The chances are if you had critical parents as a child, the criticism will be a deep pattern that will continue into your adulthood. It’s about their way of being rather than anything to do with you. Often it’s to do with the difference in generations, different attitudes, different expectations, different modes of behaviour, growing up essentially in a different culture. They may frequently be asking you to a dear to social news of the time in which they were brought up or even in times when their parents were brought up. They may see your behaviour as a reflection on them as parents and us their self-esteem as people. Your behaviour may well just be to do with how people behave now and not necessarily bad.
Good parenting requires connection and emotional levels, understanding, kindness as well as drawing boundaries and holding to them to keep the child safe. Criticism and shaming or not constructive modes of parenting. They create lack of confidence resentment, loss of individual autonomy and power, feelings of being unwanted or not good enough, creating all of the beliefs that make people less effective as grown-ups.
Sometimes envy and jealousy can be motivations for criticism. Where a child is living the life that a parent would’ve wished to have lived for themselves, has the opportunities available to them that the parent did not have, or is enjoying freedoms that the parent did not have, there can be bitter resentment which may emerge as criticism.
As a word of comfort to people who suffer from parental criticism I would suggest stepping back and forming your own centre of judgement about what is right and wrong. See your parents As people rather than powerful entities. See them as people from their time with their own insecurities and histories. See their words as a reflection of their fear, their need to control, their worry about what other people think.
Criticism around body image and weight can be particularly harmful. It would say to me that there is a real disconnection between the parent and the child. We turn to food as comfort, often in the place of the loving warmth and acceptance that we should be able to expect from our parents. Food is more trustworthy and constant and a colourful part of the day when stricter rules of behaviour create everything in black-and-white. This can set up lasting patterns into adult hood, where food becomes more of a source of comfort in relationships and life than anything else. Eating disorders can really emanate from this. It can go in both ways. If we seek and allow ourselves comfort we can overheat. If we identify with parental ways and beliefs, then we may starve ourselves of food as ways not to feel the pain.
One of the ways that we can separate out from parental criticism is to fall into defiance so we may choose partners that our parents would not choose for us in order to create some separation and independence and to have somebody that will stand up to them. Likewise with work we may choose work that takes us into a different realm from that of our parents experience in order to create some separateness, independence and self-esteem.
Why does parental criticism stay with us?
Our parents were our gods as a child and we were totally dependent on them for our physical survival. The emotional and psychological attachment goes along with that. As we grow up, unless they validate us and respect our adulthood or we claim it and separate out for ourselves, they remain in the same role. We still respond to them from a psychological and emotional point of view as if we are still little. This can also get transferred onto other authority figures such as doctors or lawyers or bank managers, anyone who we perceive may have power over us. It can be lifelong. If we don’t grow in separate, establish our own centre of autonomy and self judgement in a healthy way, we will be at the mercy of authority figures, either our parents all these other ones forever. The psychological work may need to be undertaken with a therapist or a coach. This is because we cannot think outside of our own box. To mix the metaphors, this has been the water we have swim in, the air with breathed so it feels completely natural to us and we cannot see other ways of being. It may need someone outside of the situation to broaden our perspective.
On a note of compassion for our parents, they are also living under the spotlight gaze of their own criticism and are likely very on conscious of the effect they are having because it is a way of life within for them. It’s likely a very painful life too.