The Critics Among Us and Those Who Raise Us

The standard method to make a child to dislike himself is to contrast him with a sibling, one alleged to be superior in behavior or personality. It takes a kind of misbegotten skill, however, to use the technique on every one of your offspring. The destructive parent tells son X he isn’t as well-behaved as his brother Y. Meanwhile, the mom or dad complains to Y that he isn’t as smart as X.

“Try to be more like X. I’m only saying this for your own good.”

Both end up disliking themselves and their competitor, not knowing the other receives the same treatment.

Therapists, were they loathsome enough, might put such caretakers on commission, since they drive droves of the walking wounded to an eventual meeting with a counselor.

Ah, but wordy wickedness was practiced even in ancient times. Some parents unknowingly model their actions after the Greek god Momus, so foul he was expelled from Olympus, the gods’ heavenly home.

Aesop included Momus in a couple of his fables. In one he presides over a competition between a man, a bull, and a house. This ungodly judge gave no trophies, finding fault with them all. The man’s failure was to hide his heart, causing Momus to claim he could therefore not evaluate the merit of his makeup. The bull fell short because his horns included no eyes, the better to guide him whenever he charged.

My own favorite, however, was the umpire’s indictment of the house. The god of blame found the residence lacking in the wheels needed to avoid difficult neighbors. Momus might have a point here.

Critics also attract their own critics. A world famous musician on the downside of his career gave the local music scribes a name: eunuchs. Why? “Because they can’t do it.” Meaning, in his case, they wrote in complaint of him because they lacked his musical talent to perform.

The player’s bitterness revealed one of the dangers of being the target of denigration: becoming like the person who castigated you.

The “eunuch” example is odious. The extremity of such word-use is the point. Exaggeration is valuable to those who wish to damage; injure in an indelible, lasting way. We can all remember personal examples.

Who do verbal abusers and bullies aim for? Those weaker (children, subordinates) and the targets who betray their vulnerability, terror, or timidity by facial expression, downcast gaze, words, neediness, or posture. These are the preferred victims, though anyone will do. Protest their sarcasm and they’ll say you can’t take a joke.

Rise higher and you encounter a few jealous backstabbers. Fall down and you serve some as a doormat. But don’t discount life’s frustrations as a driver of lashing out under pressure. Almost everyone has a boiling point.

The right criticism is worthwhile. Corrective instruction and rigorous expectation by a mentor or supervisor are both necessary and inevitable. One only finds resilience in taking on that which is painful and challenging. If we received 24/7 adulation and applause, whether inside ourselves or out, the world of excellence would be beyond us.

Still, one must distinguish between those whose words can help or spur us on and the people intent on our obliteration. When you have been raised by folks who pretend the former, but shoot for the latter, confusion follows. Life requires us to identity disguises. False friends display affection so long as we are of use, not longer.

With therapeutic guidance it is possible to improve at ferreting out adversaries, the wolves clothed as sheep or protectors; those who vilify and believe your weakness is their strength.

Remember, no one is so fine a judge of character as to be foolproof. Disappointment and hurt contribute to the price we pay for love and participation in the human group.

Some flee from appraisal and keep out of range of the quiver full of arrows we all carry at times. Here is the best argument not to run, captured in the last line of a quote from a Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel.

“The opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

He did not survive the murder of family and friends to die inside, but to live with people, many of whom were kind.


The first two photographs, both taken on May 24, 2019, come from Shasta County, south of Redding, California. The first is by Angela Walfoort, the second by Monica Leard. The final image is the work of Hans Hillewaert: Angola at Dawn on the Kunene River, seen from Epupa Falls, Namibia. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

11 thoughts on “The Critics Among Us and Those Who Raise Us

  1. hiddenlayersbeneath

    I can definitely relate to sibling rivalry, as instigated by parents. But the world is filled with comparisons and competition. Co-opetiton (a healthy blend of cooperation and competition) is said to work best in corporate settings. For siblings who have been compared by parents, however, they have the toxic form of competition; rarely do they cooperate and form what family systems calls sibling coalitions, healthy bonds between siblings. Parents can be emotionally abusive, as can mentors or others who use the same toxic comparisons between mentees/students; it is toxic competition for anyone, regardless of background. There is a difference between toxic competition and criticism. There is also a difference between stigmatizing discrimination and healthy criticism. The former compares the majority norm to minorities, whereas the latter truly believes in a growth mindset and offers suggestions for personal improvement (individualized).


  2. drgeraldstein

    Well said. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My mother has been a master at keeping her five children divided. Unknown to me, during my years of separation from the rest of our family, she had put me on a pedestal for my siblings to emulate. Much to their delight, she kicked me off the pedestal during a family gathering at her home here in Los Angeles. The attack came out of nowhere, as though she was waiting for an opportunity to hurt me…yet again. My sons were flabbergasted.

    As HiddenLayersBeneath has commented, “siblings who have been compared by parents…rarely…cooperate and form what family systems calls sibling coalitions, healthy bonds between siblings.” As the eldest, I have been powerless to get my siblings to come together to provide for our mother in her senior years. Sad to say, my mother now reaps the fruit of indifference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • hiddenlayersbeneath

      I am so sorry you went through that, Rosaliene. Interestingly, I’m from Los Angeles (Torrance, to be exact)/California. I don’t know if it is a thing there, but such a small world! I’ve been estranged from my family for quite some time. Only since 2016 have I tried to reconnect with them – from afar. I try to spend time with my mother, but it’s tough to spend time with her and my siblings because it seems like they are all in competition to win her favor, though some of my half-siblings from my mother’s side were deeply hurt by her (though there’s no discussion as to why). I like how you describe the divide, and it’s sad when the relationship between mother and child comes back around to bite years later when the parent needs filial support but her (emotionally abused) offspring want nothing to do with that (probably for reasons of feeling it would be unfair, or the pain it would dig up when they think that they are offering better care to her in her elder years than she has ever shown them, or any other reason I cannot fathom at the moment). I don’t know what the therapists would say, or if there’s any hope for family healing (that is, if all parties were in agreement for family therapy). However, it feels easier to me to remain somewhat estranged; I don’t feel smothered, infantilized, like the “black sheep,” judged, compared to, belittled, insulted, humiliated, embarrassed, etc. when I’m away from family. Nevertheless, I am reminded of that pain whenever I enter into a toxic environment with one or more people who dare to compare me to others, use me as a scapegoat, discriminate against me, judge me, insult me, humiliate me, get jealous of me, expect me to do more than my share because I’m the older (person, student, employee, etc.), etc. It’s yet another thing to heal from. There are so many different ways to parent a child, and so many different generations that believed in different practices for child rearing, that there is this generational divide among the individual family divides. This theme of dividing, comparing, and competition seem toxic, especially to those who are seen as less than or those who are pressured to be the best caretakers (i.e., the parentified older siblings). I wonder if singletons (those without siblings) fare better.

      Liked by 1 person

    • drgeraldstein

      I share the condolences of Hiddenlayersbeneath, Rosaliene. The pedestal is never a secure place.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Dr G – got nothing to do with the siblings, the source is the parents, the siblings get tarnished and taught by the parents, and so it gets handed down from generation to generation – been exploring C-PTSD and its links to BPD – now we can all feel the justified anger and rage when a rapist sets out and rapes, when a terrorist sets out and blows precious lives to kingdom come, we get the murdering lusts of a murderer, we say to ourselves that they are evil people, it is the evil inside them that makes them commit these atrocities, it all stems from a center of evilness, that is how we justify and live with it and come to acceptance – but a parent, a mother, a father, they are portrayed as centers of goodness and nurturing and kindness and we are hard wired to expect this from them, to develop life long, ongoing trauma from a parent is unthinkable, goes against our very survival instinct natures to accept that, what is more unthinkable to accept is that those parents can easily go against their own natures of kindness and goodness and nurture and cause untold damage and trauma, developmental trauma, with full knowledge and intent, that is what is so hard to accept and what for years many of us avoid to even think about let alone try and heal, that out of so called stereotyped loving parental hands comes the same damage and trauma and harm as from those other hands that rape and blow up and murder


    • hiddenlayersbeneath

      Rosie, I’m so sorry if you or someone else you know has went through the pain of early childhood trauma, but I do not agree with your definitions of justified criminal behavior, no matter the origin of trauma (seeing as though your explanation determines culpability for malice aforethought). From what you have shared, it sounds like anger. Anger in and of itself is not bad, but it shouldn’t be acted upon in a criminal way, thus keeping the transgenerational trauma perpetuating and doing the very things that you claim to be fighting against (or so angry at and therefore giving up on fighting against). Many persons who have been abused as children do NOT criminally harm others, as they’ve chosen to get help through professional means *or* self-help books *or* social support *or* a combination of those three. Research has shown differences in dysfunctional families when siblings are present, especially research on destructive forms of parentification and/or sibling abuse. So, yes, the presence of siblings CAN change the family dynamics among already dysfunctional families (in some cases, siblings help one another, and in other cases, siblings harm one another, and, still, in other cases, siblings can do both). The “only child” may have differences in experiencing childhood trauma, but I have not read into it (which means that research might exist on that). Victims-turned-offenders may have mitigating circumstances that affect sentencing, but it still is no excuse for their criminal behaviors since there is often malice aforethought and a reasonable amount of intelligence, even though that intelligence is not being utilized to take responsibility for one’s own actions and healing. If you’re doing research or “looking into” the links between CPTSD and BPD, and if you are looking at making such claims about culpability for someone’s actions, which are TWO SEPARATE FIELDS (the former being psychology, the latter being criminal justice), look at the amount of people in jails and prisons who have had both histories of serious mental illnesses (some trauma-related, some not), including PTSD, CPTSD, and personality disorders, and you’ll find a lot of male and female adjudicated delinquents and adult criminals who have had such diagnoses in conjunction with callous-unemotional traits (often seen in those with some forms of psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder), callous (with emotional) traits (often seen in BPD and some forms of psychopathy or bipolar or schizophrenia or ADHD, etc.), reactive (emotional) traits without callousness (such as those who have comorbid substance abuse disorders/problems who commit non-violent property crimes such as theft and burglary), etc. There are also crossover youth who have crossed over from the child welfare system (e.g., foster care) and into the juvenile justice system (e.g., adjudicated delinquents in detention, in residential treatment facilities, on probation, on parole, or tried and convicted as adults). There are also dual status youth who are in both the child welfare and criminal justice system, such as those who are on parole or probation as adjudicated delinquents and reside in residential treatment facilities (which are operated and funded largely by the child welfare system, but may be jointly funded and run by the Juvenile Justice System as well). And despite legal issues victims-turned-offenders often face, their problems with finding and maintaining a conservation of resources, social capital, friends, and intimate partners make them susceptible to future offending, recidivism, and future victimization. How can this mess and abuse stop? When individuals take responsibility for their actions and stop the cycle of generational trauma; stop being a trauma defender by taking responsibility for your own emotions and need for revenge through displaced and projected anger. That’s how it stops. Ruminating through blaming and justifying the same traumatic things you claim to hate only turns victims into offenders and worse – future victims as well. Finding links to CPTSD and BPD is only one side of the story; there are other sides and fields investigating, and there are victims of those with BPD/Narcissism/ASPD who have suffered from their projective and displaced abuse on non-filial bystanders. Try looking at prevention and the consequences of those with PDs who have faced criminal charges and the perpetuating problem that goes beyond blaming parents or siblings or being an only child, etc. There are many people who do not choose those paths, and yes, IT IS A CHOICE.


      • unfortunately simple explanations are not that simple for some – we find it more acceptable to justify the evil actions of say an unrelated non-familial rapist or murderer (with or without a trauma history) as these actions come from a source of supposed evil, it is less acceptable and justifiable for us to understand when the trauma and abuse comes from the hands of those who are supposed to be loving and caring and nurturing, our parents, especially when done intentionally – CPTSD is a disorder of a lack of nurture, a developmental disorder, continuous trauma over time, perpetrated by parents/caregivers and BPD can and does arise from these foundations, the links between the two are strong – sometimes reading too far between the lines can give some the distorted platform they need to vent their own issues based on a hair thin assumption and supposed correlation between unrelated facts twisted to become related


    • drgeraldstein

      Indeed, Rosie, humanity has found an infinity of ways to hurt, and the hurt coming from one who should love you is especially grievous. As Shakespeare wrote in his portrayal of Caesar’s assassination in the Roman Senate, when he saw that Brutus was among his attackers, is translated from the Latin, “Et tu, Brute?,” as “Even YOU Brutus?” The sense of betrayal is present in those three words. He follows with “Then fall Caesar,” speaking of himself in the third person.


  5. This stung a bit because it hit a bit too close to home, except I was compared unfavorably to extended family, neighbors, acquaintances, and strangers. Throw poverty into the mix for good measure. It has taken its toll on me but I am fighting back. I am glad to have you back, Dr. Stein.


  6. drgeraldstein

    Keep fighting! Thanks, Nancy.


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