Nobody likes to be criticized. It is part of human nature. Hardly any human being enjoys a round of criticism. The reason for our aversion to any type of criticism lies in our distant past. Actually, it is found in a specific part of our brain, the ‘reptilian brain’.
The reptilian brain, also referred to as the ‘lizard brain’, is the oldest part of our brain. It is composed of the brainstem and the cerebellum. These parts of our brain control vital functions, among them breathing, heart rate, body temperature and balance.
Another important function of the reptilian brain is to control and to steer the reactions to an attack or a perceived threat to life. They manifest as our flight or fight instinct. These reactions are an automatic response of our primitive reptilian brain to a life-threatening danger. As such, they are primarily defensive in nature.
This is important to note because our sensitivity to criticism and insults derives from this defensive action. Our reptilian brain triggers the very first reaction to a perceived criticism or insult. However, flight or fight are only the very first and the fastest reactions to a perceived danger. Our genetic composition and our inherited personality traits influence our response to criticism and insults to a far greater extend. Personality and personality related disorders make up another substantial part of our sensitivity to criticism.
Here are a few reasons why we are so sensitive to criticism and insults:
1. Aversion to criticism is a defensive action
When we hear a criticism, our primitive brain triggers a defensive response in the form of a modified flight or fight reaction. We may attack (fight) or feel bad or sad (flight).
2. Our standing with our social groups is important to us
Humans survived because they belonged to tribal groups. They had to learn to be empathetic and emotionally in tune with the positive members of the group. Being shunned by the group or attacked, could mean rejection and, ultimately, death.
3. Old wounds breed sensitivity to criticism
These wounds are of an emotional nature. If a child is made to fail over and over, he will consider himself a failure. The wound makes her sensitive to even mild criticism.
4. Over sensitivity makes us see everything as criticism
A person with more than one emotional wound is most likely over sensitive to criticism. Take a test to determine if you qualify as one. Frequent mood swings are another sign of an over sensitive person.
5. A strong focus on the negative indicates sensitivity to criticism
Researchers speculate that interpreting ambiguous information negatively may cause high sensitivity to criticism. Criticism from family members and relatives is particularly hurtful. It may create a negative feedback loop in the affected person that is difficult to break.
Whatever the actual cause of exaggerated sensitivity to criticism is, there are treatment options that can break the vicious cycle.