Dealing With Criticism? Immunize Yourself Against Toxic People

Dealing With Criticism?

Immunize Yourself Against Toxic People

Most parents will attend a family gathering or visit relatives during the Summer, around the December holidays or other time during the year. Many will also endure a chronically negative or critical relative. You know who I mean. Every family seems to have at least one. That person we avoid all year long but have to see at  family gatherings because we’re related.

If you don’t have a relative like this, count your blessings — then look at your workplace or neighborhood. You probably have someone in your life that fits this bill.  If you are a manager dealing with a difficult staff member, you may wonder “Why do I want to be a supervisor?”   However you know this person, you need a plan for keeping your sanity and self-esteem intact when you’re around these toxic people.

Why People Criticize

Sometimes people mean well, but express themselves poorly. Seek the value in what these people say, instead of reacting to the way they say it.

Other people criticize because they are pessimists or know-it-alls. You probably can’t change them, but you can protect yourself from their toxic personalities. Spray your shoulder with imaginary ScotchGuard so their comments roll off your back. Or imagine you are surrounded by a clear bubble so their negativity bounces off you.

Mean-spirited people will intentionally criticize to get revenge or express jealousy. They thrill in pointing out your mistakes or shortcomings. Present yourself humbly and attempt to resolve the hurts between you.

When toxic people criticize parents, they are often insecure about their own parenting. They see different parenting methods as indicators that they did a poor job. Remind these people that society, children and parenting information changes over time. Reassure them that they did their best and ask for their support as you attempt to do the same.

Responding to Toxic People

If you are repeatedly criticized by someone you can’t avoid, plan ahead for the next attack.

  • First, recall what the person usually says. Plan a respectful response and practice it in your mind or with a person who knows the criticizer and what he or she might say or do.
  • Start your response by acknowledging the other person’s feelings or perspective. “I can understand how you might feel that way . . .” or “. . . how it might seem that . . .”
  • Then set limits or express your feelings respectfully, “I feel . . .” or “I’ve decided to . . .” Speak for yourself, without attacking them.
  • Remain firm. Don’t defend or explain yourself, unless someone is truly interested in your opinion.

If you react to criticism like me, you stand there stunned with your jaw dropped to the floor. Over the next week, you think of a million things you could have said. At these times, it helps to have some assertive one-liners, like these:

  • “We’ve researched this, discussed it and have decided . . .” Or “I know it might not work for everyone, but we’ve decided . . .”
  • “I’ll consider that.” Then give the idea some thought . . . even if only for one second!
  • Acknowledge that “there is probably some truth” in what they said, without making any commitment to change.
  • Ask, “Why do you ask?” To answer, the person must admit their hurtful motive, so they usually don’t answer and disengage.
  • Agree to disagree and change the subject.
  • Ignore the cut. Forgive and forget, if you can.
  • Use humor. A mother-in-law once asked, “How long are you going to breast-feed anyway?” The toddler’s mother replied, “Well, what do you think they have recess for?” The mother-in-law realized her question was ridiculous and never brought it up again.

When to Set Limits

If none of these tactics work when dealing with toxic people, set limits in the following order:

1. Say you will not respond to criticism — then follow through.

2. Set guidelines for your visits with this person, such as what you will discuss, how you will respond or how you expect others to treat you or your children. Set time limits for visits. Have toxic out-of-town relatives limit their visit to a few days or stay at a nearby hotel. The cost is worth preventing a nervous breakdown or major blow-up.

3. If they won’t respect your limits, leave or keep visits on your turf, where your family rules are in effect.

It can feel awkward or seem taboo to set these kinds of limits, especially with elders. Your goal is to do what is best for your and your children’s emotional health, by trying to resolve conflicts peacefully and assertively.  Your positive efforts will often detoxify these negative critics. If not, you’ll know we’ve done your part and are not contributing to further hurt.

If you want more insights, information and practical tools and tips about Using the Universal Blueprint® Parenting Success Formula to improve your adult relationships:


Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is President of Parent’s Toolshop® Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. For 30+ years, Jody has trained tens thousands of parents and family professionals worldwide through her dynamic workshops and hundreds of interviews with the media worldwide, including Parents and Working Mother magazines. She is the author of the award-winning book The Parent’s Toolshop®, and countless multimedia resources that support and educate parents from diverse backgrounds, plus other adults who live or work with children. You can find them at her award-winning website,

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