Hypercritical personality types may not receive as much attention as they should. Yet, hypercritical personality disorders are very evident in today’s society and appear to be on the rise.
Hypercritical Personality Disorder: Unpacking the Term
An analysis of the word “hypercritical” shows how the two words, “hyper” and “critical,” are essential elements of the definition of hypercritical personality disorder.
Merriam-Webster defines hyper as excitable, highly excited, and high-strung. The dictionary defines critical as an inclination to criticize unfavorably and severely. Together, the literal definition of hypercritical means highly excited, unfavorable, and severely critical.
When applied to hypercritical personality disorder, the term refers to a disorder characterized by thoughts and behaviors that are severe, negative, and critical.
What Is Hypercritical Disorder?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) does not recognize hypercritical disorder as an official personality disorder. However, about 9 percent of the population in the United States has some personality disorder. Furthermore, about half or more of hospitalized individuals are believed to have personality disorders.
What Is It Like to Have Hypercritical Disorder?
When you have hypercritical disorder, you never feel good enough. Furthermore, nothing you do measures up to whomever you’re being compared to. It’s unfair, of course, but hypercritical personality types often feel like there isn’t anything they can do to change things.
Besides never feeling good enough, those with hypercritical personality disorders tend to:
- Watch what they say and do, fearing a barrage of attacks on their words, looks, intelligence, talents, skills, thoughts, and behavior.
- Be afraid to act because they’ll make mistakes, and others will see their flaws.
- Believe they are worthless and don’t deserve attention, love, or support due to their supposed character defects.
- Cringe and wither under unrelenting and unwarranted, harsh criticism.
- Give up on any dreams they have because they feel unable to achieve them.
- Be unaware that the individuals heaping the verbal abuse on them are not telling the truth.
- Never raise objections to the criticism since they firmly believe it is valid.
- Disbelieve anyone who tells them that they are being mistreated or verbally abused or that they have value, strength, and talents and are worthy of being loved.
Identifying Hypercritical Disorder
How do you identify hypercritical personality types? Are there typical traits that those with hypercritical personality disorders possess?
Although hypercritical disorder is not an officially recognized mental health disorder, hypercritical personality types do tend to exhibit the following:
- They have extreme difficulty establishing and maintaining close relationships with others. This is primarily because their behaviors and beliefs are so out of the norm that society accepts that others find them problematic and shy away from the individuals.
- Their self-identity and sense of self are fuzzy, unclear, or unstable. What they do and think often varies and changes depending on the situations they find themselves in or who they’re with. For example, they may feel inferior to someone they want to get close to or that they surpass that person. Either way, the path to a sound relationship suffers.
- They lack insight into how and why their behaviors and thoughts are deemed unacceptable or problematic to others.
- Trust and intimacy issues may be prevalent. This is often linked to childhood trauma or abuse.
- Those who were abused verbally by their parents are more likely to abuse others as adults verbally.
- Difficulty processing threatening or fearful stimuli may be linked to dysfunctional brain areas.
How are Hypercritical Personality Disorders Treated?
As with any personality disorder, hypercritical personality types may substantially benefit from psychological counseling and therapy. Yet, personality disorders, including hypercritical personality disorders, are some of the most challenging mental illnesses to treat.
This does not mean treatment is impossible or won’t be effective. On the contrary, helping someone who merely exists on a sub-threshold of life, never realizing their full potential, can, at a minimum, improve their quality of life.
The counselor or therapist will conduct a thorough examination, including asking questions about the individual’s physical and mental health history, relationships, and employment.
Some questions seek to test the individual’s overall sense of reality, whether they’re suffering any delusions or hallucinations, tend to exaggerate or minimize facts, distort truths, tell deliberate lies, or exhibit extremes in behavior, thoughts, and words. Testing the person’s impulse control is also of interest to the therapist.
Why does the psychiatric professional ask these questions? Individuals with personality disorders, including hypercritical personality types, generally lack an understanding of their behaviors. Without knowing why they do what they do or why their beliefs are distorted, untrue, or hurtful, hypercritical people cannot move forward to live a meaningful life.
There are no medications approved to treat personality disorders. However, treatment professionals can prescribe medications to help improve anxiety and depression symptoms, which are commonly experienced by those with personality disorders.
What Treatment Seeks to Accomplish
Treatment for hypercritical personality types, as with the goals for other types of mental health issues, is focused on the following:
- Assisting the individual in understanding that what they’re going through is an internal problem — and not something other people caused. (Even if the person suffered greatly at the hands of a verbally abusive parent, their current mental health state is something that they can change with appropriate counseling and support.)
- Substantially reducing any immediate psychological distress, such as the mental anguish of depression and anxiety.
- Guiding the individual in ways to decrease behavior that is both unhealthy and undesirable in society.
- Seeking to modify the problem-causing personality traits.
Perfectionism and Its Impact on Mental Health
Nothing is perfect in life. Yet, being bombarded by advertisements touting how you can achieve perfection leads to the false belief that this is a goal individuals can realize. The downside to perfectionism is that nothing is ever good enough. There’s always more that must be done to achieve perfectionism.
That constant striving for perfection leads to profound dissatisfaction, anger, frustration, depression, and futility. For anyone with underlying anxiety and depression or who may be experiencing substance abuse, homelessness, grief, trauma, or other issues, trying to be perfect is one more step on a slippery slope to despair.
OCPD and Perfectionism
Many controlling individuals who take their behavior to extremes may have obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). This is not, however, obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is a type of anxiety disorder.
Individuals experiencing OCPD are fanatically consumed by obsessive thinking and the compulsive rituals they perform. They’re so mired in rules, schedules, lists, organizing, and order that their rigid adherence to unattainable standards of perfection means they cannot or rarely finish tasks.
As a result, they cannot delegate assignments to others. They lack empathy. Stubbornness is a common trait. They tend to rebuke others. Everything must be done to their impossibly high standards.
In this, individuals with OCPD and hypercritical personality types seem similar. They are both hypercritical people and perfectionists, demanding and exerting control. In addition, they were likely raised by hypercritical, controlling perfectionist parents.
The Role of Self-Criticism in Psychological Well-Being
While everyone desires self-improvement, being unduly harsh with self-criticism—often due to hypercritical people dismissing their abilities— can stunt and substantially damage psychological well-being.
A 2020 study looking at criticism found that excessive criticism plays some role in the development and recurrence of depression and other forms of mental illness. Maternal negative criticism was found to be potentially predictive of a child developing depression in another study. Extrapolating this finding to the influence excessive self-criticism has on psychological well-being seems justified.
Extensive self-criticism leads to diminished self-esteem and lack of confidence.
Constantly self-berating thoughts lower goal expectations.
On the other hand, healthy self-critique can lead to a balanced reassessment of priorities, eliminating undesirable behaviors and thoughts, and adding proactive goals and activities more in line with a happier life.
Healthy Self-Evaluation: Strategies for Maintaining Balance
Everyone wants to live a happy, fulfilling life. Despite coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, suffering childhood trauma, or growing up in a household with hypercritical people, it is still possible to thrive in adulthood. The key to healthy self-evaluation involves using effective ways to maintain balance in life:
- Be honest when speaking about your experiences. Avoid exaggeration of accomplishments or downplaying challenges.
- Openly express feelings yet do so responsibly. This means not dumping emotional overload on loved ones, family members, and friends.
- Refuse to do what you know you don’t want to. This means turning down invitations, suggestions, or demands to engage in behaviors you know are unhealthy for you or make you feel uncomfortable, demeaned, or controlled.
- Let others know your expectations instead of assuming they know what you expect.
- If you have problems with others, speak with them to address them.
- Avoid putting off a response. Be direct and reply when the situation calls for it.
- Strive to be adaptable and avoid riding adherence to patterns or behaviors.
- Give yourself time to relax and unwind. This also means taking a break from overly burdensome responsibilities or hectic schedules that cause stress.