Family caregivers are no strangers to criticism. In some cases, it is well intentioned, but in other instances, it is indicative of blatant disapproval. Unfortunately, most people are challenged when it comes to both giving and receiving criticism in a productive manner. Certainly, it is most difficult to be on the receiving end of a critical comment.
Although you aren’t likely to change how someone else thinks about something or how they deliver their opinion, you can change how you perceive these remarks and respond to them. With some effort, you can see the positive in all criticism—even a harsh comment intended to bring you down. The next time your loved one, a family member, a friend or a stranger offers up a critique, use these tips to ensure you keep your composure, consider its full potential and respond appropriately.
Listen to What the Person Has to Say
When receiving a bit of criticism, the immediate reaction for most people is to shut down. You may get defensive and interrupt the person you’re speaking with or mentally tune them out as soon as you realize their intent is to criticize. However, as long as the critic is being respectful and has your best interest at heart (and that of your loved one), it is worth listening to what they have to say. Good criticism comes from an honest and objective source and allows us to gain a new perspective on things. If it turns out that a critic is misguided or just being negative, the worst-case scenario is that you wasted a few minutes politely hearing what they had to say.
Ignore Your Immediate Response
Nobody enjoys receiving criticism, and even constructive comments can feel like a personal attack at times. Rather than becoming argumentative or leading with justifications, mull over what your critic is saying for a few minutes. Try to take an objective stance and weigh the importance of this remark and the intentions behind it. If you have listened carefully to what has been said, you can usually see through an empty comment and easily shrug it off. If you find merit in your critic’s concerns, you can pursue it further. Don’t be afraid to take additional time to think it over and ask to discuss the matter later on.
Focus on the Positive
Break out of the habit of considering criticism wholly negative. Even some of the most difficult comments to swallow usually have at least a hint of constructive advice to them. Just like a report card or a performance review at work, critical remarks are challenges for us to do better for ourselves and our loved ones. Caregivers take criticism particularly hard because there is so much at stake and usually there is very little support or thanks available. However, remaining open to other possibilities and points of view could help you find a more efficient way of completing a difficult task or discover a new source of respite care.
When a person’s criticism is productive and coming from a good place, it is obviously much easier to respond in an appropriate way. Follow up by asking for more information or suggestions on how you could improve in this particular area. If they truly mean well, they’ll work with you to brainstorm ways to help you succeed in caregiving. Try something like, “Can you help me figure out how to make that happen?”
When it comes to empty criticism, it’s still important to be respectful in your response. Even if what your critic has to say is uninformed, doesn’t apply to you or is downright hurtful, responding defensively or ignoring them will usually backfire. This approach could spark an argument or guarantee that the subject will keep coming up again. Instead, respond with something courteous and neutral, yet conclusive. Replies like, “Thank you for offering a different perspective,” “I’ve never considered that option before,” and “I’ll have to try using your method next time” are polite ways of letting your critic know that you have heard what they have to say and you might apply it in the future.
Know When to Detach
There’s always that one person who can’t help but dole out comments purely for the sake of being critical. Nothing you do is ever good enough, and it’s impossible to have an honest conversation about why you organize Mom’s pills in a certain way or how you’ve already tried countless methods to keep Dad from wandering. This person only points out flaws and never makes an effort to devise new solutions or even lend a helping hand. Criticism like this is far from constructive and calls for detachment.
Keep in mind that negative criticism often has more to do with the person dishing it out than the person receiving it. If you can learn to see through these comments and not take them personally, it will help them roll off your back. However, everyone has some sort of boiling point. It’s important to respect others’ opinions and points of view, but when criticism becomes constant and abusive, it’s time to stand up for yourself.
Walk Away from the Situation
If an elder or family member becomes abusive, you can calmly say you won’t tolerate such treatment and walk away. This could be as simple as going to a different room to cool down or arranging respite care to give you a break from caregiving for the rest of the day. Once they realize they won’t get the desired outcome—riling you up— they might cease and desist. You must be consistent with setting and respecting your boundaries, though.
If that doesn’t work, it may be time to remove yourself from the situation altogether. Find in-home care or placement in a senior living facility for your critical care recipient. Having a stranger who isn’t quite as caring or familiar might make the elder realize how much they want and need your help. Limit communications with your overly judgmental sibling, or let them take on the role of primary caregiver. Once they’ve walked in your shoes, it’s likely they won’t be nearly as critical. As long as you ensure your care recipient’s safety and wellbeing, there are ways to extricate yourself from such a derogatory situation.
You can be the best caregiver in the world, but people can always find faults, whether real or perceived, in the things that you do. It’s human nature and we can’t change it. If you accept this fact and learn how to cope with criticism and respect yourself, you can eliminate the stress and anxiety over what people think and lead a happier, healthier life.