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How to survive a criticising partner or parent

Being criticised is a very common experience that can occur in every relationship, at work, at home or with friends.

In particular, criticising and reproaching a bad conduct may be a natural way of expressing our disapproval for a certain behaviour and our feelings related to it. It is indeed normal to be ourselves sometimes - the ones criticising or being criticised by other people. In the end no one is perfect!
But there are different ways of reproaching.  

A constructive and positive way of reproaching a person is when this relates to a specific behaviour and is supported by reasonable explanations. Moreover, this type of reproach may imply suggestions on how to change and repair the “wrong” behaviour, thus putting ourselves in the shoes of the other person.

On the contrary, sometimes it may occur that the reproach is expressed in a very negative and judgmental way, without expressing what the wrong behaviour is or how it could be fixed. Furthermore, in some instances the reproaching person may shift his or her judgement to the person as a whole instead of criticising the single bad behaviour, which is often followed by a negative emotional response in the criticised person.

Let’s focus on negative criticism. Negative criticism can be defined as a constant, pervasive and repetitive tendency to reproach another person. In particular, criticism in parenting may become a style of relating to children and adolescents (Apparigliato, 2011). As anticipated, the criticising person may show his or her disappointment for a particular behaviour (or the omission of a behaviour) in order to change it, but he/she may not consider the son’s preferences and believes to know what is good and what is not for their son.

Research suggests that high levels of perceived criticism have been linked to higher relapses in depressed and schizophrenic patients, and drop-outs in patients with eating disorders. Plus, parental criticism may develop excessive perfectionism in children, who may try harder than usual to satisfy such high demanding and difficult parents. And perfectionism is a well known anxiety-related feature. 

Given what literature suggests, it can be really distressful to live with such a critical parent or partner, with sometimes negative psychological and self-esteem consequences. In particular, growing up in this type of environment, with a parent (or both) always prone to criticise and demanding to reach their own high personal standards may lead a person to doubt one’s own abilities, talents and strengths, causing suffering and distress. 

If you recognise yourself in these dynamics, you may consider discussing this delicate personal issue with a psychotherapist that can help you elaborate these feelings and handle criticism in different way.

Meanwhile, here there are some little tips that you could try to use:

  • Try to take into account only the good in every reproach. If you have been negatively criticised, try to think if there can be a positive information for you in it. Sometimes a reproach, even if expressed in the wrong away, is made for a reason. So try to trash the negativity, shame, guilt or anger that you may feel and ask yourself: is there a real reason for being criticised? Was there a better or useful way to behave? Could I fix or change something of that behaviour? The answer may be no, but sometimes it may be yes. 
  • Do not accept generalisations: if the blame gets born from a single behaviour but it becomes generalised to your whole person… use boundaries! You are who you are and a single specific wrong behaviour doesn’t imply a total and negative judgment of you as a human being. Try not to take it too personally.
  • Very often the problem is not yours but theirs - people who constantly and negatively criticise usually have something going on in their mind. It may occur that when going through rough times, someone may try to vent their problems in this way. In other cases instead, someone could have experienced a very reproaching relationship themselves and negative criticism may be the only learnt and well known way of expressing care in a relationship. 
  • Be assertive - communicate the person when the boundary from positive to negative criticism is crossed and how that makes you feel. And if you have to make a reproach … remember the aforementioned features of constructive reproaches and try not to fall into the trick of negative criticism.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Ilaria Tedeschi

Ilaria Tedeschi is a cognitive behavioural psychotherapist in Marylebone, London, with several years of experience working with depressive, anxiety, sleep and relational problems.… Read more

Written by Ilaria Tedeschi

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