Then what are the drawbacks?
Critical analysis requires complexity, creativity and flexibility. Understanding grows exponentially. This differs from overthinking, overanalyzing, and endless critiquing. Sometimes an intensive focus on details and finding flaws can obscure the big picture, rendering it meaningless. Minor problems loom large. Chronic dissatisfaction and perfectionism wreak havoc.
Do any of these situations sound familiar?
- Unable to enjoy a feel-good, uplifting film because of critiquing the cinematography/editing/dialogue, etc.
- Obsessing about perceived personal inadequacies
- Late handing in work, papers or projects because of needing to perfect them
- Irritated by minor flaws in any new situation - a new apartment, a vacation rental, a restaurant, a classroom
- Unable to enjoy artistic events - art show, concerts, dance, theatre - without scrutinizing the flaws in presentation or performance
- Engage in "friendly" debate with friends and family, sparring about facts related to current events, politics or any area of accumulated knowledge
- Set high standards for friendships and relationships, often having difficulty finding friends you can respect and trust
- Annoying others by correcting their grammar or facts mid-sentence
- Accused of being stubborn, opinionated, competitive by those who know you well
- Define some of your self-worth on your critical analytic skills and accomplishments
If any of the above seem familiar, you may recognize the drawbacks that accompany too much critiquing. It not only interferes with relationships (since most people don't really appreciate your criticism), but also creates inner turmoil, causes restlessness and dissatisfaction, thwarts pleasure, and perpetuates a never-ending scrutiny of perceived personal flaws.
What causes this critical sensitivity?
2. Gifted children and teens are often praised for their accomplishments, detailed focus and encyclopedic knowledge. As a result, their sense of self may become tied to their abilities and success. It becomes part of their identity. Even as adults, the capacity to scrutinize, criticize and acquire knowledge may remain a source of pride and recognition. If they loosen the reigns and are less thorough or critical, it may feel as if they are giving up an important aspect of themselves. Gifted people need to appreciate that their self-worth is not based on their accomplishments, and that they can relinquish or censor their tendency to criticize when it is unnecessary or creates a problem.
3. Some gifted people have perfectionistic traits. They feel driven to always succeed and reach the top. Their self-esteem is tied to their accomplishments, recognition from others, and the ability to prove their worth through performance, projects, tests, and even winning points in day-to-day discussions. They may feel compelled to become experts in whatever area they are studying or pursuing. This can range from a mastery of political minutia to authority in a niche topic to acquiring the best chocolate chip cookie recipes. They push themselves relentlessly to keep up with information, feel despair when they don't achieve their goals, and may alienate others with their competitive drive and need to prove their self-worth. There is a clear difference between striving for excellence and perfectionism. When perfectionism takes hold, counseling with a licensed mental health professional may be necessary.
4. Despite their talents and abilities, some gifted children have a rough time. They feel insecure, have difficulty finding peers who "get them," and sometimes are bullied. Those with asynchronous development may lack the social maturity to keep up with their same-aged peers, and may suffer from social anxiety. As a result, some may retreat from social activities unless assured of acceptance. They may become cynical, critical of others, and bitter about how they have been treated. While their anger and hurt may be justified, developing a critical stance toward the world only fuels further bitterness and isolation. Defensive behaviors such as frequently criticizing others for minor flaws or overly scrutinizing their own work or performance will only increase their distress. In these circumstances, it is especially helpful to seek guidance from a licensed mental health professional to address the long-standing anger and suffering that has led to self-defeating behaviors.
What can you do?
1. Recognize the difference between a healthy capacity to scrutinize and acquire knowledge, and when critiquing is defensive in nature. Pay attention to whether such a critical focus brings you closer to others and enhances your life, or if it alienates you, creates tension in relationships, or causes problems in school or work.
2. Pay attention to whether your critical analytic focus is truly based on a love of in-depth analysis and scrutiny, or results from internal pressure to achieve certain standards. Is it something that you enjoy and benefit from, or an automatic reaction that you just cannot shake? Is your identity entangled in your role as "the critic/sleuth/perfectionist/analyst?" Do you wonder what it would be like to enjoy a film, vacation, dinner party, or even a quick visit with a friend without finding flaws?
3. Notice how being a critic enhances or hurts your self-esteem. Is it a positive part of your identity, or does it make you feel worse about yourself? Are you constantly scrutinizing perceived personal flaws and obsessively reviewing interactions where you worry that you said the wrong thing? Do you obsess about what to wear, what to say, and what others think about you? The popularized term "inner critic" characterizes the torment many feel when they continually berate themselves.
4. Have you received feedback that you are too critical, competitive or focused on winning? Does proving a point or surpassing your friend in a challenge mean more than the quality of your relationship? It is not essential to win every game, always get the last word, or come out on top in every situation. And unless you want to completely alienate a friend, you don't need to point out their faulty thinking, poor grammar, or incorrect grasp of facts. It is helpful to keep in mind the following questions before you make a comment: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
5. Recognize that your quick mind and capacity to think deeply provide many opportunities for enhanced learning and a rich mental life. While it can be tremendously fulfilling and enhance your academic and work endeavors, pay attention to when it crosses the line and becomes hurtful to you or others. If you struggle with perfectionism, obsessive worrying, low self-esteem, bitterness, defensiveness, or cynicism; if you have alienated others; if you have difficulty finding satisfaction in work, love, and leisure; it may be time to find help through the guidance from a licensed mental health professional.
It is never too late to stop being so critical of yourself...or others.