinking, spend time evaluating an alternative opinion, and accepting that our belief systems might not be quite as flawless as we think they are.

Most overly critical people have grown up in an environment of negativity and don’t know how else to react. Kids who are often put down and bullied by parents, peers, or older siblings can associate an argument – even a gentle one – as a direct attack. Therefore, they revert to criticism as a knee-jerk reaction to save themselves from an assault on their delicate ego.

2. Critical People Feel Unworthy of Love

It’s equally challenging to feel empathetic to a person who is constantly critical of others. Still, if you have detachment, patience, and commitment to being a part of this person’s life, it’s essential to recognize that criticism is sometimes a survival method.

As we’ve explored, most critical people ache for compassion and love but associate any contradiction as a challenge that they can only meet with a short, sharp, decisive response.

Criticism itself can be painful. It’s always hard to learn a life lesson or truth about ourselves that cuts to our core. Therefore, many critical people try to control their vulnerability by creating an impenetrable barrier.

Even if that continued, persistent criticism of others is damaging in the long-term, it protects them from being exposed to rejection.

It’s also very common to replicate behaviors we have grown up with, whether they are positive or negative examples. We’ve all heard about cycles of abuse and how we are far more predisposed to harmful and even cruel actions if that has been ingrained in our belief systems from a young age.

It takes courage, passion, and genuine emotional strength to overcome such a cycle. If you care about someone who is constantly critical of others and know they need to work through some issues to resolve this most difficult behavior, you might make a profound difference by sticking it out with them.

3. Most of the Time, It’s Rooted in Jealousy

Another truth that we all know but don’t often articulate. Overly critical people usually don’t genuinely feel hurt by anybody. They deflect negativity from themselves or reflect their own emotions back out as a psychological defense mechanism.

Here are some general examples:

Your friend sees a girl posting beautiful images on social media and feels jealous and unable to compete. They lash out, say she looks cheap, the photos are terrible, and she looks overweight.

That right there is a prime example of the comparison fear that social media instills in so many young people, and how an insecure person reverts to criticism to protect himself or herself from acknowledging that they are just jealous.

A new colleague at work is super friendly, makes a tonne of friends, and seems to pick up a job you’ve struggled with for years in a week. An overly critical person might intimate that they are sucking up to the boss, faking it, cheating, and somehow falsifying their personality or abilities to undermine them.

Again, it’s jealousy, pure and simple. It is always hard to see someone do better, be better, and be received better than you – and the easy solution is to put down that persons’ efforts rather than acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that maybe you have something to learn here.

4. They Lack Emotional Maturity

Superiority feels good. It can even be mistaken for authentic success. But, sometimes, it isn’t real.

Critical people can sometimes be naive or perhaps unrealistic about their own values. That might be because of a disconnection from reality, an inflated sense of self-worth, or perhaps straying into the dark world of narcissism.

Whatever the underlying reason, delusions of superiority mean that critical people can’t relate to how their comments are received and often lack the emotional maturity to take an objective view of the situation to analyze the impact of their behaviors.

Confront an overly critical person, and they might even tell you they’re just trying to help!

The best solution here is to identify the hurt their words have caused and acknowledge that they are trying to help – even in a misguided way. If you can reframe the conversation to be more constructive, it will be beneficial all around.


  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com

Copyright © 2012-2024 Learning Mind. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact us.

power of misfits book banner desktop

Like what you are reading? Subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss new thought-provoking articles!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Kathy

    Thank you for the articles about overly critical persons, the whys and wherefores really gave me insight. I segued (sp?) into related articles as I read. Turns out that I have the book about misfits. 🙂 Just haven`t read it yet. I feel at home reading these posts/blogs and hope to remain connected to this site.

  2. Laura

    My difficulty is a spouse who often (not constantly) criticizes other people, organizations, beliefs, etc., but mostly other people. She makes herself the superior one each time. She sets a high bar that few, if any, can reach. I’m pretty sure that my mentioning it would cause a flood of defensiveness and attack.

    So, the article is helpful until the last paragraph. I cannot identify the hurt because it is others being hurt. I can’t re-frame the conversation because there is no conversation. I have kept myself from saying anything for a long time, but it is getting really old. I’m just not sure addressing it would do any good. Thanks

Leave a Reply