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DEALING WITH TRICKY FAMILY MEMBERS (1)

Audio Video

One of life’s inevitables is criticism, a form of feedback that all of us have some level of discomfort with. Your attitude towards criticism tells you a lot about your relationship with you because we feel criticism most when we are self-critical and so already judging us in an area that we hear feedback but also when we conflate criticism with truth and importance and so make an authority out of the critic.

Whether it’s with the TFM that brought you to this juncture or with another family member, you are sometimes going to experience criticism and yes, possibly give it. Your current responses to criticism likely have a hell of a lot to do with how your own family handle conflict so evolving your response will help you to break that pattern but also ensure that you’re not getting drawn in to what may be the TFM’s agenda.

A few things first before we get into dealing with criticism from family members:

Criticism is a form of feedback. It’s not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; it’s just feedback. Not all criticism is constructive; a hell of a lot of it is inaccurate, and it’s not a court order to change who you are or do as you’re told.

When a person criticises you, most of what they’re telling you as about how they see things. It tells you about their position, their perspective.

Criticism, especially when it lacks boundaries, tells you a hell of a lot more about that person than it does about you. This isn’t to say that what they say isn’t useful (although not always depending on source and context) but criticism (and yes feedback), tells you one person’s view about the way in which they want you to do things.

It does not matter who the family member is or how much time they have spent around you including whether you came out of their birth canal, they changed your nappies, covered for you when you were a teen or whatever it was – no one has the right to demand an audience with you to criticise you or impose their way of things upon.

People who lack boundaries with criticism and see fit to tell you all about yourself and highlight your flaws are using criticism to activate shame so that you will be compliant. That is neither fair, reasonable or even ‘family-like’ behaviour.

No one and I mean no one, has to shame you in order to make a point plus personal opinion is not fact neither does sharing blood or surnames or whatever mean that every word out of their mouth is factual and originating from an authentic place.

The less self-aware and responsible a person is combined with an inappropriate attitude towards criticism, is the less seriously you need to take their criticism because they will undoubtedly be projecting.

If that person behaves in a way that makes it clear that they are a major stakeholder in you doing whatever they want (correcting what you’ve done to relieve the criticism), that criticism is biased. That criticism tells you one person’s view about the way in which they want you to do things for them. This is the case with anyone, family or not but is highly likely with family if imposing themselves and guilting is their stock in trade. Criticising you then serves as a distraction from them having to get uncomfortable.

Families where being the same or doing things in a certain way is what they’re reliant on, and where there’s a lot of focus on right vs wrong, winning vs losing, and fear of difference, is where you will encounter a lot of criticism. It’s not really about you; it’s about their own fear and deducing that your way of being is a judgment about them even though it’s not.

If there’s a lot of behaviour originating from an underlying or even very open desire to control, you not doing things in the TFM’s way will also trigger criticism and they might dig their heels in even more to try to hold on to their pseudo control.

Absentees don’t like you bringing up the past although may see fit to use the past to criticise you. Ironically, despite being absent whether it was emotionally, physically or mentally, you not needing them anymore and accepting them for who they are can bring out their criticising ways as well as some acting out because they don’t feel in control.

Their criticism is informed from a place of not really wanting you to grow up and see things for how they are.

Followers don’t like criticism and can get very defensive and say things in the heat of the moment (criticising you) because they’re scared and also angry that you won’t take responsibility for them by directing them or at the very least keeping quiet about inappropriate stuff. They will criticise you for how they’re feeling due to them criticising themselves and find it difficult to take in what might be very useful feedback.

Their criticism is informed from a place of not wanting things to change and feeling aggrieved that you’re not sheltering them from their responsibilities or natural consequences.

Obligers love a good ‘ole guilting session and won’t necessarily own up to the fact that they’re guilting you or even own up to criticising you (there goes passive aggression again) but then lord help you if you so much as infer any criticism in their direction. It sounds like madness but even when criticising you, they see themselves as the victim. Also, they will criticise you for not needing them.

Their criticism is informed from a place of trying to activate a mix of conscience and shame to make you compliant.

Power Players can be chopping and scathing with their criticism, having no shame about fighting dirty although they will expect you to forget about it the moment that they feel like ‘being friends’ again. They are not remotely concerned with the truth so will twist and distort plus they’re fond of put-downs and sarcasm. They are also far too concerned with being right and winning.

Their criticism is informed from a place of trying to make you feel small so that they can feel powerful and in control.

Rebels can get very petty with criticism in an almost, “I know I am but what are you?” attitude and it will feel as if you’re back to being kids again or that you’re the grown-up and they’re the child. When they haven’t got something to level at you, they’re not averse to playing the victim.

Their criticism is informed from a place of trying to avoid personal responsibility and seeing themselves more clearly.

Upholders can give criticism but struggle to take it because they are all about rules and how they think things should be done. Their criticisms invariably reveal blind spots as well as hoarded up resentments which can infuriate you and end up drawing you into a side argument. They also busybody themselves so may criticise you over something that actually has nothing to do with them. That said, because of their rule-y ways, they can be a bit more open to seeing your point if you are open to seeing theirs.

Their criticism is informed from a place of trying to get you to do things their way so they don’t feel threatened by differences and can stick to their pattern.

Users very rarely admit to using but they don’t mind criticising you for not complying with their agenda but then when you call them out on their agenda, suddenly it’s not their agenda and “it’s not how it seems”. Fond of twisting things around where it now becomes about how unfair it is that you think that they’re out of order rather than addressing what they’ve been doing, don’t let their criticisms distract you from the main issue.

Their criticism is informed from a place of trying to make you feel bad that you’re not going to be a means to an end so that they don’t have to face their own selves.

It is too much to expect that you won’t feel wounded or even angry when you feel criticised. You are human. Most people feel some level of something even if it’s only temporarily. The difference is how you deal with the feelings and thoughts.

If you accept stuff as true without question, you will feel bad.

If you continue to see it purely as an attack, you will still feel bad.

If you know it’s not true but you say nothing, you will also still feel bad.

Ultimately, whichever of these three paths you choose, you learn nothing and you won’t support you.

The answer isn’t to keep responding to criticism as you always have or from a place of wanting to caretake that person’s feelings and behaviour so that you can limit their behaviour and criticism; the answer is to manage your responses to criticism.

Depersonalise the criticism.

Remember in Day 26 when I talked about keeping your boundaries as well as depersonalising their behaviour by recognising what’s really behind it? Same thing in criticism situations.

My sister Anna is criticising me and calling me “cold”, “a betraying b-tch”, and “unfair” for not inviting her along to another event due to the fact that she has behaved appalling at every single other event I’ve invited her to. I recognise that it must not be easy trying to live with yourself when you know that you’re behaving in an alienating way and it is easier to criticise me than it is for her take responsibility for her actions. She’s criticising me because I’m no longer pretending that the problem of her behaviour isn’t a problem.

Get grounded.

If you feel anxiety surging up or other feelings signalling your emotional response to their criticism, try saying, “I am safe. I am secure” so that you focus on the present. Each time they fire a criticism or insult, another great mental tool is to say, “That’s not mine, that’s theirs and I’m sending it right back”. This stops them from dumping negativity on you because you’re not taking it in. You’re recognising it but you’re not internalising it. Don’t let this TFM take you off track.

 

Don’t accept generalisations.

“You never______”, “You always ________”. As I always point out to people when teaching them about assertive communication, these type of statements will invariably get shot down because the person can find an example to illustrate that it’s not the truth. So can you.

‘You’re too sensitive’, or ‘You really make me angry’, is that person not approaching you in an assertive never mind respectful manner. Some people are a bit grandiose or just expect to make an off the cuff statement and then you’re just supposed to go, “Um, OK then” and then capitulate to their demands or shuffle off and feel bad about yourself. Erm, NO. See above. Ask for clarification and specific examples.

Do not just accept these generalisations or or fill in the blanks. What you fill it in with may be totally different and what they say may actually be unjustified / inaccurate. You asking for clarification will unseat your average aggressive and passive aggressive critic because they don’t like facts and having to back up what they say. No one is entitled to just come along and tell you all about yourself and not have to explain their damn selves and that includes family. If, for example, they came back with, “Well, you make me really angry when you disagree with me”, you quickly see that the criticism is NOT about you.

If you’re unsure of what they mean, ask for clarification.

‘I’m not sure what you mean – could you re-explain please?’ or ‘Can you give me a specific example?’

Let them know how you feel so that boundaries can be set.

Use the Be Factual Approach to make it clear about how the way in which they are speaking to you and the criticism, is affecting you, not to guilt them but to paint a picture of how they are coming across. Also make it clear that if it continues, you will not be able to continue the discussion.

 

Repeated criticism doesn’t make it valid.

Just because you’ve heard the criticism before, it does not mean that you don’t have to qualify the validity nor make a conscious decision about your subsequent response. The source and type of person actually has a lot to do with where there is a repeat criticism. I have only ever been accused of being “needy” or “too sensitive” by passive aggressive and aggressive people who as a result of me agreeing, would have had me complying in their favour.

 

Be mindful with part-truth criticism

It could be that you potentially get to learn something new about you or the TFM but what you have to be careful of is assuming that part-truth means all true. This is like someone being asked to give an account of something that they’ve witnessed, for instance, at the scene of a crime. The fact that they are accurate about something does not mean that everything that they’ve said is accurate or even objective. Equally though, the reverse is assuming that because it’s partly false, it’s all false and going on the offensive. This is why it’s vital to get conscious and clarify the criticism with ownership.

‘Yes, sometimes I can be a bit sensitive about certain things and I recognise this but I’m not an over-sensitive person nor am I sensitive about everything. I am only human!’

 

If a criticism is completely true, try to own your own in as least a defensive way as possible.

It’s not always possible to do this immediately because sometimes we get defensive first and then think later, but when you’ve cooled down, gather your thoughts and make a decision about whether it’s true and see what you can do to learn from it.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to, ‘Well you ___________’ and then fire off a whole load of criticism bullets.

 

Completely untrue criticism needs to be rejected, even if it’s in the privacy of your own mind.

Sometimes we don’t get to point out an inaccuracy because most of us aren’t quick to have the ‘perfect’ response plus, yeah, sometimes we feel wounded first, indignant later.

Using affirmations in #2 is very helpful here because as a therapist friend pointed out, these statements to ourselves are important because 90% of our mind is unconscious and the mind accepts what we tell it. If we consistently refute inaccuracies and rebuttal with truth, we short-circuit any leanings towards automatic and conscious self-rejection.

‘No, I don’t agree; I’m not over-sensitive. I haven’t given you a hard time when you’ve made other comments or even called me a name. This time, you are over the line.’

Remember, you are not trying to rule the person; you are making your opinions and feelings known both to them and to you.

You may not be in the position to rebuff the criticism but as long as you know the truth, that is the most important thing.

 

Don’t try to convince and convert the person if they won’t back down or agree with you.

It doesn’t mean that you’re wrong and the more that you try to convince them is actually the more that they’ll regard you with suspicion and turn whatever you say around to suit their position plus, they end up looking like an authority.

 

And for when someone is trying to displace their stuff on you…

“I don’t take responsibility for that”, shuts that shizzle right down. Or, “While I agree that ______________, what I don’t take responsibility for is _____________ and _____________.”

 

Don’t be open to criticism from the same ole sources.

If you stop criticising you about the thing that an outer critic criticises you for, they lose their power. It also helps if you stop looking for their approval plus if you call them out on it when needed, the boundary is clear. For instance, my mom used to come to my home and make comments about the tidiness and whereas I used to feel wounded, I started pre-empting her criticisms. “I know you’re going to say, ‘Why don’t you dust more?’ or comment about the laundry, so let’s just get the comments out of the way now.” Because I was less critical of me, I could be genuinely humorous about it instead of it being resentful. I used this across lots of stuff and not only did the criticisms drop but she even slipped in a compliment from time to time. The key though is that when you do get a compliment, sure, acknowledge it but don’t fall over on it as if you haven’t had something to eat for six months!

 

Give criticism and feedback.

Respectfully but give it. You not giving feedback whether it’s good or bad, is the fastest way to ensure that you feel wounded when people, especially family, give it to you. Have a stake in the world!

It’s OK to feel wounded but don’t let it linger.

Be compassionate and don’t feed criticism with more criticism. Either positively grow out of it or send it packing.

Journal PromptJOURNALING: How do you feel about the prospect of handling criticism from your TFM? Using what you’ve learned here, can you see the origins of your TFM’s criticisms, i.e. recognise their position? What would you complying with their criticism enable them to be, do or continue?

taskTASK: Come up with some pre-emptive humour for that special outer critic in your life that helps to diffuse that initial anxiety when you’re around them but also lightly acknowledges the typical critical habit that they have?