Core Belief Engineering
By Lisa Sidorowicz, B.A., M.A., B.Ed., Certified Practitioner and Instructor

The Consequences of Criticism

There exists in most adults a discrepancy between how they think about their childhood and how they feel about it. They can rationalize their parents' behaviour, but their low self-esteem reveals a different story. Growing up in an environment filled with criticism can undermine many aspects of people's lives. As with other types of abuse, consistent parental criticism infiltrates the subconscious and limits self-esteem. Children do not have the intellectual capacity to question the veracity of their parent's criticism. Rather, they internalize their parent's beliefs that they are not good enough, that they can never do anything right. Although as adults people may consciously believe they are good enough, these negative self-definitions can still exist deep within their subconscious minds as the foundation of their thoughts, emotions, choices, reactions, and behaviours.

One of the most common consequences of growing up in a critical environment is the endless quest for external validation. Criticism teaches children that confirmation of their worthiness or unworthiness exists outside themselves. Other people's words are invested with the power to validate or invalidate their sense of self. Therefore, when these words are positive, they can relax temporarily; when the words are critical, they feel instantly diminished. As a result, children quickly learn to adapt to parents' expectations, adopting pleasing and placating strategies in order to attain approval. These often self-compromising behaviours accompany them into adulthood and are inextricably laced with anger and resentment.

Exposure to constant parental criticism can have devastating effects on children's self-esteem. Some children give up in the face of criticism. They may decide not to try at all, believing they will never be good enough anyway. Feeling victimized, they tend to withdraw and shut down to avoid risking further criticism. (Ironically, this protective strategy often invites further criticism.) As their anger and helplessness grow, it can emerge in the form of violence, blaming, judging, or other acting out behaviours. If they decide to numb or repress their feelings, they may manifest various self-sabotaging behaviours such as depression, anxiety, addiction, getting sick, creating accidents, etc. In any case, their ability to live up to their full potential is greatly limited.

On the other end of the spectrum are the children who subconsciously identify with the power of the critical parent and internalize his or her hurtful mind-sets and strategies. They may develop a harsh inner critic who judges, blames, and chastises themselves in the form of negative self-talk, constant second-guessing, and self-doubting. They can mature into driven, uncompromising task masters who ceaselessly try to prove their worth but are never satisfied with their accomplishments. These highly determined individuals are often praised for their successes and leadership. However, inside they may be exhausted from the ever-present stress of having to over-compensate for their perceived inadequacy and unworthiness. Whichever way children cope with parental criticism, the defense mechanisms that are created may become embedded in their subconscious and continue to manifest in their lives long after the criticism has ceased.

Core beliefs of inadequacy and unworthiness can seriously distort people's perceptions of reality. Ironically, individuals who were criticized as children often have great difficulty registering, let alone accepting compliments. They are seldom able to receive any information that does not conform to their negative subconscious beliefs about themselves. People who are hyper-sensitive to criticism can also perceive criticism where it does not exist. For instance, a public speaker whose negative beliefs have filtered her interpretation of reality may conclude that her presentation was a failure because one person in the audience yawned.

Alternatively, people who are hyper-vigilant about criticism can deny, deflect, or avoid hearing criticism where it does exist. When criticized, subconscious defensive mechanisms such as rationalizing, justifying, back-pedaling, or counter criticizing may automatically be triggered. This inability to evaluate other people's comments denies these individuals the opportunity to hear potentially valuable feedback, thus limiting personal growth.

When children are faced with constant parental criticism, their minds create a complex structure of protective coping strategies and defense mechanisms. Over time, these mind-sets become embedded in the subconscious and may be triggered automatically. As adults, these out-dated strategies can become counter-productive and self-sabotaging. However, it is possible to resolve the effects of childhood criticism.

Core Belief Engineering, a belief change technology, is one extremely effective way to uncover, change, and completely re-engineer limiting subconscious core beliefs and strategies. Once freed from the emotional triggers of childhood, individuals can live in the present with more choice. With self-esteem regained and consciousness strengthened, people can validate themselves, communicate better, and enjoy inner peace and support. Ultimately, they are better able to respond to other people's words, tones, feelings, and behaviours as simply information. True, lasting change is possible!