If you like this
article, check out the related resources listed below.
Immunize Yourself Against Toxic People
Most parents will attend a family gathering this holiday season. 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 holidays 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. However we know this person, we need a plan for keeping our sanity and self-esteem intact when we’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 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 Criticism
If you are repeatedly criticized by someone you can’t avoid, plan ahead for the next attack.
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:
When to Set Limits
If none of these tactics work, 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 our elders. Our goal is to do what is best for our emotional health our children’s, by trying to resolve conflicts peacefully and assertively. Our positive efforts will often detoxify these negative critics. If not, we’ll know we’ve done our part and are not contributing to further hurt.
Jody Johnston Pawel is a Licensed Social Worker, Certified Family Life Educator, second-generation parent educator, founder of The Family Network, and President of Parents Toolshop Consulting. She is the author of 100+ parent education resources, including her award-winning book, The Parent's Toolshop. For 25+ years, Jody has trained parents and family professionals through her dynamic workshops and interviews with the media worldwide, including Parents and Working Mother magazines, and the Ident-a-Kid television series. Jody currently serves as the online parenting expert for Cox Ohio Publishing’s mom-to-mom websites and also serves on the Advisory Board of the National Effective Parenting Initiative.
Reprint Guidelines: You may publish/reprint any article from our site for non-commercial purposes in your ezine, website, blog, forum, RSS feed or print publication, as long as it is the entire un-edited article and title and includes the article’s source credit, including the author’s bio and active links as they appear with the article. We also appreciate a quick note/e-mail telling us where you are reprinting the article. To request permission from the author to publish this article in print or for commercial purposes, please complete and send us a Permission to Reprint Form.