How To Cope With Constant
By Jacquie Wise
If you find yourself crumbling under the weight of constant criticism, there are essential perspectives to consider before you respond, and six approaches you could choose to respond in the most constructive manner possible.
If you get the chance to observe someone over a period of time, it’s important to look for patterns that might emerge. For example, they tend to criticise in response to pressure from another source. Or you might identify a trigger that will give you a clue as to preventative (or avoidant) measures you could employ. At least it will help you understand them. The key is never to assume. You’re not an expert. You’re just someone doing their best to ease a difficult situation with a difficult person.
Six perspectives to consider before you decide on how to handle your critic
1 Maybe you’ve hurt them in some way and they hold a grudge against you. Be big enough to acknowledge the possibility. Open the door for dialogue by asking, and show yourself willing to talk about it rationally, focusing on a solution rather than on the problem.
If there’s no identifiable solution, maybe an apology is what they need to hear. See if there’s a wound that needs healing.
2 Critics all too often jump to conclusions without foundation. They might not bother to check their facts before they stand in judgement and the problem is, it doesn’t occur to them to ask questions first. You don’t get a trial before you’re condemned. They probably have no idea this is their habitual way of thinking—they’re likely to feel totally justified, because they have a need to be right.
We’re all guilty of making assumptions, now and then. If we’re mature enough to practise a little self-awareness, we’ll be able to correct this tendency before too much damage is done.
3 A third possibility is that It’s their character and they have no kind word to say about anyone. It’s worth reflecting on what life experiences might have led them to become that way. There’s always room for empathy and understanding. No one becomes negative or mean-spirited for no reason.
If you do observe they’re critical of everyone who crosses their radar, then the best long-term option is to ignore the put downs and choose not to take them personally. It’s more about them than it is about you.
4 The fourth possibility to consider is that they’re insecure and the only way they can feel validated is to bring others down. It could be they are threatened by you and are subconsciously trying to reduce you to a level with which they feel they can compete.
5 Sometimes, the cause of criticism is psychological projection. This is one of the most common ways in which we defend ourselves. If we’re unable to acknowledge our own unconscious impulses or qualities, positive or negative, we deny their existence in ourselves, yet attribute that same quality to others. It’s one form of blame-shifting.
Projection makes it easier for us to live with ourselves, because other people carry the characteristic we need to believe have nothing to do with us.
For example, a person who is fearful that people can’t be trusted, might not be trustworthy themselves. Or people who are materialistic might constantly despise others for being materialistic, even while being adamant that ‘I’m not like that—I never…’
Of course, you’re allowed to form a negative impression of someone. That’s not projection. Nor is it projection if you have good reason not to trust someone.
A good indication that there’s projection lurking somewhere in your subconscious is the strength of the reaction you have. If you ‘can’t stand’ a characteristic in someone else, it’s often an indication of a hidden shame you have within yourself.
6 Could the criticism be true? If you are unpunctual, disorganised, unreliable, inconsiderate—whatever—there will be evidence. Before you’re too quick to jump to your defense, look at the facts. If they support the criticism, it’s up to you to change. Or to explain the very good reasons you have, to persist in this behaviour that is so disturbing to others.
How you choose to respond depends on what you’ve decided is the cause
All of that said, be careful not to jump to conclusions yourself as you look for patterns in your efforts to assess a situation or judge someone. Isolated behaviours do not a pattern make.
Look for your own possible projections. Let your reactions be your guide. Seek and ye shall find, if you’re mature enough to be honest with yourself.
Six possible responses to try
Here’s a revolutionary thought. Try several different approaches, several different times. Don’t be too quick to give up.
1 Try being assertive. Above all, never retaliate. There is always a place for quietly saying ‘Perhaps you don’t intend to offend, but I find what you’re saying very hurtful.’ Or calmly ask for their reasons. ‘Is there something bothering you that we need to talk about?’ Or simply say ‘Please don’t talk to me in that dismissive tone, it’s very offensive.’ The key here is to keep your voice quiet and calm. Authoritative, not aggressive.
2 Try ignoring the jibes. If the critic is intentionally trying to hurt you, don’t give them the reward of a hurt reaction. Pretend you haven’t noticed. Don’t give them the power to affect you—only you can choose how to feel. Teach yourself to let it go.
3 Try to get them to listen to reason. Present the facts of the situation without getting agitated or aggressive. Difficult to do when you feel defensive. Try rehearsing your approach so that you can better keep your cool at the time.
One strategy is to put your defence as a question: ‘Would you be interested to hear what it was that led up to…?’ ‘Could I please explain my reasons before you judge me?’
4 Try taking the gentle, compassionate approach. Compassion means setting aside your self interest and putting all your efforts into understanding their life story, their hurts. Whatever it might have been that led them to become they way they are. Feeling sorry for them is far better than putting your energy into resentment.
5 Try to genuinely compliment them. Make them feel good. Acknowledge things they do well. They may not respond, but it can only help. Does it go without saying that compliments must be genuine? I’ll say it anyway. There has to be something they’re doing right that you can notice.
6 Be prepared to try different approaches at different times.
It’s too easy to say it’s not worth trying. The only time there’s no point in trying is when you’ve already tried everything.
Find another way to try, before you give up on the person. In any case, it’s a more loving approach.
I made the decision many years ago that I didn’t want to be anything like my critics. I decided that for every dart someone throws at me, I’ll throw back a flower. I don’t want to be any other kind of person. And I certainly don’t want to be like them. We all have a choice.
There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.
If there’s a way you’ve handled a critic that has worked well for you, please share it with us in the space below.
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