Why Do People Criticize Others?

A few years ago, I went on a wonderful, often very rustic trip to Papua New Guinea.  After returning, I got together with the man I had been going out with for awhile.  I was very excited to show him my photos.  As he was looking through them, he stopped at one, held it up to me, and commented, “Well, you certainly don’t look your best.”

Technically, he was right, I guess.  I had no makeup on and my hair was in total disarray as I was caught on film climbing out of a dugout canoe on a brackish river.  My point here is not the correctness of his statement which, by the way, was the truth as “he” saw it, but the fact that he chose that statement to make among so many others he could have said.

Here are a few possible proclamations he might have opted for: “Gee, what a neat dugout.”  “Boy, that looks like it was fun.”  “You look tired.”  Instead, he chose to trash my looks, albeit subtly–a vulnerable position for anyone.

I knew I looked a mess; he didn’t have to tell me.  It’s really hard to look great floating down a river in PNG in a dugout canoe in the hot, humid jungle after having slept in a bare-bones structure with no air conditioning, no electricity, no indoor plumbing (think a hole-in-the-ground outhouse), and in a sleeping bag on the floor under mosquito netting.

I wonder why he chose to make the comment he did.  What satisfaction did it bring him?  Was he sending me a message that he only liked me when I looked well-groomed and attractive?  Was he feeling insecure that he was dating a woman who could look scuzzy sometimes?  Those types of statements–subtle put-downs–only serve to put pressure on the receiver:  I’m unattractive, unloveable, un(fill in the blank) unless I’m always perfect; I always have to be on. 

What I’m advocating here is that you examine your own motives when you criticize someone. If the purpose is to help correct their behavior, appearance, etc. for their benefit, then your commentary might be justified. However, if the purpose is to assuage your own discomfort, maybe that’s your problem and not a shortcoming of your chosen reprobate.

Before you throw out potentially hurtful comments, think if a positive response might be more effective than a negative one.  Demeaning another person doesn’t only demean them, it demeans you as well.

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4 responses to “Why Do People Criticize Others?

  1. I’ll toss another possible out there: Maybe he felt a need to take you down because he felt intimidated. When was the last time he’d done anything as exciting as ride in a dugout canoe in a foreign land?
    Not an excuse, just another possible reason. Still a jerky thing to say.

  2. Roger Trammell

    I guess that old Indian saying, “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins”, applies here. I agree with vickeykall.

  3. Phyllis

    jealousy drives criticism

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