Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How to Deal with "Friendly" Criticism

"I really don't think that suits you. Try this one instead!" she remarks, unsolicited, as you put on your favorite dress.

"Don't you worry about your figure? I just want to see you healthy, but you've put on so much weight recently," she mentions, munching on a handful of almonds.

"My hair is such a mess. You must understand- your hair is so frizzy!" She corrects her bangs deftly and sweeps her eyes over your hair.

Do you have a friend that's been sharing a few too many "helpful" comments?
Here's a few tips to deal with the criticism that friends may hand out without much thought.

When? How often?

The first thing is to notice when the criticism comes out. Does your friend only share her opinions when asked? Does she hand out compliments and criticism equally? Or does she often share negative view points without you asking for them?

For example, my floor mates tend to share their opinions, both good and bad. Sometimes it means that I get a surprise hug and outpouring of adoration. Other times, it means that people will give me well-meaning advice about my hair on high humidity days. For me, I don't really mind so long as I know that the observations are just that: facets of me that my friends care about and want to protect or improve. Most importantly, I know that if I ask for the criticism to stop it will.

If the criticism tends to come out unsolicited or on a very regular basis, then you may become bothered by it.

Is this about you?

The next facet is whether these comments are even about you. If they're not about you, then there's really no need to pay them any mind. Negative comments really just reflect on the person saying them.

Here are a few questions that can help you determine if the "friendly" criticism is about you.

  • Are these criticisms just a reflection of your friend's insecurities? 

A friend of mine is very insecure about her grades. She worries about them constantly and sees them as a reflection of herself, rather than just being, y'know, test scores. Sometimes when she gets a bad score, she'll draw attention to the low scores other people have gotten. If they're not in the mood to commiserate with her on a low score, she'll use criticism to try and draw people down to her low level of confidence.

Sometimes the way people deal with their weakness is to draw attention that weakness in others. It may help your friend to see that they see as a weakness is actually a normal and common part of other people. However, it may still hurt you to have that part of yourself criticized.

  • Is being negative about others a way for her to let off steam when in a bad mood? 
  • Does your friend tend to comment on negatives in general?

Some people are just negative. Call them pessimists or realists, but they always find the negative to a situation. These people tend to amuse themselves by putting things down rather than trying to improve.

I'd advise to cut this type of person out of your life. It might seem like a loss to cut this friend out, but really they're just a negative patch that you've grown used to. Sew in something you enjoy and lifts you up. The difference will likely surprise you.

Why does it bother you?

Ask yourself why this bothers you.

  • Is this part of a larger conflict with your friend? 
  • Is it the frequency that bothers you? Or the content? Or the setting of the comments?
  • Are these criticisms prodding your inner wounds? 
  • Is your worry for yourself? Or for your friendship?
  • How do you feel about these criticisms?

These questions will take a bit more introspection; take your time with them. You don't have to share all the answers with your friend, but dealing with them on your own time will help when you approach your friend.

Now that you know that this is a problem, why it's a problem, and how it bothers you, you can figure out how to deal with it.

How to deal

So the next time the "advice" comes up point it out. It may be that your friend isn't aware of it. Try a neutral statement like these to draw attention without being accusatory:

  • Thanks for pointing that out, but I'm okay with that part of myself.
  • I'm glad that you noticed that change I made, but I don't feel the need to comment on it.
  • I really love that part of me and in others too. In fact, (compliment the other person).
  • You're really observant. Thanks for appreciating that.

Realizing that the criticism isn't about you often means that the criticism doesn't bother you anymore. Instead, I focus on helping that person to accept that aspect of themselves. For example, when my friend criticizes my grades, I always respond by saying that grades aren't the thing that defines a person. I refocus the conversation on her relationship with the professor or her fundamental understanding of the information.

After pointing it out a few times, have a conversation with your group of friends about how unnecessary criticism can hurt. If you don't want to be direct, have a ready segway into the topic. If you read magazines, it's easy to find an article about how criticism of women's bodies is hurtful. If you do want to be direct, talk to you other friends and get on the same page about the friend's problematic behavior. 

How to stop it

If the criticism continues after pointing out how it hurts you, then the "friend" needs to stop hurting you.

You may need to have a conversation about the excessive criticism after using these statements, make sure to talk in private. Think about what you have to say. Make sure that you don't respond with negative criticism. 

If this friend continues to comment in a way that hurts you or bothers you, that person may not be much of a friend. Take the time to evaluate the friendship. Is this criticism worth the rest of the relationship? Is cutting off contact the best way to make them stop debilitating?