“Men cannot be more perfect than the sun. The sun burns with the same light with which it heats. The sun has spots. The ungrateful speak only of the spots. The grateful speak of light”, wrote the poet José Martí many years ago.
This reflection has a deep Taoist background and refers to the fact that in each person, in each project and in each action we undertake can coexist two parts: one more positive and the other more negative. It is we who choose which part to look at.
Unfortunately, there are people who have only learned to see the sun spots, avoiding its light and heat. These are people who focus on the small mistakes of others and overlook the virtues, qualities and values of them.
These people have a habit of looking at the others with a magnifying glass, to detect all their mistakes, and do not realize that they would need to look in the mirror before. The problem is that relating to these types of hypercritical people can end up causing deep damage to our self-esteem since they not only make us feel bad about our weaknesses and mistakes, but they can even make us believe that we are not worth anything.
How to detect hipercritical people?
These people always put their finger on the sore, they assume a negative attitude with which they undermine your morale. You will be able to discover them because:
– As much as you do for them and help them, they will always remember that time you were not available.
– Although you are generally correct, they will insist on highlighting small details of your speech to generate discussion and not give your arm to twist.
– Even if you achieve incredible things, they will still remind you of your failures. They will keep looking back, trying to get you back to that old “self”.
– They always find minimal mistakes in everything you do, even if things turn out well in the end.
– They are able to see the straw in someone else’s eye, but they do not pay attention to the mistakes they make themselves. They can even point out mistakes that they themselves have made, but they will not recognize it.
– They think from a reductionist, biased and simplistic view that does not take into account the global picture.
– They see life in black and white assuming an “all or nothing” thought, for these people you either do things well or you make mistakes, there are no intermediate points.
– They have very little self-criticism, they do not like to feel judged of any task and whenever they can, they will evade their responsibility.
– They apply a very high measuring stick to others but do not use those standards and criteria with themselves, because they probably would not pass them.
Judging the others is a common habit of frustrated people
Without realizing it, we all tend to replicate the ways of relating we learned at home. So these people are likely to have grown up in a home where adults only noticed their mistakes. If as children they only received attention for their failures, it is understandable that they have developed this way of relating to the others. In practice, these are people who have not learned to maintain positive and assertive interactions.
Most commonly, however, these criticisms come from deep frustration. Generally these are people who are not satisfied with their life, so instead of looking in the mirror, something that would be extremely painful because they would have to acknowledge their failure or dissatisfaction, they prefer to focus on the mistakes of the others. In a way, it is as if they cast their own shadows on the others.
These people are not satisfied with the decisions they have made, perhaps because they have been imposed by others, and they live in deep inner conflict. Criticizing others allows them to put the focus of attention outside themselves. In this way they escape their scrutiny. Antoine de Saint Exupéry had already said it: “It is much more difficult to judge yourself than to judge the others”.
In other cases the tendency to criticize everything is a defense mechanism. In practice, the person needs to justify his unsatisfactory life path by discrediting the others. They think “I’m not that bad after all”.
Of course, this means that any one of us can become a picky person. Therefore, before directing the magnifying glass at the others, we must make sure that we have looked well in the mirror.
How to deal with hypercritical people?
If you give them power, hypercritical people can do you a lot of damage. Not only can they affect your reputation with the others, but they can even damage your self-image through destructive criticism, making you believe that you are worthless.
Don’t get into a discussion with these people because they usually react very badly and won’t accept your reasons. If they feel attacked, they will respond negatively because your words are taking their toll on the fragile protective shield they have built around their ego.
A good strategy to deal with hypercritical people comes from Transpersonal Psychology, which has applied one of the principles of aikido, a martial art of Japanese origin that has a merely defensive objective and that is based on using the force of the opponent’s attack, not to cause him harm but just to drive him away or knock him out.
What happens when we apply this principle to conflicts in interpersonal relationships? That instead of entering a whirlwind of emotional reactivity, we focus on that criticism not affecting us. In this way we do not assume the role that the other person wants to give us, so it will not harm us.
For example, in the face of destructive criticism, you can ask that person, “How do you think your criticism can help me improve?” or “What would you have done in my place to get better results?” In this way you do not attack the person but you hit him back and motivate him to reflect on his words. In fact, with this strategy it is even possible to achieve a constructive approach, turning a situation full of negativity into something positive.