How to deal with relatives who criticise you or put you down

How to deal with relatives who criticise you or put you down

How to deal with relatives
by Jacquie Wise

At this time of year, with family get-togethers looming for end-of-year celebrations, many people ask me how to deal with relatives who criticise and put you down.

People who criticise you are not always out to belittle you. They may be trying to be helpful and mistakenly believe they’re giving you constructive feedback. Give them the benefit of the doubt first and say something like: ‘Thank you for your advice/feedback, but my choice is to …’

A very effective way to respond is to use humour to diffuse any tension. Remember to keep your flippant remark directed towards yourself, so that it doesn’t come across as a sarcastic counter-attack. When you respond, do it with a smile on your face and a laugh in your voice. The bonus is that, if the person enjoys making you squirm, you’re removing their reward by being flippant.

For example, if they call you stupid, you could say: ‘Oh, thank you for noticing! I’ve been practising so hard!’ or ‘You’ve obviously put a lot of thought into what I do or don’t do: thanks for the compliment! I didn’t know you were so interested in me.’

Events that are supposed to be joyful family reunions can be ruined for everyone if we resort to defensiveness or counter-attack. I’m a great advocate for having a firm discussion with someone who attacks you, but not in the middle of a family gathering where a row can spoil the occasion for everyone. Nor am I suggesting that you let your relative get away with criticising you. The trick is to say one short sentence in a quiet, yet firm voice, then immediately change the subject or talk to someone else.

What to say when relatives criticise you:

  • Please don’t call me names
  • Every time you insult me, I’m going to walk away
  • Can we please have a conversation without put-downs?
  • Are you not able to talk to me without criticising me?
  • Each time you say something like that you lose my respect a little more
  • What do you believe the kids think of you when they hear you talk like that?
  • How would you feel if someone said that to you?
  • Do you talk to everyone else that way, or is it just me?
  • If they say ‘I was only joking’, say: It’s not any more funny than repeating the same joke over and over; it’s tiresome and unpleasant.

Collect a selection of quotes and one-liners from funny greeting cards, or from Google to suit the typical criticisms you face. Once you have your repertoire ready, you’ll be able to come up with the most constructive response every time. Recognising that you have a choice makes you feel less of a victim. If people need to say unpleasant things, let it be their problem—you can choose not to allow it to become yours.

Imagine how much more you will enjoy life once you know how handle relatives who criticise you.  Interested? If so, contact me directly to arrange a convenient appointment time.

I’d love to know what you think of what I’ve said here.

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If you or someone you know would like a personal consultation, please call +61 3 9690 8159.

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2 thoughts on “How to deal with relatives who criticise you or put you down

  • Great post Jacquie!
    I read this great quote the other day on someone’s Facebook (it’s pretty poignant though!). I repeat it to myself when people are getting to me:
    “Even in the presence of the darkest evil, I will stand for goodness and be a light in the world. No insult, nor act of ignorance will affect me now or ever.”
    So perfect!

  • Thanks Camilla. It’s a good reminder that we can choose not to react and counter-attack with challenging people.

    One attitude I maintain is “For every poison dart someone throws at me, I will throw back a flower.”


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