hurt and resentful
guilty and/or angry
Responses like these seldom meet both
persons' needs. Can you think of
someone who responds to criticism
effectively? How would you describe the
way they respond? How do you usually
Think of someone you feel is "often
critical." How would you describe
"criticism" to an average pre-teen? Here, it
means "expressing an opinion about whether
someone or something is good or bad, or
right or wrong."
What makes the difference between
constructive and destructive criticism? How
do you usually feel when someone
criticizes you? When they criticize
themselves? When they criticize other
people? Four factors shape the answers...
is being criticized - e.g. something
that can be changed, or something that's
the criticism is expressed - kindly,
harshly, sarcastically, rigidly,
respectfully or not, indirectly or
directly, calmly or aggressively,
privately or publicly, humorously or
the critic's motives seem to be -
e.g. to improve something, to complain
or whine, to put someone or something
down, to avoid painful reality or
responsibility, etc.; and...
you feel the critic is qualified
to judge or not.
We'll look at responses to five common
situations: someone is...
over-critical "all the time"
critical of themselves,
critical about a child or another adult;
qualified to criticize, in your
General Response Guidelines
These options apply in all situations:
Get clear on
(a) what bothers you - specifically, and
on (b) what you
Check to see
that you have a
and a two-person
yourself on the principles of (a)
(b) how to
If you aren't
confident about these factors, delay your
response until you are - or lower your
Specific Response Guidelines
Notice the themes of these options,
rather than using them as "absolutes."
Overcritical in General
How do you feel around an adult or
child who constantly finds fault with other
people? S/He may or may not also whine,
complain, and be gloomy, cynical, and/or
negative"). Typical feelings may include
frustration, impatience, weariness, dislike,
"discomfort," and irritation. Whatever your
feelings, name and use them in a respectful
"(Name), when you need to be so critical
of _________, I
feel _______________, and its
hard for me to listen to you."
add something like
"I need you to cut
back on (or ...be aware of...)
criticizing so much."
Or "If you
keep doing that, I'm going to call
you on it every time." (or some
This is a more
respectful and factual, and less provocative
response than something like "Why are you so
critical all the time?" and "You're critical
of everyone. I get real tired of hearing
that all the time."
As with any assertion, expect the person to
defend, explain, deny,
minimize, explode, whine, play helpless ("I
can't help it"), criticize you, etc. When
they're done, use empathic listening to
validate that you heard them. Then restate
your assertive I-message calmly, firmly,
with steady eye contact.
Do you know anyone whom you feel is
excessively critical of you as a person,
wo/man, mate, friend, child, parent,
sibling, neighbor, or co-worker? How do you
feel about that trait? How do you normally
react? Does that improve or degrade your
relationship?. Typical ineffective responses
include enduring, arguing, blowing up,
denying, hinting, counter-blaming, moaning,
crying, raging, analyzing, explaining, and
Better response-options -
you aware of how often you criticize
of criticizing me, I need you to tell me
what you need from me."
you need to criticize me about
(something specific), I feel
"So will you
(some unfilled need/s) with me?"
A specially challenging case is when your
parent or grandparent criticizes you without
learning enough about you or accepting your
right to be differ from them. Optional
(the conflicted thing) differently than
"We have a
major values conflict here."
you agree to disagree on this?"
"When you find fault with me without
trying to understand my situation, I
hurt, and angry."
feel your expectations of me are
for more perspective.
If you have trouble remembering responses
like these - or feel anxious, guilty, or
ambivalent about them, a false self probably
dominates you. See
Most of us are self-critical at times. How
do react when someone faults themselves? Do
you want to reassure them? ("C'mon -
everyone makes mistakes.") Correct them?
("Don't be so hard on yourself!")
Analyze? ("Why are you beating yourself up?"
Discount their feelings? (You shouldn't feel
so bad.") People who are overly
self-critical may be
of childhood trauma. If so, well -meant
responses like these risk the person feeling
discounted (unheard), misunderstood, guilty,
Better response options:
"(Name), when you need to criticize
yourself so often, I feel
"(Name), when you need to criticize
yourself so often, it's hard to be with
badly when your
need to shame your Inner Kids."
you fault yourself all the time, I feel
frustrated and lose respect for you."
"Instead of criticizing yourself so
much, I need you to ______________."
don't accept your apology, because I'm
not offended by your behavior."
response-options to someone who feels
inferior, see this
after you finish here.
Overcritical of a Child or Another Adult
Can you think of someone who seems
extra-critical of a particular person? How
do you feel about that? Detached?
Judgmental? Protective? Ambivalent?
Argumentative? Righteous? Resigned? Your
reaction probably depends on who the people
are and what their relationship to you is -
e.g. you'd feel different if your sister was
overcritical of her child compared to a
stranger criticizing your town's Mayor.
key factor in choosing a response here is
what you expect of yourself in this
situation - your
moral code is "It's none of my business,"
then no overt response is needed. If your
moral code is something like "That's not
fair!" or "That's child
you need to respond to honor your values and
preserve your self respect.
Because "unfair criticism" and "verbal
abuse" are emotionally provocative,
confirming that your true Self is
is specially important here. Otherwise you
risk sparking a fight or uproar. In
constitutes verbal abuse and the steps
to make an effective
divisive Persecutor - Victim - Rescuer
specific needs you're filling by
responding (what outcome you seek),
you have a
or not. If you don't, suspect a
false self has disabled your Self,
and lower your expectations.
These important preparations will probably
take just a few seconds.
"(Name), sounds like you're really
(upset / angry / disapproving /
frustrated / disappointed / disgusted,
etc.) with _____________." This
is a respectful affirmation, not
condoning their behavior.
you aware of how often you criticize
needs are you trying to fill by being so
critical of ________?"
you need to be so vocally critical of
_________, I feel ___________...
Option: ..."and I
lose respect for you."
do you need (or expect) from
______________ (the criticized person)?"
you aware that you're promoting
in this child?"
"(Name), I feel you're verbally abusing
this child. If you don't reduce your
excessive criticism now, I'm
going to (take a specific action)."
Don't say this unless you mean
With any responses like these,
the other person to react with denial,
resentment, anger, disrespect, blame,
explanations, or justifications. Use
with such responses - and
then repeat your response calmly and with
steady eye contact. repeat this cycle until
Again, these are response options,
not absolutes. The themes are to (1) honor
your integrity, (2) respectfully give the
critic the chance to judge the impact of
their attitude and behavior, and (3) possibly
protect the criticized one.
you imagine responding like this to an
excessively critical adult or child? If not
- what's the risk?
Another common situation occurs when you
is Not Qualified to Criticize
In your opinion, what does it take to be
qualified? Can a non-parent criticize a
parent? Can a middle-class adult criticize
a homeless person? Dose a Catholic woman
from Idaho know enough to criticize an
Egyptian Muslim man? Can an eight-year old
child criticize a policewoman? Is an atheist
qualified to criticize a Buddhist?
Can you think of examples in your life where
someone you felt wasn't qualified criticized
someone or something? Criticized you?
What did you feel, and how did you
react? Native Americans advise us to "Walk a
mile in someone's moccasins (before you
The easiest choice is to keep your opinion
to yourself - specially if the criticism
doesn't involve you or someone you care
about. If it does, check yourself for a
mutual-respect attitude. Then...
use respectful empathic listening
to demonstrate you hear the critic
clearly - e.g. "So you think my sister
was criminal for having an abortion." (a
statement, not a question).
good eye contact, assert your opinion:
don't know my sister or the
circumstances causing her and her husband
to choose abortion. I don't think you're
qualified to judge them."
critic to "resist" (argue, debate,
explain, defend, disagree...), and use
empathic listening to show that you
heard them. Then restate your opinion
calmly, firmly, and without wordy
when you criticize ______________
without enough information or
experience to justify your opinion, I
lose respect for you."
need to make black/white criticisms
without trying to understand the other
person's situation, I tune you out."
make disrespectful (or uninformed)
judgments of ___________, I don't take
your opinion seriously."
think you know enough to have an opinion
"What needs are you filling by
criticizing ____________ without knowing
"(Name), I don't agree with you on
that." or "I see it
your false self is making that criticism
without knowing enough about it."
Notice that these responses avoid a
lose-lose argument about "fairness" and a
"Yes, but..." debate, and an inflammatory "I
think you're wrong (or unreasonable),
because..." challenge.. How do these
responses compare to you how you usually
react to an unqualified critic? Can you
think of someone you'd like to try these
with? How do you think the critic would
react to each of them?