Do you ever feel like other people look at your life through a magnifying glass, scrutinizing everything you do? That’s probably because some people—maybe family, friends, or coworkers—are looking for your “flaws” and weaknesses to expose them for the world to see. I get it. I know some people like that, and sometimes I wonder if they’re in my life simply to remind me of the things I still need to work on. Other times, I think maybe they focus on other people’s lives so they won’t have to look at their own. It’s more likely that the people trying to find fault with your life have probably done a pretty bang up job of screwing up their own. And now they want to concentrate on your life so they don’t have to deal with their own messes. Maybe if they bring you down to their level, they can feel better. They can blame the world for being a crappy place instead of taking a closer look at their own mistakes.
It’s never fair for someone to impose their opinions on you when you haven’t asked for them, so it’s important for you to be clear about what purpose your critics are serving. Look, if you’re drinking too much or using drugs and your family is begging you to get help, that’s likely something you need to take a hard look at and address. But if you know the things your critics are ranting about don’t reflect reality, that’s a clue that their criticism is about them, not you. Whether there’s some truth in what they say or none at all, it isn’t fun to be criticized and picked apart. So, how do you respond to people who only see your faults, exaggerate the truth, and root for you to fail?
On Your Own Time
You deserve to fight your own battles and work on your personal changes on your own time, without pressure to do things on other people’s timelines or according to their opinions. When someone unfairly criticizes you, it might be helpful to reflect on what they’re saying. It could be useful to consider which of your “flaws” you’re okay with and which ones you’d like to change; if you do this, you won’t be so sensitive when another person points them out. The first step to take when you feel criticized is to get clear about who you are, what you’re okay with, and what you’re still working on. This allows you to explore how comfortable you are letting others give you input about your life—even if it’s negative—without it making you feel like you need to change or defend yourself.
When Someone Just Won’t Stop Being Critical
Sometimes you put boundaries in place with people in your life and repeatedly ask them to be more respectful of your choices, but they continue shoveling criticism at you. Maybe you know what you need to work on, but that person just won’t let it go; they remind you every chance they get.
Constantly being unfairly criticized can make anyone angry and resentful. The key to receiving criticism is to not allow it to diminish your self-confidence. If you continue to get angry when you’re criticized or feel like someone is rooting for you to fail, first clarify in your own mind that you, your decisions, and actions are undeserving of the criticism you received. Then, follow these tips.
- Respond, don’t react.
Your immediate response is probably going to be anger; but if you’ve worked on being confident in yourself and your decisions, you’ll have an easier time overcoming your desire to get angry and act out.
- Create internal calm.
Try to remain calm and centered, whether the metaphorical slap in the face comes from family, friends, or someone at work. When the harsh words come, take a minute to breathe and get grounded. Then, before responding, channel your logical brain and access the calm place within.
- Recap the words back to your critic.
Never pressure yourself to have the perfect response to a critic; nothing ever comes out as perfectly as you’d like it to. Instead, repeat your critic’s complaint back to him or her, making sure you clearly understood it. You can start by saying, “I want to be sure I heard you correctly,” and then repeat the person’s words how you heard them. The objective is to focus on the words themselves, not the emotions they provoke. An aggressive person might be hoping to anger you and cause you to react. Or he/she might want you to accept the criticism to empower themselves. Instead, you’re taking the focus off your reaction and putting it back onto the factual words of the criticisms – without accepting them.
- Open the discussion.
Not being overly emotional might surprise your critics, allowing them to think more deeply about their words. If this happens, a real discussion can take place. It’s helpful to use language that shows your perspective. For example, “I can see how you might get that idea, but allow me to tell you my thoughts.” This shows that you’re open to talking about it and seeing their perspective, which will disarm them and allow them to really hear you. If you get defensive or disregard their statements, you’re less likely to be heard.
It’s natural to react strongly to unjust criticism, and sometimes there’s no avoiding it. But if you’re constantly getting angry and nothing is changing, give this approach a try. This may not work every time, because some people are simply toxic and live to point out others’ “flaws.” So, if you’ve attempted this and it isn’t working, it’s up to you to decide if that person is worth keeping in your life. Perhaps you’ll chose to keep him/her at a distance or decide not to take his/her words to heart. Whatever you choose, just remember that when people use hurtful words, they’re always revealing much more about themselves than they are about you.