Constant Sarcasm/Criticism: 6 Helpful Steps for Dealing with It
Do you know people who use constant sarcasm? Does it seem that they are incapable of having a genuine conversation without constant sarcasm?
Are there people you know who use criticism about you or others every time you’re around them? Do they try to act like their constant sarcasm or criticism is a joke? Why do people do this?
For years I have wondered why certain people use constant sarcasm or criticism, when to me and most people, their “jokes” are never funny. As I’ve spent more and more time pondering this, I believe I have discovered a possible explanation.
People who use constant sarcasm or criticism lack social skills. Therefore, they turn to constant sarcasm and criticism of others to fill the void resulting from an inability to connect with others.
Also, more than likely, they are incredibly insecure. Now, please be aware that, at first glance, these people probably seem overly confident and secure with themselves. If you examine their subconscious beliefs about themselves, it is likely that you will find that their own insecurities are frequently the source of their sarcasm and criticism.
Why People Use Constant Sarcasm and Criticism
In other words, they treat others the way that they actually feel about themselves, which is pretty terrible. People who are truly confident and have good self-worth don’t need to use constant sarcasm and criticism towards others.
Now, it may be hard to have compassion for these critical people, but it is sad to realize how miserable they can be with themselves. Please understand that I am not saying that you should allow critical and sarcastic people to continue spewing their Not Good Enough Stuff on you.
What I am saying is that you can try to understand where their constant sarcasm and criticism is coming from. If you are interested in learning more about Not Good Enough Stuff, click here to read the blog post explaining NGES.
Boundaries are still needed with people who use constant sarcasm and criticism, even when you realize it’s a result of low self-worth. You should still voice your unwillingness to allow their constant sarcasm and criticism of you and others.
Setting a boundary is very hard with these kinds of people because their hard outer shell is actually hiding their insecurity. They are actually very fragile emotionally.
Steps to Handle Constant Sarcasm and Criticism from Others:
- If you have to interact with sarcastic and critical people just know that it is normal to have anger and frustration every time an interaction with them is over. Finding a way to find peace afterwards is important. Determine what activity can give you peace (e.g. going for a walk, meditating, journaling).
- Decide what your boundary is going to be and communicate it. For example, “If you have anything else critical to say to me, this visit will be over.”
- Understand that when you set a boundary, it will really throw them off because they are used to people never setting boundaries. Do not let that cause you to withdraw your boundary.
- Know that, more than likely, they will revert to very young behavior (like a child pouting) or attempt to make you look weak because you “can’t handle a joke.”
- Recognize that neither of those responses says anything about you, but says a lot about them and their inability to acknowledge the reasons for their behaviors tied to low self-worth.
- Stay firm in the boundary you set and follow through with the consequence you establish that will take place if the boundary is broken with more constant sarcasm and criticism towards you or others.
Constant Sarcasm and Criticism from Children
Constant sarcasm and criticism of others occurs with adults, but also with children. These adults merely grew up, but they were probably children with the same behaviors. My guess as to why some children use constant sarcasm or criticism is that they lack social skills.
Their parents probably had difficulty connecting with others too. Autism is typically the first thing people think of when they hear somebody lacks social skills. However, that is not what I’m referring to in this post.
What I am referring to is how some people struggle to have meaningful conversations with others. Not Good Enough Stuff plays into this as they’ve most likely had difficulty acknowledging or expressing their own feelings.
Due to this, it is hard for them to create conversations that they might not be able to control. So, if you are confused, I will give you some examples that illustrate others using constant sarcasm or criticism instead of having a normal, genuine conversation.
Examples of Teenagers Who Use Constant Sarcasm and Criticism
As a therapist, I have seen many teenagers who have difficulty allowing themselves to truly connect with me. That also coincides with their struggles to have friendships with others and can often be the reason their parents brought them to counseling.
One teenager I saw for a while could not walk into my office and sit down to begin her session without making a joke or being critical of me. Often she would walk in and make rude comments about my clothing, such as “your scarf doesn’t match your clothes,” or “you’re so short and it’s hard to act like you’re an adult because you look like a child.”
Now, I never took offense to any of her comments because I wanted to figure out the subconscious motive underneath those behaviors. Therapy is difficult for anybody at any age, but for teenagers it can be even more difficult.
Working with that teenager, I noticed that any time I asked her a question about her life, she would freeze for a very brief moment. After that would come one of her attempts at making a joke or using sarcasm to avoid the question.
“Obviously my life isn’t going well if I have to sit here and talk to you,” or “Aren’t you tired of asking me questions yet?”, “Your questions are dumb” are the types of responses I would get. It would be easy to allow frustration to be my response.
Instead, I would comment about her fears and the difficulty of my learning about her. For quite some time, that would result in something like, “Well, your scarf still doesn’t match.” Eventually, she began opening up to me, but EVERY single session always began with her awkward attempts to make me the butt of a joke or to criticize me.
Fear of Intimate Relationships
Adults who use constant sarcasm or criticism of others do so for the same reason as the teenager I mentioned. Actually showing a genuine interest in another person, might result in that person trying to show a genuine interest in them.
That is scary for people who have spent their lives trying to avoid emotional intimacy with others. Vulnerability is incredibly difficult and something very few people are truly able to show. If you are vulnerable with somebody, they might hurt you emotionally.
So, just avoid being vulnerable or allowing somebody else to be vulnerable with you. Use constant sarcasm or criticism to make sure a genuine, healthy conversation doesn’t happen.
I’ll use myself as an example as I am often the recipient of these kinds of behaviors. It usually doesn’t offend me because I’m aware that these kinds of people have subconscious fears that I might see something about them and do whatever they can to avoid that possibility. Again, that does not mean that I should not still set a boundary.
Examples of Adults Who Use Constant Sarcasm and Criticism
“How’s it going working with all those crazy people” is often an attempt at a conversation with me. The goal for that kind of sarcasm or joke-making doesn’t leave room for me to actually communicate how my work-life is going. Success is usually achieved by the person asking that kind of question.
However, their idea of success is to avoid the possibility that I might talk about difficult things related to my job. Now, that would be way too personal for the kinds of people I’m describing because it could create an intimate conversation. My response might allow me to express some of my feelings, which would result in their discomfort.
Another example of this is when this type of person acts as if he or she is making a joke and thinks is is funny. For those who do not know me, I have very wild, long, curly red hair.
Due to that, I appear to be an easy target for these kinds of people. “Are you ever gonna cut that hair?” “What do you do to your hair to make it look that wild and out of control?”
Now, these types of comments are in no way meant to be a compliment. Instead, the commenter lacks the ability to have a genuine connection and has to resort to behaviors that subconsciously push people away. All humans need intimate connections with others, but many are never taught how to make that happen.
Navigating Relationships with Those Who Use Constant Sarcasm and Criticism
Due to that and subconscious fears of vulnerability and true connections with others, constant sarcasm and criticism are used. Most people don’t know how to navigate somebody’s constant sarcasm or criticism.
Trust me, it’s difficult to do that. Often, it results in us being angry and frustrated with the offender.
Over the years, I have had many of these kinds of people in my life and still do today. Reacting without anger to these kinds of comments is no easy feat. My initial response is something I have to restrain because I’d like to return their sarcastic comment to them.
Nothing is ever gained from that, nor is anything gained from merely ignoring the person because typically they’ll continue until they get a negative response from you. Again, that meets their need to refrain from having intimate connections with others due to fear of vulnerability.
Also, people who use these behaviors will often keep the conversations focused on them and the surface-level types of information given. For teenagers, they might say something like, “Oh yeah, I had an easy math test today” or “I don’t have to go to school next Friday.”
Adults might say things like, “I went to the store to get some chicken (or whatever else) and they were out. So, I have to go back tomorrow” or “I’m working on my yard this weekend.”
Controlling Conversations to Keep Focus on Themselves
Basically any kinds of mundane conversation that couldn’t possibly result in an intimate relationship are their “go-to” topics. People who use constant sarcasm and criticism due to a lack of social skills usually try to keep the conversation focused on them. Controlling the conversation by talking about themselves and not engaging others is another way they avoid true and genuine connections with others.
In conclusion, just know that everybody has encountered these kinds of people. Practice the 6 steps in this post. Remind yourself that nobody should have to endure constant sarcasm or criticism, regardless of your relationship to the offender.
“Sarcasm: the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.” Fyodor Dostoevsky
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This site is only intended for people who are truly willing to look at themselves with an open mind and have the ability to truly be vulnerable with themselves and others. Please understand that this site is in NO WAY THERAPEUTIC ADVICE. However, this site can be very beneficial in learning the causes of your Not Good Enough Stuff. This site is not intended to provide or replace medical or psychiatric treatment. Mary Beth HIGHLY RECOMMENDS finding a licensed therapist to help you process the information from this site and all that you learn about yourself. Visit Psychology Today to find a licensed therapist in your area.
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Call me an enigma, but I’m an HSP who uses a lot of sarcasm and crude or dark humor.
A big part of that is how I grew up; my family does not know how to communicate their emotions so it was often used as a deflection, and my parents were always critical when I ended up with depression and since have not been able to take care of myself or succeed much in life.
My friends and I use a lot of sarcasm and crude jokes, and we also know when to tone it down and be sincere, how to speak up if a joke made at our expense hurt instead of making us laugh, or which lines not to cross.
I think it’s very common in younger millennials and Gen Z (I’m part of the former group myself), for what reason, I don’t know. But it’s always done humorously; saying something like “Your scarf doesn’t match your clothes,” isn’t the kind of thing we would say to each other, because that’s just rude, and not even funny.
Celtice, I think it’s great that you’re able to recognize where your sarcasm/criticism came from because that’s really important. It’s hard to grow up with critical parents, as I know all too well.
As for the generational part of your comment, I don’t think it’s just the younger Millennials or Gen Z. I think it is both of those and EVERY generation prior to that in a very generalized sense. It’s incredibly hard to be vulnerable, which is required to talk about feelings and what you experience.
My hope and what I see happening is that the generations after the Millennials and Gen Z seem to be a lot more open to sharing their feelings and I hope that continues. So, eventually those generations will begin raising more emotionally healthy children, which will shift our society in such a beautiful way.
Thank you for your comment and I wish you such love and peace on your continued healing journey.
Thank you for the thoughtful response! I definitely share your hope for the younger generations and their desire to heal and be open about trauma and emotions.
You are so welcome!