Here are six ways to not let their criticisms mar the joy of the holidays.
(While the following six strategies are focused on family members, they can also be used to deal with criticism from other sources.)
1. Don’t take it personally. Some people are overly critical; it is a flaw they have to work on. Remind yourself that it is their issue, not yours. Knowing that this is the way they currently are, ask yourself, “Are the benefits of being with my family worth the downsides?” If you decide to go, remind yourself why you came and enjoy your time with the family as best you can.
Generally, family members criticize us because they want the best for us and are afraid we will make a mistake and suffer the consequences; it is their way of expressing concern and love. Feel compassion for their fears, and try to see past their surface remarks to the underlying love.
When you do not take people’s criticisms personally, you will be able to step back and be more objective. This will help you let criticisms roll off your back; you may even be able to see the humor in the situation and think to yourself, “There they go again.” (But make sure not to roll your eyes.)
2. Be proactive. Relatives usually say the same criticisms each time we see them; this is a good thing because then you can come prepared. You can have pat phrases you say in response to critical comments; use the broken record technique and repeat your pat phrase until they get the message. For example, a relative tells you, “You have to get a PhD because then you can leave your dead-end job and earn more money.” In response, you can say any of the following: “Good point. Thanks for your concern,” “Thanks for sharing that. I'll think about it,” or, “I hear. Let's talk about something else.” Make a note of the pat phrase you will use if need be.
Stay away from touchy subjects and have conversation topics you can use if sensitive ones come up; one good topic is asking about family history. Keep busy: Read a book, go to a lecture, help out in the kitchen or play with the kids. If things get heated or even if they don’t, occasionally go outside for a breather and some downtime.
3. Inoculate yourself with positive feedback. We all need positive comments – praise and expressions of appreciation. They help us handle negative feedback. If you are not receiving enough positive feedback, try the following four tips:
First, each day, give others lots of positive feedback; compliments and thank-yous are contagious. Try this strategy and you will be amazed how effective it is.
Second, if someone is miserly in giving positive feedback, let them know that you would appreciate it if they would point out the things you do well or that were helpful to them.
Third, spend time with people who are complimentary. For example, visit friendly senior citizens; they generally are very appreciative of your company and will sing your praises.
Forth, do not depend on others for positive feedback – give it to yourself instead. Search for the good in you. Appreciate and be thankful for your positive qualities and talents; praise yourself for your achievements and for how far you have come.
4. Let go of wanting approval. Part of the reason we often cringe at criticism is because we want others to approve of us and we view their critical remark as a sign that we have lost their approval. We have to remind ourselves that just because someone finds fault in a specific behavior of ours does not mean they think poorly of us; it just means we are human.
The sooner we admit that it is OK to make mistakes, the sooner we will be able to accept criticism without becoming defensive. Ironically, accepting criticism gracefully will make people think more highly of us, not less.
On a deeper level, we have to realize that we only need approval from God. As long as we do the right thing, it does not matter what others think of us; there will always be people who think we are wrong. As far as we are concerned, even the whole world can think we are crazy; they did about our Forefather Abraham, and we are here today because of what he stood for.
The next time you feel stung by an unjust criticism, ask yourself, “Am I hurt because I want them to think highly of me?” If yes, then tell yourself, “God approves of me and that’s enough.”
5. Look for the nugget of wisdom. If you found a filthy diamond ring on the street, would you pick it up? Similarly, do not dismiss valuable criticism just because it was given in an inappropriate manner. People spend large sums of money for the feedback of others; you just got some for free. Consider, is there anything in their comment of value that you can act upon?
When someone criticizes you, hear them out, thank them for their comment and ask questions if you're not sure what they mean. Then, either agree and take responsibility for the point that has value, or let them know that you will give their comment serious consideration; if needed, use a pat phrase as discussed above. Arguing with them rarely works and often just exacerbates things. At the same time, if they are criticizing you because of a misunderstanding, you may want to clarify the situation.
6. Confront the person. If someone says something hurtful, call them on it. To avoid being judgmental, use “I” statements instead of “You” statements. For example, “I felt hurt when you said…” instead of, “You were insensitive when you said…” Let them know how you would like to be treated and which behaviors are unacceptable. If they are open to changing, you can share with them my article, “6 Ways to Kick the Criticism Habit.”
If they don't stop their harmful behavior, walk away when they speak in a hurtful manner and distance yourself from the relationship as much as possible. If you are being subjected to verbal abuse (e.g. a pattern of constant criticism or criticism done in a degrading and hurtful manner), seek professional help; it is often difficult to deal with such a situation on your own.
Handling criticism gracefully is a learned skill; you will improve overtime. To begin, make a list of the critical family members you will soon be spending time with and write down an action plan how you will deal with each one – different people require different approaches. When formulating your plan, keep in mind what worked for you in the past.
Remember, you can handle critical family members. With these tools in mind, come prepared, and pray to God that this year’s visit to the family is an enjoyable one.
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