7 ways to deal with critical people before they push you over the edge

Critical people can be so exhausting and frustrating.

It can feel like nothing you ever do is good enough or right, and you just want to push back or shout.

That approach rarely works and tends to just feed in a cycle of conflict.

Fortunately, there are a number of more effective ways to deal with a Critical Cathy.

Let’s take a look at the seven smartest ways to deal with critical people before they push you over the edge.

1) Check the source

Who is criticizing you?

Is it your dad? Your boss? Your boyfriend? Your wife?

The reason this is important is because different roles often lead to people getting comfortable with being nagged and ragged on.

Oftentimes relationships in our family and work lead us to believe that we deserve to be criticized or have to “put up” with it.

The truth is that sometimes constructive criticism is well-deserved and valuable.

But if you’re dealing with somebody who won’t give you a break, it’s a different story.

So check the source and make sure you’re not absorbing much more criticism than you should be just out of the mistaken belief that you have no right to resist or defend yourself.

2) Check the meaning

Why are they criticizing you?

There are two levels to this crucial question:

a) What is their claimed reason for criticizing you? (You’re lazy, you’re rude, you’re a liar, you are annoying).

b) What appears to be at the root of this criticism of you? (They’re frustrated with something else, they haven’t eaten in a long time, they’re projecting, they’re exaggerating your issues to deflect from their own blame, they’re gaslighting, or perhaps, they are lodging a fair and constructive criticism).

In some cases the claimed reason for criticizing you and the real root of the criticism are one and the same.

For example, maybe you are out of work and haven’t been looking nearly hard enough.

Your boyfriend criticizes this, since he feels you are freeloading and he can’t afford to keep paying for everything.

Fair criticism.

A different example?

Your sister criticizes you for being annoying and self-absorbed and not caring about her after you just listened to her problems.

The real reason appears to be that she is frustrated with life and taking it out on you.

3) Check yourself

How are you receiving the criticism?

Let’s be fair:

None of us really enjoy receiving criticism and even constructive and well-intentioned criticism can be annoying to hear, especially if we’re a bit insecure.

But if you are being criticized, in addition to considering who’s saying it and why, you need to check your own reaction.

Resist reacting right away or shooting back an angry response or tit-for-tat.

This tends to just feed into the cycle.

Even if you’re sure the criticism is unwarranted and is projection or an unfair assault, instead of reacting angrily right away, instead proceed to the next step here.

4) Redirect

Can you redirect the criticism?

In addition to anger or hitting back verbally, many of us react to criticism by simply denying it or blaming something or someone else.

For example:

“I wouldn’t have been late if you had answered your stupid phone.”

But instead, try redirecting.

This is different than blaming. It’s more like a change of subject and “moving on.”

“Yes, I’m late again. Do we need to stop for gas? I saw there is a station with good prices a few minutes ahead on my app.”

This is an example of a good redirect.

5) Diverge

Can you gracefully diverge from this subject and focus on something else?

This is very similar to redirecting, except in this case you are actually getting a bit more into the subject at hand with a twist.

“Yes, I know I’m late, I think we need to talk more about the price of gas and work that out, because I stayed late at work partly to be able to keep paying for these rising costs.”

This is a divergence and a little bit of blame shifting, but it also represents a potentially important point of discussion and potentially necessary conflict.

6) Collaborate  

Can you use the criticism as a way to build collaboration? 

For example, maybe you have been criticized for not doing enough around the house to help your wife.

You can use this as an opportunity to suggest the two of you delegate responsibilities really clearly between the two of you and try to be understanding if you don’t always hit the mark completely.

Many times, criticism can bring us to a very oppositional and conflicted place.

The way out is generally to try to see yourself more as a team than as opponents.

Especially if this is something you care about and vice versa, bring up the point that you see no reason to be enemies or drag this out.

Saying sorry is fine and can also be helpful, but if you feel that criticism has become very excessive, you’re best holding up your hand, asking for a time out and doing a reality check:

“Listen, I think of us as a team. Can we take a short break on blaming each other and try to work through this together?”

7) Exit

Is there a way to exit the interaction with this person or people as soon as possible?

Sometimes there is just no other option left.

It’s time to leave this interaction behind.

Granted, that’s not always possible if your partner or parent or boss is criticizing you 24/7.

If at all possible, spend time alone.

If not, develop a method of using their criticism to hone rock solid inner fortitude and patience, drowning it out with an inner peace and strength.

Think of their unfair criticism as mental weight training, increasing your patience, empathy and inner strength day by day.

Somebody else’s problem…

At the end of the day, incessant criticism generally has more to do with the person delivering it than with you.

It often has roots in insecurity, fear or other difficult emotions that the other person is attempting to offload onto you.

Now: is every criticism unfounded and wrong? Obviously not.

But as a general rule, if you’re dealing with a person who’s extremely critical of almost everyone and everything then you can rest assured they are a miserable individual.

Do your best to use the tactics I’ve outlined above, and in the worst case scenario do your best to exit the situation altogether.

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