Sometimes your most brutal critics can be the people you love. Your parent, siblings, spouse, children—you know, the people who should be supporting you, right?
Instead, you get the most unvarnished, unsweetened criticism about your clothes, your choice in partners, your job. Often, in front of others. So, what can we do about all those times that require us to handle criticism in ways that are positive and don’t result in inappropriate or negative reactions?
Handle family criticism
- Reframe Criticism as Caring
It can help to change your perspective on your family’s criticism. Maybe they don’t think you’re a terrible person or a failure. Perhaps they care enough about you to want the best for you. Sometimes worries or concern can come out as criticism even if the person didn’t mean it that way. Reframe those hurtful words as a sign that your family member really cares about you.
- Talk About the Effect of Criticism on You
Not all caring feels warm and fuzzy. Your mom probably has no idea that it hurts when she calls out your life choices or criticizes your own parenting. Sometimes the best thing you can do is calmly tell the other person how their criticism makes you feel. Say you value their advice, but perhaps they could be more positive and helpful in the way they deliver it. Ask for concrete suggestions and see how you can work together.
- Remind Them About Unconditional Love
Families are supposed to love each other no matter what, but sometimes people forget that. They think it doesn’t matter how they talk to their child or their sibling, and the niceties of politeness fall by the wayside. Remind your critic that love is unconditional, and that harsh criticism is not loving.
- Set Clear Boundaries
Sometimes parents forget their grown-up children are adults, not kids anymore. Adults make their own mistakes and take responsibility for their actions and life decisions. Usually, they don’t need the guidance or advice from their parents unless they ask for it.
Maybe your folks need a gentle reminder that you’re independent and grown-up now. Be clear about your boundaries and that whatever your circumstances, your job, house, partner, or debts are your choices, and you will have to deal with the consequences.
- Step Away from Negativity
Ultimately, it’s your choice. You don’t have to meekly take your family’s criticism. You can choose to take on their negativity or not. Loving families accept everyone for who they are. If you aren’t getting the respect you deserve, even after implementing the steps above, maybe it’s best to limit how much time you spend with your family critics.
Handle Spousal Criticism
It can be difficult dealing with criticism from your nearest and dearest, especially when that critic is your partner. After all, they’re supposed to love you no matter what, right?
Sometimes spousal criticism can be rooted in false expectations of human nature, on either side. Everyone makes mistakes and has bad days. The problem starts when negativity and unrealistic expectations become the pattern for your relationship. Or when you start depending on your spouse’s good opinion for your own feelings of self-worth. That’s just a recipe for unhappy, for both of you.
No matter how much you love one another, there will be some degree of criticism in a relationship. To make the best of it, and maybe even help it make stronger, try these four tactics the next time your spouse offers you constructive criticism.
Don’t Make it Your Problem
See the criticism as an indication of what’s going on with your spouse, not necessarily something you’ve done wrong. Maybe they’ve had a bad day, or they’re worried about something. Negative vibes or outright criticism can be a reaction to other stuff that’s happening for them, and they’re paying it forward. Try to stay detached, especially if they are seriously upset. Give them some time to cool off and then broach the subject so you can work it out together.
The worst thing you can do is to have a knee-jerk reaction, whether it’s angrily defending yourself or turning the criticism back on them. That’s just creating conflict and won’t get you anywhere close to a resolution. It also ups the emotional ante and paves the way for a full-on argument.
Be Open About Your Feelings
Instead of fighting back, try to stay calm and tell your partner how their criticism makes you feel. Probably they had no intention of hurting your feelings. You can stop the blame cycle by each taking responsibility for your own emotions.
Take Some Time Out
If your partner is angry, it’s clearly not a good time to talk through their issues. Make it clear that you will speak to them when they’ve calmed down. There’s no need to stay in the firing line.
Taking time out also allows you to regulate your own emotions and work out a strategy to deal with your partner’s criticism. There could even be something in what they say, but you need to be able to depersonalize the issue before you discuss it.
A healthy relationship can take some criticism. The important thing is to maintain your separate identities within the relationship and to be able to deal with issues as a team.
Wise people have learned how to handle criticism. They deal with it like any other feedback, calmly and judiciously. They try and see how they can use it to get ahead and meet their goals. Many people, however; find it hard not to react defensively or angrily. Some people even launch a counterattack and shift the blame to the critic. That behavior doesn’t win you any friends or help you get ahead.
Criticism is a fact of life, and the sooner you learn to handle it positively, the better you can use that feedback for your own success.
- Before you React – Stop!
You will feel the reaction in your body before you can get the words out. And that is where you must stop. Don’t do anything, just breathe and take a moment to calm your defences. Chances are, the other person won’t notice a thing, but it will give you time to compose yourself.
- Remind Yourself that This is Feedback
Your composure time gives you a chance to remember that this criticism is an opportunity to learn something, possibly something valuable. Say to yourself, “This is not personal,” and repeat it as often as you need to until your initial reaction has passed.
- Practice Your Active Listening
Feedback time is not a time to talk, it’s a time to listen. Try to understand what the other person is saying. Maybe it’s an aspect of your project or goal that you haven’t thought of yet. What initially feels like criticism may offer valuable insight.
Repeat back what you heard and seek clarification if you need to. This is not a time to analyze or push back, it’s a time to understand precisely what is being said.
- Thank Your Critic
Even if it makes you cringe inside, say thank you for the feedback. You don’t have to agree with what they’ve said to be sincerely appreciative of the input. After all, they took the time to say what they thought and give you some advice.
- Process the Feedback
You may need some time to do this, or you might be able to do it on the spot. If your emotions are running high, it’s probably better to take a break and come back to deal with what has been said. Otherwise, it’s fine to ask questions to clarify the feedback, and maybe seek their suggestions on how to move forward.
Learning to deal constructively with criticism and feedback is an important skill, and one you will be glad you learned sooner rather than later.
Why We Should Embrace Criticism
Being criticized never feels good. It can make you feel judged, as though you’re not good enough no matter how hard you try. Most people’s reaction to criticism is to get defensive, make excuses, or blame someone else. None of those options are especially constructive. A key issue to remember is that behaviour doesn’t change without feedback. That feedback can come in many forms. We learn to be more careful with sharp objects if we cut ourselves. We treat boiling water with respect because we know what it can do. These are overt examples of feedback, but more subtle forms can be hard to spot.
It’s up to you how you choose to react to criticism. You can see it as a personal attack, or you can embrace it, get the positives out of it, and move on. If you feel sceptical about criticism having any benefits, here are some excellent reasons why you should embrace it.
- Use Criticism for Personal Growth
Often, criticism has more than a grain of truth in, even if it’s delivered a bit harshly. That’s partly why it makes you uncomfortable—deep down it rings true, even if you don’t want to admit it.
Think of criticism as another element in your personal development toolbox, one that offers insight you might otherwise miss. If nothing else, observing and managing how you react to criticism can shine a spotlight on your triggers, your unconscious reactions, and assumptions.
- Develop Emotional Resilience
Criticism usually comes laden with emotions. You feel shamed, upset, and attacked. Learning to embrace criticism can help you become more emotionally resilient as you learn how to sit with your uncomfortable emotions instead of blindly reacting.
Practicing detachment takes you to a mental place where you can use your problem-solving skills. You can listen, assess, analyze, and work out what lessons to take away from the experience.
Embracing criticism can also help you step away from needing other people’s approval to feel good about yourself. Once you see criticism as potentially helpful feedback, it stops being a judgment of you as a person.
- Improve Relationships
Once you stop reacting (or over-reacting) to feedback, you allow more space for openness, honesty, and better communication. People can talk to you about problems without feeling they have to walk on eggshells.
Embracing criticism makes for much better relationships as there are fewer barriers or ‘no go’ areas. You don’t want to be seen as prickly, difficult, or defensive, nor do you want to have your self-worth depend on other people’s good opinion of you.
- Boost Self-Confidence
Embracing criticism will free you from the curse of perfectionism. You can accept that making mistakes is human, and that being criticized is actually okay, even helpful. Accept that criticism is part of everyday life and you’ll be more confident, happier, and freed up to be your best you.
Handle Criticism from Your Children
It can be harsh hearing criticism from your own children. After all, aren’t they supposed to be taking their cues from you? Aren’t you their role model?
When your children are little, you are the most important person in their life. They look up to you, depend on you. As they grow older, they grow into being their own separate individuals and start to differentiate themselves from you.
Even if you know it’s all part of raising children who can stand on their own two feet, hearing criticism from the child who once thought you were their hero can be challenging. Here are 5 lessons you can learn about handling criticism from your children.
- Listen to What They’re Saying
Sometimes your child’s criticism is valuable feedback on your parenting. Instead of reacting from the place of Always Right Parent, try listening to what they’re really saying. Maybe you’re not treating them in an age-appropriate way anymore. Maybe their needs have changed.
- Step Away from Your Ego
Being a parent doesn’t make you a demi-god. It’s okay for your kid to call you out sometimes. Let go of your ego and see if there is truth in their criticism.
- Give Them Feedback on How to Criticize Kindly
If your kid’s criticism is a bit too blunt, even rude, this is an opportunity to teach them about how to give constructive criticism. There are ways of providing advice that stay respectful and positive, and that’s a great life lesson for your child.
- Be a Good Role Model
Like so many other things, your children can learn how to offer constructive criticize from your example. So, take a look at how you speak to your child. Is it positive, supportive, and respectful? Is yelling involved?
Your kids internalize your values, your ways of interacting with people, and your patterns of behavior. Make sure you are setting a good example.
- Don’t Stop Being the Adult
However you deal with your child’s criticism, you need to stay in the adult role. You are still the parent, and they are still the kid. What you say goes while they’re under your roof.
So, while you should stay calm and respectful in how you deal with your child’s criticisms, don’t give up the parent role. Keep the parent/child boundaries clear and firm. Don’t allow rudeness or criticizing you in public. Don’t give up your power. Above all, set the tone for a relationship based on love, acceptance, and respect.