“When someone constantly criticises it often tells you more about the psychology of the criticiser than the person he or she is criticising. Knowing this is the first step to protecting yourself from the onslaught”

 

Worrying new evidence suggests that being constantly criticised can send people to an early grave. That’s according to a recent study published in scientific journal Health Psychology.

Professor Jamila Bookwala’s team at Lafayette College, Pennsylvania, analysed data from 1,734 men and women* who had been interviewed for the National Social Life, Health and Ageing Project. When revisiting the survey participants five years later, they found that those who reported higher levels of being criticised in their partnerships were more than twice as likely to be dead than those who were criticised the least. (Some 44% of people who said they were criticised often by their partners were found to have died when researchers returned five years later.)

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When you’re on the receiving end of constant criticism

If you’ve been criticised – and frankly, who hasn’t experienced it at some point in their lives? – you’ll know exactly how deeply hurtful it can feel. If you pay attention to the physical responses in your body when you’re being criticised, you’ll more than likely notice your heart rate increase, your chest become tight, maybe you’ll clench your fists. You may experience a feeling of nausea or a sudden blinding  headache.

Your body responds in much the same way it does to a physical threat  – it releases stress hormones as part of the flight, fight or freeze response.

According to Professor Bookwala, frequent criticism can put damaging stress on the body, and the effect is the same regardless of gender and independent of factors such as whether a person has other close friends or family.  This is because criticism is a type of chronic interpersonal stressor, and “just like other chronic stressors, can have a cumulative and enduring negative impact on not only health and wellbeing – morbidity – but also mortality”.

No one likes to be criticised. But there are degrees of criticism. On one end of the spectrum there’s “constructive criticism” which is supposed to be helpful but can still require a deep inhale of breath to listen to without responding in kind. Then there’s the other extreme: personal criticism which attacks the fundamentals of who you are, and because of this can be deeply wounding. This kind of criticism:

* Is based on the person being wrong, rather than their behaviour
* Is about blame
* Is not about helping to improve a situation
* Is about there being only one right way of doing things
* Makes the person feel humiliated, small or feel badly about themselves on a fundamental level

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What to do if you face constant criticism 

The first thing to bear in mind is that when someone makes a habit of criticising you,  it often tells you more about the psychology of the criticiser than the person he or she is criticising. Knowing this is the first step to protecting yourself from the onslaught.