The Negative Effects of Criticism on the Human Psyche

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(Last Updated On: June 20, 2019)

By: Sharon Branch – Contributor

Spiders are creepy and are surely not one of my favorite animals. Eww! Like many of their kind, they have a strategy of control and ultimate destruction over their prey. While hunting, most of these animals have the same basic kill strategy. They pierce their prey with fangs, injecting enough venom to paralyze it. This makes it safe for the spider to feed without any struggle.

Bullies and domineering individuals also use this controlling strategy. They use negative criticism to paralyze their victims, rendering them so weak, that they are unable to think anything good about themselves.

Growing up, my friends and I would use the slogan,

Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never harm me.

As I matured over the years, I have come to realize that this is far from the truth. Words sting, they hurt, they pierce, they wound, and they burn deep inside the psyche. They leave scars which remind us of the pain.

Some of us were paralyzed by negative words, and to appear untouched by what was said, we retaliated by reciting “Sticks and stones…”  We were the victims of these ‘spiders’ back then, and we used this strategy as a defense mechanism when our backs were against the wall.

Negative words are like fangs piercing deep into the core of our being. They can cripple, hinder and add unnecessary burden to lives. Unless words of hope and forgiveness are used to counteract what was said, victims become traumatized and immobile, much like that prey in the spider’s web.

Now imagine, if one negative remark can potentially affect an individual for life, then what about the nonstop assault of these painful statements throughout a lifetime? I can answer that because I was a victim of verbal abuse.

Over twenty years ago, I was told that I wasn’t accustomed to anything good, and when I see “goodness,” I wouldn’t be able to recognize it. Would you believe after all this time that comment still rings in my ears? Did it hurt? Yes, it definitely did, but I shouldn’t have allowed this lie to paralyze me. 
My response could have been; “Duh! All the more reason I’m able to recognize ‘goodness.’ Wouldn’t good be easier to spot since I’m not accustomed?”

If you have never experienced verbal abuse or negative criticism, dealing with it can be challenging. This is because the impact of those negative words also depends on who is talking? If a stranger had uttered those same words, they would have had little effect, if any. However, the person who did was close and very dear to me. This can make the process of dealing with our emotions much more difficult.

The Power of Affirmation – Inspiring Young Minds

Children suffer greatly from cruel words. Imagine having to endure criticism repeatedly from such a young and impressionable age. Children reproduce their environment, and will most likely raise their own offspring, based on how they were brought up.

As a lover of children and one who has worked with them for over thirty years, I know the importance of affirming young minds. I have seen children who are not necessarily ‘smart,’ perform reasonably well after ‘failing’ in previous classes.

As a teacher, one approach which I have used throughout the years that has worked well is affirmation.

I constantly drill into the heads of the ‘weak’ children how smart they are. I assure them that they can accomplish anything, as long as they have the right attitude. My philosophy is that a child should never have to put up with criticism at home and also at school.

When my son discovered that I was using this strategy, he was quick to give me a lecture. He’s always accusing me of misleading my kids – by giving them the impression that they are smart. This results in a side-splitting laugh from him as he tries to get me to recant my method. But he has missed the whole point of reassurance.

I have seen shy children become confident and outspoken, weak children trying harder to succeed, and others who have always hated the classroom, now looking forward to being there early on mornings. If that is what affirmation can do for a child, then I have accomplished a great mission.

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The Effects of Criticism on Children – Our Future

On the other hand, I have also seen children constantly criticized and told they weren’t going to amount to anything… or how dumb they were. Sadly, these never tried. They showed little interest in school and welcomed any opportunity to stay outside the classroom. Their resulting attitude became, “Why should I show any interest at all when I have already been deemed a failure?”

These children have become the prey caught in the spider’s web when they should have been allowed to spread their wings and fly freely. Can you imagine the degree of pain and fear on a child’s mind if they are being fed this steady diet of criticism?

Negative Words in Relationships

But children are not the only ones affected by negative words; so are older people. In relationships where we strive for approval, it hurts when we are rebuffed or put down by our friends or loved ones. Spouses who try hard to please the other but yet their efforts are rewarded with criticism, soon shun being in the other’s presence. Eventually, they may wind their way into the arms of others or in the company of those who affirm them.

Friendships are torn apart by hurtful words, yet parties involved refuse to speak up. Children are often told they must be seen and not heard and with respect being the order of the day, they have to sit and take what is being dished out by adults. However, there should be mutual respect, and an open forum among adults so that when words hurt, they can feel free to speak. Unfortunately, this is not the case and so, once thriving relationships, subsequently wither and die.


If you are a victim of negative words, it can be hard to remove yourself from this mindset and move forward, but it’s not impossible. It is sad that many people have a spider mentality and use their words to prey on others rather than to build them up.

If you are a “spider,” you will need to perfect the art of speaking kind words to others. Help them become role-models, fruitful, successful, confident: the people God intended them to be. Take responsibility for your words and understand that you wield the power of life and death in your tongue. Speak life.

To encourage and contribute to the positive development of another human being is one of the greatest joys of human existence. Invest positively in the lives of others so you can get a great return on your investment. Plant seeds of encouragement and reap a good harvest.

Sticks and stones can hurt but words of God spoken over you (about your purpose) is greater than the negative words of man. How about the words of  loved ones who spoke well of you? Shouldn’t that matter too?

What if we all chose to believe only the words that matter, with our whole heart.

Please share your comments below. We really want to hear what you think.

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40 Replies to “The Negative Effects of Criticism on the Human Psyche”

  1. Good analogy! It is true that the scars inside of us that we can get from negative words from others or even ourselves can take much longer to heal than physical wounds. Comparing this to spiders is an apt, if unpleasant analogy. It’s very important to speak kindly to others and perhaps even more importantly to ourselves. I have wounded myself many times through self criticism. And I’m working on healing all my wounds.

    1. Hi Mariah!
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to share.

      We all have a tendency to be hard on ourselves sometimes but as you said, it is important to speak well of ourselves. This is more important than what others may have to say. I hope it all works out for you.
      All the best and more!

      Thanks again.

  2. This was an interesting article. I can see how negative words can stay with you through life if they if they are very demeaning. Being compared to my twin, people would say I was the “fat” one even though neither of us were heavy and only a few pounds apart. They just had to find some kind of difference to point out and it was usually a negative thing. We were teenagers at the time. Using cruel and negative words for very young children seems like it would affect them more than if they were older. I really wish people would think about what they say that can deeply hurt someone as a child. Thank you for pointing this information out as it was very well written.

    1. Hi Jennifer!
      Thanks so much for taking the time to read Sharon’s article and thanks for your kind words. Yes, people can be like that at times. Some people really need to think before they speak.
      All the best!

  3. A sound article. Words impact significantly. As an educator I can remember which teachers cared and as such I have realised that my job some days is to ensure that some boy or girl knows and believes that they matter.

    1. Yes Andrea!
      Teachers do have a great responsibility of empowering their charges by the words they speak. Since you remember those teaches who cared I believe they spoke kinds words to you. Now you have the opportunity to do the same. Go and impact young minds with your positive words.

  4. Thanks for posting! Your points about affirmations and seeing kids with what I call “big eyes” really resonate with me. As a parent and as a manager, I have used the pygmalion effect consistently: I see my children and subordinates with “big eyes” – that they are more than capable of doing extraordinary things, and, guess what? They never disappoint! The self-fulfilling prophecy can go in either direction, positive or negative, and using exactly the same energy. It’s our choice how we channel it.

    All the best,


    1. Thanks Norman!
      Yes, affirming young minds is key to their success and also as a leader, it is important you raise the levels of expectation among your workers. Everyone is capable of doing more than what they are at present and it takes a visionary like you to pull the best out of people. It is great to hear that they live up to your expectations. Keep on affirming them. You are doing a great job!

  5. Hi Sharon. I really love how you used the spider (eww is right!) as a comparison and so true. I am lucky to be surrounded by lots of positive and well meaning friends and family but I remember earlier years of getting some negative criticism. One particular job I had, believe it or not, when the boss and I parted ways I said to him “You are the most negative person I have ever worked for. I am in sales and need to have a positive outlook when I deal with customers!” It probably rolled off his shoulders but I like to think it made him think a little. He used to belittle one of his employees who had been with him over 25 years so I knew it wasn’t just me. I still remember to this day how I hated that job.

    I think with children it can be worse. I am so thankful that my daughter has such a positive and encouraging attitude with her two children. I think it is commendable the way you are teaching children.

    Unfortunately, there are many ‘spiders’ out there. Thanks for such an enlightening article!

    1. Good morning Mary Ann,
      It is great to hear that you are surrounded by lots of positive and well-meaning friends and family. With these being in your life your mind will be impacted in a positive light. Although you were criticized early in life you rose above the negativity and do not allow it to control your present life.
      It is unfortunate that bosses are negative toward their employees since these are the greatest resources of any work place. It is good that instead of imitating his attitude you were able to highlight it to him.
      No doubt, your daughter learnt the positive and encouraging attitude from you and now does the same with her two children .
      Thanks for the post.

  6. Reading this article brought back a whole memory bank of verbal insults which I had to endure in my childhood way into my young adulthood.

    For many years I was verbally paralyzed unable to defend myself and, yet, I have found my voice also helping others to find their voice as well.

    Yes, words do hurt, they do wound and they even can kill. In a world where words of profanity becomes a normal daily language, not even with evil intend, we are all not in a good place to survive as a human race when we not change.

    Your article really speaks the truth and it is also very inspiring.

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hello Sylvia
      Thank you for your comment. It gives me great joy to learn that you are now defending yourself against verbal abuse and that you are also helping others who have had a similar challenge to find their voice.
      You have not allowed stored negative memories to define or keep you back. You are doing a great job in helping the ‘weak’ to overcome their struggle.
      Keep up the good work, Sylvia.

  7. People who discourage others really aggravates me and the truth is the discourager is always trying to build themselves up by tearing others down. If you don’t have something kind to say don’t say anything at all, but in our ever more strange society, nobody knows the value of holding their tongues. Being kind and encouraging to others shows love and the Lord will reward those who always look for the value in others.

    1. Hi Alexander
      Your words are so true: ‘the discourager is always trying to build themselves up by tearing others down.’ We seem to be in a kind of competition today where the more negative words I spew out to others the better I would become in the eyes of onlookers. In a world where everyone now has rights, we feel it gives us the right to say what we feel. Yet, a lot of our words should remain unsaid since they do more harm than good.
      People who are hurting hurt others. It is time that the vicious cycle of verbal abuse be broken from our lives and it starts with me.

  8. Hi Sharon. I am very sure you are doing just great.

    Thanks so much for sharing such an awesome article emphasizing on “The Negative Effects of Criticism on the Human Psyche”. Sincerely I love this article and I think it should reach everyone. This article will change the world. It will change how we talk to others. We should learn to speak positively to lives.

    Keep changing the world.

    1. Mr BEazzy
      I am glad that the article had such an impact on you. I do intend to continue to talk to others and build them up. My intention is to change the world one person at a time.

  9. Hummmm,  honestly negative criticism are poisonous than the venum of the world’s most poisonous snakes.  They eat into the psychology of the victim. 

    Most often these come from people who knows you and are very close to you.  

    In my early elementary school  days,  teacher’s who by one way or the other sees a student as dull would rather criticise every effort of the student to prove better rather than encouraging them and telling them they have all it takes to make it. 

    Well,  I will say here that one needs to stand up to the challenge and stand straight, taking every bit of the bulls by the horns. 

    Challenges are stepping stones to greatness. 

    1. Hi Olonisakin Kehinde
      I cannot agree with you more that negative criticism is poisonous and I will add, it is also deadly. It becomes more damaging when it comes from those closest to you.
      Mentors, such as teachers, have a great responsibility to see past the ‘dullness’ of their students and realize the greatness that lies within them. Some have done this, never focusing on what the child cannot do but the potential that lies within him/her that needs to be exposed.
      It seems as though you have stood up to the challenge and have taken every bit by the bull’s horns.
      Keep up the good work.

  10. Hello there. I personally think we should not criticize people no matter what. Words are like sword and they pierce really deep especially when used wrongly by those close to us. Ben Carson was not believed in by his teacher. But his mother encouraged him and he had a better life, a life full of glory. Great article.


  11. Children tend to believe what they are told especially when it is an adult they care about.  When they are told negative things they will believe it and internalize it, and continue to remind themselves constanly that they are worthless if that is what they have been told.When they are encouraged they feel like they are worth something and will try thier hardest and do thier very best.  

  12. I think when we talk about getting ensnared by a spider’s web am well experienced. I was brought up by a foster dad who didn’t care about what he said to me when I was growing up. This affected my class performance a great deal. I also became very reserved to myself and couldn’t trust anyone easily.

    It’s after I gave my life to Christ when I found affirmation from the bible, that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. I saw myself in God’s eyes not my dad’s eyes. This made the entire difference.

    1. Hi Mbaluka
      It is great that you found affirmation from the Bible. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made and unfortunately, you were not told this as a young child. What a difference there is when we look at ourselves through the eyes of God and not man.
      Glad to hear about the changes in you, Mbaluka.

  13. Hi Sharon!
    Thank you for posting.

    Most times, negative words are hurled by those closest to us.
    We are hurt more by them because a good relationship requires affirmation, vulnerability, openness, submission, and respect. This is key to connecting on a deeper level. It is also what separates meaningful relationships from casual ones.

    Since our lives are laid bare before the ones closest to us, whatever they say will naturally have power over us. The quality of communication in this regard will, therefore, be a key factor in measuring (1)how much we are affected by their words and (2)the quality of the relationship.

    We expect them to be kind and have our best interests at heart.

    1. Good day David
      Truer words could not be said. Those closest to us hurt us most with their thoughtless words. I guess this is because we take family members and friends for granted because we have become too ‘chumsy’.
      We should never underestimate our friendships and this is the reason we ought to be careful what we say. Words spoken can never be recalled; a hurt psyche is EXTREMELY difficult to repair. Too many friendships have been damaged or destroyed because of careless words.
      Continue to speak positive words to those you meet.
      Thanks for posting.

  14. Spiders are not my favourite animal either and the beginning of your post makes me look at them on a whole different level!! Scary!! I like the way you have compared spiders to bullies, what a great analogy!! I love the idea of affirmation, I actually have affirmation cards that I change everyday with positive quotes, I think it makes you look at things in a different way. This is such a great read, I really enjoy the way it is written, it gives you an easier way to see the damage bullying can do. Thank you for the read!!

  15. I agree that no one should be a bully and say mean things to another person just because they want to. And I can imagine how much it can effect a child at a young age.

    However when you grow up I think constructive criticism is very helpful — and if you have enough pride in yourself it will be hard for people to put you down.

    With that said I then we should all say encouraging things to one another, and if we are about to say something mean just leave it to ourselves.

    Thanks for showing us the harmful effects this can have on people.

  16. I am one such child who grew up with negative criticism from none other than my own mother. She has a way of tearing my self esteem apart and for a long time, I thought what she said was true. Later in my youth, when I truly understand my inner self, did I realize she was belittling me for the things she could never have when she was young. It’s kind of said that she vented it out on me, it hurts but I’ve gone passed that stage of anger. She has never neglected caring for me so in a way, she made me stronger.

    1. A pleasant good morning to you Cathy:

      Too may people continue throughout adulthood believing the negatives spoken over their lives as a child but it is great to know that you have overcome these obstacles. Those people who should impact us and change us into great persons are the ones who belittle, hurt and damage our impressionable minds and this saddens me.

      You have made a great achievement in rising from your past hurts. I encourage you to use these experiences to empower others and help them to overcome their past difficulties, too.

      I wish you continued success.

  17. Good morning Juvette:
    I am pleased to know that you see the need for affirming yourself through your ‘affirmation’ cards. Reading quotes from others and applying to our lives can truly have a great impact on us. I like how you are doing it, surrounding yourself with positive visual reminders. These are great motivators. Pass the challenge on to others for I believe you are doing a great job in encouraging yourself.


  18. Good day to you Michael:
    Although we would not want people to say damaging words to others just because they can, we must understand that damaged people can only speak hurting words. Remember, we speak what we have become and this depends on the environment in which we have grown up in.

    There is a difference between damning a person’s psyche and constructive criticism. Harmful negative words are designed to destroy, while constructive criticism builds up. The tone of voice in which the words are said in both context is also very important. Harmful words are spewed out in an ‘acid’ tone while those of constructive criticism are calm and said in a more controlled tone of voice.

    It is alright to say that having enough pride in oneself will make it difficult for people to put you down. However, hurtful words are ‘biting’ and when said often enough will wear a victim down. This becomes more harmful when said from different people, often enough, especially those closest to us.

    Remember Michael, hurting words are so destructive that they can erode anyone’s pride.
    Thanks for your comments.

  19. This reminds me of the Rule of Consistency that is used a lot in sales but applies to all avenues of life. This rule is what psychologists consider a shortcut for decision making. If you tell someone when you meet them that they must be really smart when they say something and then later down the road say, I know you will take this action because you know it’s smart and you’re clearly smart, they are more likely to take that action because they want to be consistent with the fact that you called them smart earlier. 

    Apply this to children by giving them praise and affirmation and they will be more likely to express themselves positively consistently down the road as well like you mentioned in your article. Do you see the similarities with how this rule could be applied to overcoming criticism and promoting strong mental health?

    1. Good night Eric
      It is true. The Rule of Consistency works. The speaker just lays the foundation with genuine praise and voila the listener becomes Mr Faithfully, doing what is asked of him. People like to be praised. It is the vitamin that takes us the extra miles.
      Children are no different. Shower them with praise and they will move the world to please.
      Thank you for your comment.

  20. Sharon,

    These are tactics I have always used when dealing with children, today parents do not seem to comprehend that the words they use with children are so hurtful.  I have heard parents tell children they are dumb and will never learn pulling them aside I will try to help them with little ways to remember things.  Parents will chastise children for being overweight yet they are not better themselves and turn around an feed them fast food daily.  Understanding how children are talked to makes the difference in a child’s life for how they are going to be as an adult being positive and reinforcing this is necessary today.

    Thank you,


    1. Hi Susan
      You made a valuable point which is worth commenting on. How can parents criticise children for being overweight yet they are the ones who feed them fast food? The children have been struck a double whammy. They are not the ones who feed themselves yet are demotivated for their physical appearance.
      As I have said before hurting people hurt others. Adults can be cruel and unfortunately children are silenced when they strike back.
      It is great to know you are combating the damage parents do to their kids. You are doing a great job and although you may not see any result now your seeds will bear fruit later.
      Keep up the great work.

  21. Hi

    It is so true that negative criticism can dig itself down into your psyche and can work towards destroying your belief in yourself, so it is even more true that it is so important NOT to let such words get to you, and to train yourself to ignore them.

    I really believe in the power of Affirmations, and also in the power of positive self-talk and positive thinking. For every negative comment or thought that you have, it is really important to think at least Ten positive thoughts in order to counteract the effect of negativity on your sub-conscious mind.

    If children consider themselves a failure, that will affect their whole lives, and teachers and parents play such an important part in counteracting this mindset.

    Very many thanks for your post.

    Chrissie 🙂

  22. Finally, I found a great topic to be talking about, actually, what I hate the most in this world are negative people and bullies I remember when I was a kid during my elementary school I had been always disturbed by bullies. I have been always asking when I can get rid of this person. In this world, there are negative people that don’t want you to be a successful person who is always optimistic about the future. Their job in this life is to break you down and make you feel really down 

  23. Hi Sharon, 

    Very well stated! 

    Speaking negativity to our children often leads to inevitable feelings of failure later on in their lives and is morally reprehensible. Your approach on affirmation is the key towards encouraging our children. 

    Out of the abundance of the heart, the tongue speaks and unfortunately some humans have no filter and say things that automatically come to mind, often without thinking of the consequences.

    So, with that being said, you “spiders” out there, try and develop a filter and have consideration for your fellow human beings whether young or old!

  24. I have been told myself that I will never be more than average nor will I accomplish anything more than average in life. The one way I have personally done to cope with it was to cut these very people out and let in people who were encouraging or empowering in my life. It’s sad that I had to let some friends I have known for life be cut out but I felt it was better for my personal growth and success.

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