Criticism can have different causes, but one often overlooked is fear.
Is it difficult for you to set boundaries? Do you have trouble saying “No”, or do you avoid conflicts? If you doubt your ability to defend yourself, you might expect people to know in advance where your boundaries are, and respect them without you needing to remind them. That is very unlikely to happen.
Even if people didn’t have toxic role models (and most do), our genetic diversity includes different levels of emotional sensitivity or empathy, and different temperaments. What is hurtful to one person might be normal to another. Think about sensitivity to noise: a noise that might be distracting and stress-inducing for one person, might be stimulating or barely even noticeable to another. Emotional sensitivity is similarly different among people.
Some people come from families in which raising voices, disagreeing and arguing was normal – most of the time perhaps even friendly. People from quieter families might be totally unprepared for such communication style.
It gets worse if one’s family was aggressive or manipulative – if a child was controlled through guilt, fear or shame. Anger is a natural, instinctive reaction to guilt, fear and shame. Such people, even as adults, might respond with anger as soon as their guilt, fear or shame threaten to raise their heads. Those emotions might not be realistic – it might just be an automatic reaction to small triggers.
People whose boundaries weren’t respected when they were children will probably have learned to suppress their anger and avoid expressing themselves. Fear and anger in combination may lead to criticism. You might call people irresponsible, rude, selfish or stupid in the privacy of your own mind. You are also likely to resort to passive aggression. Perhaps it is so normal to you that you barely even notice when you do that. Even if you notice, you might feel that there is no other choice.
People cannot read your mind. We are already dealing with so many other influences every single minute of our lives. It’s so easy to be distracted if nothing else. Misunderstandings happen for all kinds of reasons – and if not clarified, can lead to complex, unnecessary consequences.
Also, it seems to be almost an instinct for most people to take whatever they feel they can get. If somebody is pliable, easy to manipulate, insecure or overly generous, few people have the self-awareness and self-discipline to notice when they start exploiting the situation and to stop themselves from doing so. If somebody is more insecure than you, do you feel an urge to dominate? This is an instinct that might be weaker in some people, and stronger in others.
Criticism won’t help. The first step (a sequence of steps, more likely) is to deal with inhibiting emotions from childhood and learn to empower yourself. The second step is to learn new habits – clarity, standing up for yourself, communication skills. This might include choosing new role-models.
The first few times you try a new approach might be frightening. You need to be well prepared for anything that might happen and willing to support and comfort yourself. But you will survive; if you make mistakes you will learn something from them, and each time you will feel stronger and more comfortable, until you feel confident in your ability to cope with people. Perhaps then you will notice that criticism doesn’t feel so necessary anymore, that it doesn’t come so automatically.
The more you feel willing and able to protect your boundaries, the more you can feel relaxed among people and even tolerate some of their less pleasant traits. Still, it’s normal to feel some level of discomfort if somebody is behaving in unhealthy or threatening ways. Emotional discomfort is a normal and healthy warning signal. There is a huge difference, though, between adult and childish emotional discomfort. If your emotions are adult, you will be motivated rather than debilitated.