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The Bookshelf → Toxic Relationships: How to Cope with a Critical Person

Toxic Relationships: How to Cope with a Critical Person

By Sarah L. Wesch, Ph.D.

Everyone knows someone who can be highly critical of others; how we manage these relationships can make a big difference, at least for our own mental health. Spending time with someone who is constantly criticizing others can be exhausting and damaging to one’s own self-esteem. Here are some strategies for dealing with someone who exhibits this personality trait.

If the person is criticizing you:

1) Try repeating back what you just heard to the person. The person might not realize that what she or he said sounded critical.

2) Explain how you feel using an “I statement.” I statements are ones in which you describe what happened and then explain your own reactions. For instance, you might say “When you said that I’m always late, I felt hurt,” rather than saying “You’re such a critical person!” No one can reasonably argue with you about your own feelings, though he or she can dispute statements you make about his or her character.

3) Set a boundary. If you have let the person know, repeatedly, about how her or his critical statements make you feel, it may be time to set a boundary with this person. You can do this by telling them that it’s just too difficult for you to spend much time with them due to their criticism.

If the person is criticizing others:

1) Try pointing out good characteristics about the person who is being criticized. This alone can sometimes remind the critical person that the he or she is being negative and can change the tone of the conversation.

2) Share your feelings. It can be useful to say “You know, when I hear you saying these things about our friend Jane, I feel uncomfortable/bored/irritated. It even makes me wonder what you might say about me when I’m not around.”

3) Distance yourself. Sometimes ignoring the critic by changing the topic, not responding or even walking away can help a send the message that you aren’t interested in hearing negative things about others.

If you need more help with relationships, come to KSU Counseling Services. We have both individual and group therapy to help with these types of relationship concerns.

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