Wednesday, April 2, 2014

6 Ways to Deal with Critical Family Members

Many people have at least one critical family member. We may come away from our interactions with them feeling angry, hurt and upset. It does not have to be this way. Here are six strategies to help you effectively handle criticism.

(While we will focus on family members, you can use these strategies to deal with criticism from others as well.)

1. Don’t take it personally. Some people are overly critical; it is a flaw they have to work on. Remind yourself that it is their issue, not yours. Their frequent criticism does not reflect poorly on you, it reflects poorly on them, that they have not yet learned how to speak to people.

When you don’t take people’s criticism personally, you will be able to step back and be more objective. This will help you let criticism roll off your back; you may even be able to see the humor in the situation and think to yourself, “There they go again.” (But make sure not to roll your eyes.)

Generally, family members criticize us because they want the best for us. They are afraid we will make a mistake, suffer the consequences and not fulfill our potential. It is their way of expressing concern and love. Feel compassion for their fears, and try to see past their surface remarks to the underlying love. Often, when they criticize us, what they really mean to say is, “I believe in you. I know you can improve even more and fulfill your amazing potential.”

Frequently, the more critical the family member is, the more they lack contentment and happiness. Critical people often also drive away family members and former friends, living lonely and bitter lives. See if you can feel compassion for them and ask God to help them overcome this issue.

2. Be proactive. Relatives usually say the same criticism each time we see them; this is a good thing because then you can come prepared. Have a pat phrase ready that you can say in response to critical comments; use the broken record technique and repeat your pat phrase until they get the message. For example, a relative tells you, “You have to get a PhD because then you can leave your dead-end job and earn more money.” In response, you can say any of the following: “Good point. Thanks for your concern,” “Thanks for sharing that. I'll think about it,” or, “I hear your point. Let's talk about something else.” Have conversation topics you can switch to, e.g., what’s going on in their or your life, a future event you are both looking forward to, talking about their past, a happy memory you both share or family history.

3. Inoculate yourself with positive feedback. We all need positive comments – praise and expressions of appreciation. They help us handle negative feedback. If you are not receiving enough positive feedback, try the following four tips:

First, each day, give others positive feedback; compliments and expressions of appreciation are contagious.

Second, if someone is miserly in giving positive feedback, let them know that you would appreciate it if they would point out the things you do well. Tell them, “I value your positive feedback and compliments.”

Third, spend time with people who are complimentary. For example, visit friendly senior citizens; they generally are very appreciative of your company and will sing your praises.

Forth, do not depend on others for positive feedback – give it to yourself instead. Search for the good in you. Appreciate and be thankful for your positive qualities and talents; praise yourself for your achievements and for how far you’ve come.

4. Let go of wanting approval. Part of the reason we may cringe at criticism is because we want others to approve of us and we view their critical remark as a sign that we have lost their approval. We have to remind ourselves that just because someone finds fault in a specific behavior of ours does not mean they think poorly of us; it just means they think we can improve even more.

The sooner we admit that it is OK to make mistakes, the sooner we will be able to accept criticism without becoming defensive. Ironically, accepting criticism gracefully will make people think more highly of us, not less.

On a deeper level, we have to realize that we only need approval from God. As long as we do the right thing, it does not matter what others think of us; there will always be people who think we are wrong. As far as we are concerned, even the whole world can think we are crazy; they did about our Forefather Abraham, and we are here today because of what he stood for.

The next time you feel stung by an unjust criticism, ask yourself, “Am I hurt because I want them to think highly of me?” If yes, then tell yourself, “God approves of me and that’s enough.”

5. Look for the nugget of wisdom. If you found a filthy diamond ring on the street, would you pick it up? Similarly, do not dismiss valuable criticism just because it was given in an inappropriate manner. People spend large sums of money for the feedback of others; you just got some for free. Consider if there is anything of value in their comment that can benefit you.

When someone criticizes you, hear them out, thank them for their comment and ask questions if you're not sure what they mean. Then, either agree and take responsibility for the point that has value, or let them know that you will give their comment serious consideration; if needed, use a pat phrase as discussed above. Arguing with them rarely works and often only exacerbates the situation. At the same time, if they are criticizing you because of a misunderstanding, you may want to clarify the situation.

6. Confront the person.
If someone says something hurtful, call them on it. To avoid being judgmental, use “I” statements instead of “You” statements. For example, “I felt hurt when you said…” instead of, “You were insensitive when you said…” Let them know how you would like to be treated and which behaviors are unacceptable. When appropriate, share with them my article, “6 Ways to Kick the Criticism Habit.” People can change and improve their behavior, if they choose to.

If they don't stop their harmful behavior, walk away when they speak in a hurtful manner and distance yourself from the relationship as much as possible. If you are being subjected to verbal abuse (e.g. a pattern of constant criticism or criticism done in a degrading or hurtful manner), seek professional help; it is often difficult to deal with such a situation on your own. One book on this topic is The Verbally Abusive Relationship, Expanded Third Edition: How to recognize it and how to respond by Patricia Evans.

Handling criticism gracefully is a learned skill; you will improve overtime. To begin, make a list of critical family members and write down an action plan how you will deal with each one – different people require different approaches. When formulating your plan, keep in mind what worked for you in the past.

Remember, you can handle critical family members. With these tools in mind, prepare yourself before your interactions with them. In addition, ask God for the strength and wisdom to respond to their comments with finesse and grace.

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1 comment:

  1. Chronically critical people usually have a degree of narcissistic personality disorder. People within a family ought to be able to say so at the right time and in the right way. Narcissists need psychotherapy--though they often aren't willing to get it. There isn't enough openness and honesty about this.