Like most people, it would seem, I’m sensitive to criticism. Not just that, but even the absence of praise can be problematic. It’s something I’m working on, but this article pointing out that criticism being more connected to the person making the comments than the one receiving them, is helpful.
Whether it’s criticism calmly dispensed by a teacher at school, or a cruel comment hurled in the heat of an argument with a friend or lover, we tend to remember criticism far better than positive comments, due to a phenomenon called the negativity bias.
While a focus on the darker side of the world around us may sound like a depressing prospect, it has helped humans overcome everything from natural disasters to plagues and wars by being better prepared to deal with them (although there is evidence that optimism can also help to protect us from the stress of extreme situations). The human brain evolved to protect our bodies and keep us alive, and has three warning systems to deal with new dangers. There’s the ancient basal ganglia system that controls our fight or flight response, the limbic system which triggers emotions in response to threats to help us understand dangers, and the more modern pre-frontal cortex, which enables us to think logically in the face of threats.
In some cases, negative remarks from people we love can lead to long-lasting mental wounds and resentment that can cause relationships to break down. Researchers at the University of Kentucky in the US found relationships are seldom saved when partners ignore relationship problems to remain “passively loyal”. “It is not so much the good, constructive things that partners do or do not do for one another that determines whether a relationship works as it is the destructive things that they do or not do in reaction to problems,” they said.
“We are all sensitive to negative comments in the sense that there are no ‘stronger’ personality traits. Considering the fact that everyone receives negative comments can help us deal with them … and could be a good strategy to protect our own mental health,” she adds. “Another useful strategy could be to consider that comments are more connected to the person who’s making them than the one who’s receiving them.”