Ugh. Toxic family is the worst!
With the holiday season in full swing, most people are preparing themselves — financially, mentally, and even emotionally — to spend significant amounts of time with family. For some, these extended periods of time with family are the highlight of the year. For others, they’re like standing in front of a firing squad.
If you’re currently steeling yourself for the onslaught of family criticism that the holidays bring, know that you’re not facing a losing battle. You don’t need to avoid family gatherings altogether to gain some relief from the verbal jabs.
Try out these 5 strategies for surviving family criticism this holiday season:
1. View criticism as misguided caring.
Many people grow up with the notion that if you care about someone, you worry about them. While worrying about someone’s well-being is well-intentioned, it’s a slippery slope into finding fault with their actions or deeds.
In other words, when a family member expresses disapproval of your actions — when he or she criticizes you — they may be doing this because they deeply care about what happens to you. Family members (especially parents and children) often worry about one another because they care. Remind yourself, whenever necessary, that the criticism that springs from worry may actually be misguided caring.
2. Speak up! Tell family members a better way to help you.
Reminding yourself that caring and criticism are often related helps, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re still dealing with harsh words from someone you love. To stop the harsh words, it helps to educate the criticizer about a better way to express their caring.
Take a few minutes with the critical person in question to describe ways she could express her opinion that would be more helpful and less hurtful to you.
For example, if your sister is always on your case about your low-paying job, tell her that it would be more helpful if she forwarded job opportunities to you instead of criticizing your current situation.
3. Give your family members a "one complaint" limit.
Let’s say your dad constantly nags you and your spouse about having a baby and moving back to your hometown. Ask him, “If we could only do one of those things — have a baby or move back home — which would you pick?”
Prioritizing the critical person’s concerns in this way helps narrow the focus of the criticism. You may continue to get nagged about the “top priority” concern, but the lesser concerns will likely fall by the wayside. This technique may even help the criticizer gain better clarity about what he or she actually wants from you.
4. Remind them that they should love you unconditionally.
Criticism from family can be deeply painful. Even when you know intellectually that you’re being criticized because you’re loved, it doesn’t feel very loving. That’s because criticism conflates one’s actions and circumstances with who they are as a person. When someone attacks your actions or circumstances, it can feel like she’s attacking your very character.
If someone in your family insists on conflating your worth as a person with a list of tasks she would like to see you accomplish, it’s time to remind her that you are deserving of unconditional love. You are bigger than your spending choices, your rental history, your career path, or your childlessness. You know that, and they should too.
5. Ignore the ones who want to cause you harm.
The first four tips in this list give your family members a certain benefit of the doubt. They assume that your family members are reasonable people with good intentions who, through upbringing or conditioning, have developed some poor communication habits.
This last tip is for the family member who’s just mean. He doesn’t particularly care about you, your future, or your feelings. He’s just critical because putting others down makes him feel good. He’s a bully, or he’s deeply insecure, or both. This person doesn’t deserve your attention just because he holds the official title of “family member.” His criticism can and should be dismissed as nothing more than purposeless negativity.
Keep these five tips handy as you brave your upcoming family gatherings. Not only will you experience less negativity, you may even have some fun!
Kira Asatryan is a relationship coach and author of Stop Being Lonely: Three Simple Steps to Developing Close Friendships and Deep Relationships. For more relationship tips, visit kiraasatryan.com and follow her on Twitter @KiraAsatryan.
This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.