It is not easy to cope with criticism.
It is especially challenging when the criticism comes from our loved ones. After all, we expect the people that we are closest with to love us unconditionally. Therefore, when they have something negative to say, it cuts deep to the core.
Criticism can feel unfair, even when it is justified. Moreover, it often triggers dormant feelings about long-ago situations.
The holidays are often rife with anxiety about potential criticism. As a result, we may have mixed feelings about seeing our loved ones. On one hand, the holidays are filled with connection and joy. On the other hand, there are a lot of old wounds that can easily open up.
Unfortunately, we cannot change our loved ones.
However, we can control the way that we cope with criticism. In doing so, we can maximize the joy of the holidays while simultaneously minimizing the conflict.
Consider some practical ways to cope with the criticism you may encounter.
1. Take a Deep Breath and Pause
In fact, take many deep breaths. If you can go into the situation with your anxiety lowered, then you can reduce your own reactivity. If a judgmental family member criticizes you, then you can pause and give a considered response.
Stay grounded in your own body by staying with your breath. It might be helpful to remember that even if you cannot control anything else that happens, you can control your own breathing.
2. Get Curious
It is possible that your family members do not mean to be as judgmental as they seem. They may be coming from a good place. Alternatively, their criticism might have more to do with their own insecurities about family gatherings than anything to do with you.
If you can get curious, you may actually be able to have a productive conversation with critical family members. Of course, you don’t have to put up with unfair abuse. However, if you can set aside your defensiveness and instead respond with curiosity about their position, the conversation might go differently than you’d expect.
3. Respectfully State Your Position
If you want to cope with criticism in a healthy way, it helps to learn how to use “I statements.” In other words, share your own point of view without blaming or shaming anyone else.
State your own beliefs. And respond to criticism by sharing why you make the choices that you do. However, keep it short, and sweet. You do not need to justify your decisions to anyone. You can share your truth but also agree to disagree.
4. Ignore People Who Provoke You
There are some people who really just want to get your goat. You do not have to play their game. Of course, your family members probably know exactly what to say to get under your skin.
However, you have the power not to take the bait. Walk away. Count backward from one hundred in your mind. Or start a conversation with someone else. It is perfectly okay not to engage with people who just want to cause you distress.
5. Cope with Criticism by Agreeing
If you agree with someone who is criticizing you, there is not much left for them to say about the situation. For example, let’s say that your aunt says, “you would not still be single if you wore a little bit of makeup.” Of course, you are going to feel defensive. However, you could just respond, “you know, you might be right about that.”
You are under no obligation to do as she says, but you can dissipate any arguments before they even start. Instead of launching into your beliefs about makeup, being single, and how you choose to live your life, you can just cut the conversation short. “You are right,” is a very powerful phrase to cope with criticism.
6. Ask for Time to Think
If you are not comfortable agreeing with the criticism, then you can take a lighter approach. Allow for the possibility that the person might be correct in their judgments. However, let them know that you need time to consider what they are saying.
Ask them directly to drop the subject, for now, to give you a chance to think over the points that they have made. This can shut them down without making them feel bad.
7. Ask for Clarification
Oftentimes, loved ones do not come right out and state their criticism. Instead, they dance around it passively.
For example, that may include:
- Critical facial expressions, including eye rolling
- Judgmental body language
- Offering non-specific criticism, such as “you are always selfish”
- Talking about you to someone else in your earshot
- Vaguely stating that they do not like the state you live in, the job you have, etc.
In all of these cases, the best way to cope with criticism is to confront it directly. Ask for clarification. Ask for specific examples.
Most likely, your loved ones would prefer to stay passive. If you confront them, they will probably get uncomfortable. And there is a good chance that they won’t bring the matter up again.
It is always challenging to cope with criticism, especially when it comes from family and friends. The holidays can bring up extra anxiety around this issue. If you would like help, learn more about my approach to anxiety treatment here.