7 Tips For Dealing With Critical Family or Friends

Mar 23, 2016 | Confidence

What to do when a loved one isn’t supportive

Sometimes a loved one can keep you down. Moving past the hurt and criticism is key to protecting yourself and building your confidence.

Close but critical

Do you have a person in your life who is close, yet unsupportive or even critical of you?

This is a person who you’d expect to be one of your biggest fans by virtue of a close relationship but, for some reason, is just not. It might be a parent, sibling, friend or other loved one who over the years has not acted like one of your fans.

Perhaps this person has never seemed to show real happiness for you, never complimented you or expressed pride in you, or even disparaged or belittled you or your accomplishments. Given your relationship to the person, it can be quite baffling, even downright painful at times.

And by virtue of this person’s status in your life, you might keep giving him/her the benefit of the doubt, making excuses for him/her, or worse, believing that the problem is you.

One thing’s for sure: if you continue to be hurt by this person, or you at all believe the criticism, it is sure to eat away at your confidence. And the pain and disappointment of it can cause you stress. So it’s time to find another way.

Not a reflection of you

First, some good news. Lacking that person’s support is not a prerequisite to success. More importantly, it’s not a reflection of you.

And you can rise above it, or even use it as fuel for your success.

I’ll give you two stunning examples.

The first comes from Norman Lear, one of the most successful television writers and producers in the United States, creating many of the most popular shows. (Some of you may remember “All in the Family” or “The Jeffersons.”)

Lear once said of his mother, “Well…when I scored the most, [she] didn’t have the appetite to say anything. When I called to tell her the Television Academy was starting a Hall of Fame, and [I would be one of] the first honorees, she said, ‘Well, if that’s what they want to do, who am I to say?’”

“Who am I to say?”!  Hmm, let’s see… for starters, you’re his mother!  Her response is so ridiculous it’s laughable, but surely it wasn’t funny to Lear at the time.

The second example – a bit more extreme – comes from best-selling author Jeannette Walls whose mother was not only critical but also selfish. (Both parents had mental health issues and seemed incapable of providing support and stability.) Walls was told by her mother that while her siblings were in turn smart, pretty and brave, the only thing Walls had going for her was that she worked hard.

In her book “The Glass Castle,” Walls describes a time when she and her siblings were going hungry (which was not uncommon), and her mother kept a chocolate bar for herself rather than share it with her children. But rather than letting it crush her spirit, Walls turned her story into a best-selling memoir – even providing a home for her mother with her success.

Walls has a wonderful perspective on her past and her mother. As she said, “We all have our baggage, and I think the trick is not resisting it but accepting it, understanding that the worst experience has a valuable gift wrapped inside if you’re willing to receive it…. So, O.K., Mom kept the chocolate bar. But she gave me a lot of good material.”

Change it up

Many of us have dealt with unsupportive people in our lives, so it’s not surprising that when I have a client struggling with self-confidence, there’s often a critical or unsupportive loved one in his/her life.

But you don’t have to sit in painful memories or present-day disappointment. You can change the situation.

And if the person is still in your life, you may even need to change the situation because despite love and good intentions, if critical comments cause you to pause or doubt, or show up at times in your own head, then your self-confidence is being damaged.

7 tips to protect yourself, and your confidence

Since this loved one is probably not going anywhere, what can you do to shield your confidence from him/her and move on?

  1. Accept the person and the past. This is not to say that you should accept hurtful treatment (see #2), but anger and blame are a waste of your precious energy. Rather, recognize that this person is this way towards you because of his/her own issues and insecurities. If they’re critical of you, it’s a pretty safe bet they’re not feeling too great about themselves.
  2. The next time you are hurt by this person, let him/her know – calmly. It may not change the behavior, but if you never speak up you’ll never know, and your silence suggests that it’s OK. (It is possible that this person doesn’t realize he or she is hurting you.) The bonus here is that even if it doesn’t change, speaking up builds your confidence and makes it easier to accept the criticism the next time, because at least you know you tried.
  3. Do not blame yourself or believe this person’s criticisms. Whatever the person’s hangup is, it’s not about you. Really. (Of course when a normally supportive person has a criticism, that’s different.)
  4. Find some humor in it. Make a game out of predicting a response, or create some tagline or phrase to sprinkle responses with humor. Think of Norman Lear’s mother: “Who am I to say?”
  5. Look for the gift in it. Has the person made you stronger or work harder? Has s/he been a catalyst for growth, or given you some good material?
  6. Don’t go to this person the next time you need support or championing. Learn from history and don’t think that this time – after 10, 20, 30 years – this person might finally say what you’ve longed to hear.
  7. Do find someone else to fill that necessary role – someone who will have your back, support you when you are down, celebrate you when you are up. Everyone needs someone to believe in them. This may not be critical to your success, but it is critical to your confidence.

What about you?

If you have a close but critical person in your life, what are some of your coping mechanisms? And what will you do the next time it comes up? Share your thoughts below, or email me privately. And if you liked this post, please pass it along!

Photo credit: Bill Strain, “The OB in Charge,” at flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)


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Jennifer is the creator of Pathways to Change, a framework for mindful leadership development that integrates coaching, neuroscience, mindfulness and mind-body principles.

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