by Dr. Henry Cloud
I was doing a seminar one day when a woman asked this question: How do you deal with critical people?”
My first response was, “Why would you want to do that? Dealing with critical people is awful.”
She looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Well … because you have to!”
“I don’t find that to be true,” I said. “Why do you have to?”
She got very circumspect and almost in a whisper so no one could hear, she said, “Because they’re everywhere!”
“Everywhere?” I asked.
“Wow, let’s talk about that.”
And we did, right there in front of a thousand people. I asked her what these critical people were like and where she was finding them, and she began to describe judgmental, critical personalities that she knew in her work, her extended family and in her social circles. In a sense, she was right. They were everywhere – at least in her everywhere. Apparently, she had an uncanny ability to find them, no matter where she was.
It seemed that at her work or any other circle, she would somehow manage to be drawn to the most critical person in the group and become friends with them. After awhile, she would feel like, “all they do is criticize what I am doing and tell me I should be doing it differently.”
What I told her that while it was true that critical people can be found everywhere, it was not true that she had to keep finding them or become best friends with them. But as long as she needed approval of these people – which is impossible to attain – she would always need to find a critical person so that she could live out her lifelong strategy of finally getting one to like her. Good luck.
The observation here is that she needed a critical person to accomplish her goal of getting critical people to finally approve of her. Her “script” required a critical person, so without realizing it, she always looked for one. All she would know was that when she encountered a critical person, she would feel “not good enough” and would begin trying to be good enough in their eyes, exerting lots of effort and continually falling short.
“What do I do?” she asked.
“Easy,” I said. “Just be honest with them, and you’ll never hear from them again.”
“What?” she said.
“Just be honest with them. Tell them something like, ‘Yeah, I can see that you would do it differently, but I like it like this. What’s for lunch?’ ”
Recognize the boundary there?
“But they will keep telling me what is wrong with what I am doing,” she said.
“Probably. So then you just say, ‘Yeah, I understand you feel that way, but that is the way I want to do it. Let’s move on. What’s for lunch?’ ”
In this situation I just described, replace “critical” with a toxic behavior of someone you know. Now think of what you can do for yourself next time you think you have to “deal with” them. Recognize what you’re feeling and honor that. Define the boundary for yourself, and communicate it with the person with whom you have an issue.
For example, “I don’t like it when you treat me like that. If you continue to do so, I will choose not to be around you until you can respect me the same way I respect you.”
That’s a vague statement, but you can define the specific boundary that meets your needs.
Now take a moment to ask yourself: What role am I playing in the situation I find myself in? What am I contributing to this?
Understanding all of this gives you something you can work on. You can work on your tendency to allow toxic people to have that kind of power over you. You can work on staying separate from their opinions and have your own. And most powerfully, you can finally notice that there are other people in your life who don’t exhibit those behaviors.
Please note that if there is an abusive person in your life, the boundaries you set may require a strong support system. It is encouraged that you seek the help of a counselor, a group and/or contact local law enforcement as necessary.
Find the original article here.