4 Ways to Disarm Critical Family Members

This blog post was written by Recovery Help Now’s, Vanessa Blaxland, MFTi.

We all have them. You know, that one family member that always has something negative to say about how you did this or that, or why are you this or that way.  I’m sure just thinking right now about how this person gets under your skin is causing you to cringe.  Now think about how you usually deal or react to this person.  Do you sit there and take it, holding it all in?  Do you yell and start a fight with them? Or maybe spend the whole get together using all your energy to avoid and stay away from this person as much as possible?  All normal reactions but unfortunately they often leave you feeling resentful, guilty, anxious, and so on.  Usually this person is your family member so unfortunately you have to deal with them more than you’d probably like.  With this being the holiday season there is a good chance you will see them and they will continue on as they have, poking and prodding away.  On a good note, there are few ways you can gear up and combat the criticism thrown your way to have a more enjoyable holiday.

  1. Understanding:  First you need to gain some understanding of what is probably going on with this person.  Hopefully understanding can foster empathy for them and make them easier to deal with.  Many times the critical family member is not aware of what they are doing and that in fact they are the problem and not everyone around them.  Critical people often come from a place of anger because of something bad that has happened to them in the past.  When someone acts from anger they tend to be more critical and scrutinize not just you but everyone around them.  Some people have learned to be critical from growing up with critical parents.  While others are critical because they lack self-esteem.  If they can’t praise and tell themselves positives things, they can’t do it for others.
  2. Change your perspective: Slightly tweeking your perspective can have a significant impact.  Instead of focusing on “how” someone is saying something (which with a critical person is probably sarcastic and demeaning) try adjusting your focus on “what” is being said and “what” this person is trying to communicate.  Remember critical people often do not know how they are coming off and do not mean to impact others negatively, so if you look at their words or “what” they say you find they have deep and genuine meaning that you can appreciate and not harmful intentions after all.
  3. Don’t take it personally:  Commonly this critical person is known as the “Scrooge” or “Negative Nancy” to everyone in the family.  There is a reason for that, because they do it to the whole family! If you take a second to look around at how they interact with other members of the family you will probably notice that their comments are curt and critical with them as well.  This gives us a big clue that it’s not about you but something that they are dealing with and need help on.
  4. Set your boundaries: Set your boundaries by deciding before your holiday get together what you will and will not talk about with your critical family member.  When they bring up a topic that you do not wish to discuss simply reply by acknowledging their comment and keep your response short as to not encourage further discussion.


Elana Clark-Faler
  • Pingback:Family and friends: Distractions and assets for the indie writer | Jane V. Blanchard
    Posted at 12:08h, 27 November Reply

    […] Google +, but not so in real life. For suggestions on how to disarm the critical family member, see Surviving the Holidays. For suggestions on dealing with critical parents, see The Love […]

  • Kate
    Posted at 08:53h, 13 March Reply

    For me, with what is being said is do what I do, talk like I talk, be like I am and dress like I do or be out. But, see I’m not a negative person and would prefer not to argue for the sake of argument when I don’t have all the facts. Or go around being critical, judgmental, and blunt with everyone because that’s just not my style. I’ve always been an understanding, empathetic, kind, compassionate, honest, positive, and helpful type of person who isn’t critical or judgmental of others. I accept people of all shapes, religions, faiths, and sizes or orientations. Besides, asserting myself, disagreeing, and shifting the focus to one of empathy, understanding, and humor- what else can I do? I don’t want to be ostrasized, but at the same time, i don’t want to compromise everything that makes me well me.

  • Someone
    Posted at 13:14h, 27 April Reply

    I found this article by searching “how to deal with condescending relatives” as a family gathering is coming up and I’m not on the best terms with my judgy, small-minded, dismissive relatives. You know, the types who make comments about my life (mostly about marriage and kids) and they get all patronizing when I tell them I’m childfree. That aww-what-a-sweet-little-girl-she-is-going-to-come-around-eventually-she-will-understand-when-she-grows-up stuff that gets on my nerves.

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