Sadly, no one goes through life without facing criticism over something at some point. We’ve all been there. All had those ‘well meaning’ sarcastic remarks or outright insults said to us. And all probably walked away feeling really hurt (possibly with lasting scars from them too).
But when it comes to our bodies it seems that people are a little less reserved about being shitty than other areas. It’s not seen to be as unacceptable as sexism or racism for example. Perhaps because it’s often wrapped up in a friendly tone and said with a smiling face. Comments like…
- “I’m not sure I’d wear that dress but if you like it then great”
- “Are you eating chocolate? I didn’t really eat sweets when I was pregnant because I wanted to get my figure back afterwards”
- “If you spent a bit more time on your appearance you could look really nice”
…are loaded with hidden messages and meaning (which we all hear and understand). And then there are the outright insults or criticisms. Things like;
- “If you eat that you’ll get fat”
- “Those jeans make you look stupid”
- “You need to lose weight so you look better”
- “You won’t find anyone else who’ll want you because you’re really frumpy now”
These can be really hard to hear and make you feel awful about yourself. Especially if they are being said by someone close to you.
So how can you cope with it? How can you get yourself to a place where these comments don’t hurt as much or where you can get people to treat you better? Whilst there’s not one simple answer, there are lots of things you can do. Here are my top 7.
#1 – Recognise it says more about them than about you
The most important thing I want you to take away from this post is this – what people say reflects more about who they are than who you are. We naturally put ourselves into other peoples positions and will assume that they feel the same way we do. So if someone says to you “you need to lose weight” what they are really telling you is that they would feel like they must lose weight if they were bigger. Perhaps because of their own low self esteem or values around what makes them good enough for others. Or another example, if someone says “you shouldn’t eat that because you’ll get fat” what they are thinking is that they’d be worried about getting fat so you must be too.
When people comment on how you look they are really just commenting on what their values and opinions are. In fact, sometimes it can be sad to see how little someone would value themselves if they looked different. People who worry a lot about putting on weight might actually be afraid that they won’t be loveable if they don’t conform. They don’t trust that they are good enough regardless of how they look.
It can also make you appreciate that you don’t have the same insecurities that they do. After all, just because they might feel that they are only good enough if they are thin doesn’t mean that you have to believe that too. (If you’re not quite there yet and want to boost your confidence in your body read this post on 5 ways to love your post baby body just as it is).
#2 – Make clear statements about how they’ve made you feel
Sometimes people don’t actually realise how inappropriate or hurtful the things they say are. Sometimes they do but they think they can get away with it because you won’t say anything. Either way, being able to reflect back the impact of what they’ve said can be really powerful in making them realise that they’ve crossed the line.
So, what do I actually mean by this. The idea with this is to simply you state how you have been made to feel. Let’s look at some of the things you could say to someone who criticises you.
- “It makes me feel sad that you don’t think I’m good enough as I am”
- “I’m trying hard to feel comfortable with my body and really hoped for your support with that”
- “That’s a really hurtful thing to say to someone you love”
- “It hurts that you can’t accept or love me the way that I am”
- “I feel upset that you are so negative about someone you care about”
It can be hard to confront people who criticise you as they can get defensive or just don’t want to hear it. By using short, clear and personal reflections on what they’ve said you highlight that they’ve said something unacceptable; tell them how you feel and show them that you won’t ignore hurtful behaviour from them. If you’re lucky then you’ll get an apology. But at the very least you’ll probably make them think about what they’ve said. You’ll also know that you stood up for yourself and voiced your own feelings. Which can be really empowering even if you don’t get the response you want.
#3 – Talk to them
This one seems obvious but is really hard. Having a conversation with someone to tell them that you are finding their behaviour hurtful takes bravery. Especially if they are used to being the one with the power dynamic in the relationship. To help the conversation go well it’s a good idea to think about the following;
When and where
Make sure you don’t try and do this when kids are running riot or you’ve got no time. By making a specific space and time for this conversation you’ll avoid distraction but also convey that this is important to you too.
What you want to say
It can help to take a list of what you want to say as conversations often go off on a tangent and you might walk away feeling like you didn’t say everything you wanted to. Keep it factual and personal. As with the above point, focus on how you feel rather than if what they’ve said is OK. This will help reduce their defensiveness.
What you want the outcome to be
Know what you want them to do differently and clearly state this. It might be that you want them to stop commenting on your weight. It might be that you want reassurance that you are good enough as you are. Or perhaps it’s that you want them to stop criticising what you wear or how you look. State what you want (I’d like you to stop criticising my appearance), state why you want that (because it’s really upsetting me) and state the consequence (and I’m finding it hard to want to be around you anymore).
#4 – Recognise when you are projecting
In the first point I talked about how other people will project their feelings and values on to you. But you need to be aware that you also do the same back. The reason you need to be aware of this is that how you feel about yourself will affect how you interpret the things people say.
Let’s think about an example. You are reaching for a second doughnut and someone says “you aren’t going to eat another one are you?”. Now, if you are subconsciously feeling bad that you are overweight then you’ll interpret this as “this is why you’re fat”. But they might have meant “won’t you feel really sick after?”. Or they might just have meant that they couldn’t manage to eat two so are impressed that you can.
Projecting our own fears and insecurities onto others can really change the impact of what they actually say. If we are worrying that we’re unattractive, innocent comments from our partners can feel like evidence that he finds us unattractive too (when in fact he thinks we’re fine as we are). Or if we are worried that we are putting on weight, comments about what we eat can feel really hurtful and confirmation that others think we are getting fat too.
Once we face our fears and overcome them, however, we stop projecting as much and can see comments much more objectively. It’s really worth the effort to dig a little deeper into how you are feeling so you can bring your insecurities to the surface. This will help you to understand why some comments really upset you and also prevent them from triggering off as strong an emotional response as they do now. If you’re struggling to work out if you are projecting or what might be behind how you are feeling keeping a journal can really help (see this post on 3 excellent reasons to keep a journal to help you love your body).
#5 – Agree with them
Right, stay with me on this one as I know it sounds counter-intuitive. These last 3 tips are for when the above aren’t working. This is one of my favourites simply because it drives people crazy!
Fundamentally, if the people who are criticising you love you they will stop once they know how you feel. So if they don’t, that tells you that either their own values are so deep rooted that they just can’t change or that they know they are upsetting you and don’t care. Either way, this particular strategy can be really amusing on your part and infuriate them so it’s worth giving it a go.
To give you an example, my father in law was the master of this. He would always agree with anyone who criticised him because it really stopped them in their tracks. If someone said to him that he was an idiot he’d just reply “yes, you’re probably right.” or “I know”. Or he’d say things like “yes, it’s a bit of a problem isn’t it”, “that’s nice” or “thanks for telling me”.
Remember that people who criticise you want to upset you so this is a great way of showing them that they haven’t. Not only can this stop them trying (just because it’s not working) but it will also really piss them off. Win-win in my book.
So give it a go. Next time someone criticises you just say “yes, you’re probably right” and then walk off.
#6 – Practice detachment
People can only hurt us when we are emotionally invested in what they say. This could be because we love them or because they are in a position of power (bosses, Drs etc.). By practicing detachment from them we can start to untangle ourselves from what they are saying. When I say detachment I don’t necessarily mean ignoring someone. It’s more about listening to what they say in a detached way that says “I’m hearing you but I’m not going to let what you say affect how I feel”.
Always remember that someone else’s opinions do not have to be your opinions. Remind yourself that you don’t have to agree with someone. Nor do you have to make them agree with you. If they think being overweight is bad let them. It doesn’t mean that you need to feel the same way. Recognise that they are entitled to their opinions (because they are) but that you can hear them knowing that they don’t have to affect you.
#7 – Reduce the time you spend with them
Sadly, sometimes people are just going to have a toxic influence on you. The only real way to get around that is to limit the amount of time you spend with them. I appreciate this can be hard when they are family or even your partner though. If it’s family then keep trying to talk to them about it. Make sure you are honest about the fact that you might need to step back from them for the sake of your own mental health. Sometimes that will be enough to make them at least think twice before saying anything. If it’s your partner then clearly just reducing the time you spend with them is only a very small part of the issue.
As hard as it is you should think about why you are in the relationship and if it is giving you the emotional support and love that you need. No one should be in a relationship where they feel criticised or unloved. In fact, critical behaviour can be emotionally abusive so it’s important to take action if this is the case.
A good way to work out whether or not you need to pull away is to think about whether or not you would want your daughter to put up with the things being said. If the answer is no then you really have to ask yourself why it’s OK for you to. Think about what you’d advise her (or a friend if you don’t have a daughter) to do in your situation. Then take your own advice.
So there you have it
7 ways in which you can cope with people who criticise you. They take some practice but will be well worth the effort. On top of these I would also always suggest building a really good self care routine to boost your self esteem and happiness as these will give you resilience to any criticism too. It can be hard to do at first but learning how to handle people who criticise you will make you feel empowered. Also remember as well that your children are watching how you let others treat you so this is a great way to teach them what they should do if they are criticised by others.
If you are struggling with this area or anything else get in touch here to book a session with me. I can help you to work through any issues and build the resilience you need to feel amazing, even in the face of criticism!
(PS: I’m running a series on Instagram called “Words Matter” that highlights just how much damage is done by the things said to us. Especially by those we love. Make sure you are following me to see the series.)