It’s not always easy being on the receiving end of criticism. But with a few expert tips, you can learn how to handle overly critical people.

Dealing with criticism and feedback is a part of life.

When that criticism is negative, you might feel judged. Your natural response may be to try to defend yourself or simply walk away. But doing so can sometimes escalate the situation.

There are ways you can handle unhelpful criticisms and avoid making the situation worse.

When most people think of criticisms, they think of rude or negative comments.

You may immediately think of that person who judges your decisions or talks at length about what you’re doing wrong, or rarely has anything nice to say.

According to a 2020 study, criticisms are defined as negative feedback from others that’s often unpleasant but not uncommon. The researchers note that these criticisms are a part of daily social interactions with others that can’t be avoided.

Too much negative feedback can affect a person’s mental health, often playing a role in the developing and recurrence of conditions such as depression and schizophrenia.

Negative criticism from mothers may even predict whether a child will develop depression, according to a 2021 study.

On the other hand, criticism can also be positive.

A 2020 study found that positive criticism can lead to positive improvements and boost self-efficiency — a person’s belief in their ability to complete particular tasks. And higher self-efficiency has been linked to lower symptoms of depression and anxiety.

There are several reasons why a person may be more negatively critical of others.

Erica Cramer, a licensed clinical social worker in New York, says, “When someone is overly critical, chances are it has more to do with them than you.”

Most of the time, people who are overly critical of others may not even be aware that they’re doing it.

Neena Lall, a licensed clinical social worker also based in New York, adds that critical people may also feel anxious. This can lead them to subconsciously think that criticizing others may help them manage their anxiety.

If your mother teaches you how to drive and she’s an anxious driver herself, she may manage her anxiety by criticizing you, Lall says.

Other reasons a person might be more critical include:

  • low self-esteem
  • insecurity
  • sense of superiority
  • history of receiving criticisms in childhood

When you’re faced with a critical person, you can use strategies to help you deal with the person and their comments.

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Helpful Ways to Deal with Critical People Design by Maya Chastain

Consider the source

Consider who is criticizing you. Is it your mom? Your best friend? A co-worker?

“Before jumping to feeling bad about yourself, consider how much credibility you’re giving the person,” Cramer says.

Try to remind yourself that this person might not be an expert on this topic, or they may have other underlying reasons for being more critical about this particular situation.

Cramer suggests taking some opinions with a “grain of salt.”

Don’t take it personally

Criticisms may be more of a reflection of that person than of you.

“Sometimes people are critical because they’re projecting their own insecurities on you,” Lall says.

For example, if a friend feels insecure about their own body, they may criticize or make negative comments about your body.

Take a moment

It’s natural to react in anger to criticisms or to feel hurt or embarrassed, according to a 2020 study.

When we feel hurt, we may react defensively, leading to confrontation or an argument.

Before you respond, try to take a time-out. Consider excusing yourself from the conversation and taking a walk or taking a few deep breaths.

Taking a moment can sometimes help you get some perspective and process everything. This may help avoid arguments and make an already awkward situation even worse.

Become a rock

People who are critical of others are usually looking for a reaction. If you suspect this is happening, Lall suggests using the gray rock technique.

“This means giving boring non-answers to any criticisms you receive,” Lall says.

Here are a few example responses Lall suggests.

  • “I’ll consider that” (even though you may not).
  • “I heard you” (you heard the words, but you may not agree).
  • “That’s a point” (they made a point, but it may not be right for you).

Take an empathetic approach

Instead of casting someone off because they’re difficult, try to cultivate some empathy for them.

“Sometimes, when people are hurtful, it’s helpful to take a more empathetic approach,” Cramer says.

Often people hurt others because they feel hurt themselves, Cramer adds.

Try to see the world from their point of view. This may help you understand the reasons behind their behavior. Once you understand this, you can feel compassion for that person.

Dealing with criticisms isn’t easy. Often, a natural response is to try to defend yourself, but this can sometimes make the situation worse.

Instead of becoming defensive, it may be helpful to consider the source. There may be some underlying reason why they’re being overly critical. Then try to see the situation from their perspective.

Trying these strategies may ease tension and prevent a situation from getting worse.

If you’ve tried these or other strategies and nothing has changed, it may be time to end that relationship.

If you need additional help, consider speaking with a mental health professional. They can help you learn to set boundaries or discuss other methods of dealing with critical people.