Parental criticism, especially consistent or harsh criticism during one’s childhood, can have a big impact on a person’s self-worth even through the later stages of their life. It is useful to note that parental criticism can take several different forms. Some examples of such forms can include a parent who ridicules and belittles their child, a parent who repeatedly compares the qualities or behaviours of the child to those of others or a parent who shows disapproval and seems unimpressed by their child and the qualities of their child (sometimes a parent may also set unrealistic expectations for their child). While the effects of parental criticism can be varied, I will be sharing two examples in this blog.
Impacting the relationship with failure
Adult children who grew up with parents who were highly or consistently critical may learn to fear failure and avoid risks. When experienced by adults with a healthy sense of self-worth, failure can be seen as an opportunity to learn; it might not be devastating even though it may be difficult to fail, and they are more likely to take another chance believing that they might achieve a different result next time round. On the other hand, an adult with low self-worth may be more likely to see themselves as failures (instead of someone who failed or struggled with a task). When someone internalises such beliefs about themselves, it becomes very difficult to take a step back and look at what one can learn from that failure, and potentially, this could leave someone feeling demotivated or too anxious to try again. One may also learn to expect perfectionism to gain approval and avoid criticism.
Impacting the person’s wellbeing
In a 2022 study, MRI scans were carried out on the brains of adolescents aged between 12-18 years. The aim of these MRI scans was to study the impact of compliments, neutral feedback, and criticism that came from their parents. This research showed that parental comments not only impact adolescents’ self-esteem but that the brain also reacts very differently to compliments than to criticism. Criticism activates parts of the brain that are involved in processing emotions and pain regions that are used when someone experiences physical pain. The persistence of such parental criticism has been linked to an increased vulnerability to developing mental health problems in adulthood.
It is very important to note that while some may relate to the points outlined in this blog, the impact of parent criticism can vary from one person to another. Seeking support from those around us and perhaps also considering therapy can help address the impact of parent criticism. It is also very important for parents to be aware of how they communicate with their children and how this can impact their child’s self-worth. Giving constructive feedback and providing support and encouragement to your child can help nurture a child’s self-worth.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Rebecca Cassar is a Family Therapist practicing the Systemic Approach. She specializes in offering therapy to families, couples and individuals who are experiencing distress in their relationships. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.