Spending the holidays with family can bring up mixed feelings. We’re excited to spend this special time together, but we may dread the critical relative.
How can you ensure their criticisms don’t mar the joy of the holidays?
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.
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 don’t take people’s criticisms personally, you can step back and view the situation more objectively. This will help you let criticisms roll off your back, see the underlying love behind their misguided comments, and even the humor in the situation (think to yourself, “There they go again,” but make sure you don’t roll your eyes).
2. Be proactive. Relatives often 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 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. And be sure to 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’re not receiving enough positive feedback, try the following three tips:
First, give others tons of positive feedback; compliments and thank-yous are contagious. You’ll be amazed how effective this strategy is.
Second, 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.
Third, 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’ approval. We have to remind ourselves that just because someone finds fault in a specific behavior of ours does not mean they no longer like us; it just means we are human. The sooner we admit that it is okay to make mistakes, the sooner we will be able to accept criticism without becoming defensive.
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, the whole world can think we are crazy. They thought that 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 like 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? Do not dismiss valuable criticism just because it was given in an inappropriate manner. Consider if there is anything in their comment you can benefit from; people spend large sums of money for the feedback of others.
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 the situation. If they are criticizing you because of a misunderstanding, you may want to clarify what happened.
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.
Handling criticism gracefully is a learned skill; you will improve overtime. Remember, you can handle critical family members. With these tools in mind, come prepared, and pray to God that this year’s visit to your family is an enjoyable one.
To read Yaakov’s new, free e-book, Inspired: 30 Days to a More Meaningful and Fulfilling Life, click here.