Coping with Critical People

It's never enough. You just can't be good enough, or smart enough, or meet their expectations. I'm talking about the relentless pursuit of pleasing your critics. I don't mean your coaches; and I don't mean your mentors. Coaches and mentors should be allowed to give you constructive criticism, but only after they have earned your trust and you have given them permission. But what about the rest of those folks--the ones that believe they are your life coaches whether you like it or not?

It can be a difficult task to handle the constant barrage of negative comments, questions, and perspectives they lather upon you. I am writing this because I believe many of us have encountered such a situation. As Jesus walked the Earth, He was bombarded with criticism and intensely negative resistance. Perhaps the most ironic part of that story is that His fiercest critics were supposed to be the "godly" and "religious" crowd of Israel. They should have been the leaders, the mentors, the coaches, the helpers, the compassionate, the merciful and forgiving; but instead they were the biting snares of righteous indignation and ignorant criticism. 

Whether you are a Christian or not, I'm certain you have dealt with illegitimate negativity in your life, and I'm guessing it hasn't helped you. There needs to be a way you can avoid responding to the misguided attacks and find it in your heart to be what that negative person needs--loving, understanding, and patient. 

You may be the negatively-slanted critic, or you may be on the receiving end of such a person; but either way, this topic is relevant. Each day, each hour, each moment of your life you choose what perspective you will embrace, and perhaps more importantly, which perspective you will communicate to others.

Before I continue, I want to clarify my opinion of negativity. Criticism and negative comments have a time and a place. 

Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven...a time to keep silence and a time to speak.

Proverbs 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

It is extremely important to be tactful, loving, helpful, and rational when you are the distributor of these comments.

Colossians 4:6 Let your speech be alwaywith grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

Ephesians 4:15 [We ought to be] speaking the truth in love...

I am not advocating that negativity has no place in our relationships. That's foolish; but most of you are aware of the type of negativity I am addressing--it is constant, often irrational, divisive, angry, and ultimately hurtful. 

Five signs of a negatively-slanted critic: 

#1 Harsh words

If you looked at Ephesians 4:15 above, you noticed a qualification for speaking the truth properly is that it be done in a loving way. I can tell my wife that something she has done or said was unpleasant to me, but if I want my marriage to succeed, I will do so in a loving way. I will use kind, gentle words to let her know that something needs to be corrected; and this is true in any beneficial relationship, whether professional, social, or familial. If a person begins choosing harsh words to relay their corrective message, things can quickly go downhill.

Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

The obsessively negative person uses these harsh words to convey the deep anger and bitterness they have allowed to infect their mind. To not use these words would cause the rage within to consume them. They need an outlet, so they choose hurtful verbiage.

Luke 6:45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. [Emphases added]

This fact should help you realize the person attacking you is in need. They need someone to counsel them about their deep hurt, pain, anger, and bitterness. This person has likely been hurt in the past and their coping mechanism is to lash out at the rest of the world. It's so cliche, but it's so true--"hurt people" hurt people.

#2 Ignores positive things

The negative-slanted individual pays little attention to positive stories and comments. They don't like to clap for people. Cheering is not cool. Rarely will you see them sing loudly, if at all. They feel uncomfortable giving people compliments--only under extremely tense social pressure will you see it happen (and it's awkward).

You can tell them a bundle of cute babies and fuzzy puppies has arrived at their door just to cheer them up, and they will tell you how babies are loud and puppies are dirty. The news of someone's graduation is quickly met with a chiding remark about the graduates lack of plans for the future, or perhaps even how their degree isn't going to help them at all. Negative Ned (or Nina) responds to weddings by citing divorce rates. They discuss children as being only rebellious, defiant, stubborn, wicked, and naughty. Everything has a problem, a defect, an inherent flaw that is irreparably ingrained in the fabric of every positive story or event. It's not that they can't see the good; they just choose not to look at it.

#3 Fixates on negative topics

As I said in the introduction, it is appropriate to get upset about things sometimes. Perhaps there are injustices happening at your work. Speak up! Maybe something shady is happening in your church or in your community. Blow the whistle! There is a time to point out error and proclaim injustice. 

However, the negatively-obsessed person is not dwelling on the negative for the purpose of helping or resolving a problem. He likes to talk about it just for the sake of talking about it. Have you had this person over for dinner? Was every topic of conversation about how terrible the world is? Yep, you know.

James 3:5-10 ...The tongue is a little member and boasts great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity... It defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts [has] been tamed... But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God... and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceeds blessing and cursing... These things ought not so to be. [Emphases added]

#4 Enjoys arguing and controversy

I like discussing things with people who have different perspectives and a different knowledge base. It's interesting and informative, as long as both people are civil and respect each other's opinions. Some people call this "arguing", but I call it discussion. When I am finished discussing with someone, they are a closer friend. Arguing does not have that effect.

A charged question intended to ignite controversy is a fundamental tactic in the playbook of any lover of critically-negative behavior. They don't really want to know your opinion. They ask the question in order to make someone angry enough to engage them so they can jump on their soapbox and eloquently explain why the world is so horrible and why you and everything you're doing is just making the world worse. If you disagree with them or argue any point, you are only reinforcing their theory that you are indeed part of the problem (and of course they are not). They offer no solutions and have no desire to resolve the issue, otherwise they'd have nothing to talk about.

#5 Narcissistic tendencies

Narcissism is defined as "excessive interest in oneself" and its synonyms include self-admiration, self-regard, and egotism. The most negative and critical people I have known spend inordinate amounts of time analyzing themselves and deeming themselves superior in whatever way possible. Sometimes they are genuinely superior, and other times the imagined superiority is nurtured by an unwillingness to be honest about their own short-comings. They dwell on their strengths and respond harshly (see #1) when confronted with their weaknesses. 

Romans 12:3 For I say... to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly.

This all sounds very judgmental and condemning, but the truth is that all of us have these tendencies within us. We are all self-centered. Before we take out the gavel and declare judgment on these people, take a moment to realize you could be in their shoes if you are not careful! All it takes is some pain, suffering, betrayal, abuse, or disrespect, and if you choose to harbor your anger instead of forgiving, you could become Negative Ned (or Nina).

Five ways to handle the negatively-slanted critic: 

#1 Kind, gentle words

Let's get something straight--it's exhausting to be around these people. It takes constant mental energy to resist the urges to lash out and stoop to their level. The energy you will expend must be focused on not retaliating against their harsh words and their charged questions. After that victory, you must actively engage their minds into positive conversation and thought. These people are not inherently flawed or frozen in their negativity. If you appeal to their sensitive, compassionate, caring side, you might find they are warmer and more appealing that you ever imagined. You will have to do some digging and searching, because they have most likely spent years building walls around their weakness and vulnerability.

Romans 12:21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

#2 Ignore negative things

As much as they brush off your positive statements and encouraging words, you must brush off their doom-and-gloom statements and destructive insinuations. You don't have to blatantly ignore it, but change the direction of the conversation. Point out something in the room that catches your attention and use that as a transition to something more positive. That thing can be anything, but you can spend time identifying it while you're ignoring their rant.

#3 Fixate on positive things

This is merely an extension of #2, but I've listed it for sake of completion. It's not enough to ignore the negative. You must be proactive. The only way you will help this person is by speaking and behaving nothing like them.

Philippians 4:8 ...Whatsoever things are true...honest...just...pure...lovely...of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Colossians 4:6 Let your speech be alwaywith grace, seasoned with salt.

#4 Divert or distract from argument or controversy

If you need help learning this technique, watch political debates. Look up "red herring". Normally this is rude and somewhat insensitive, but if you know when to apply it, it's a useful tool to have in your repertoire. If they want to argue about politics, bring up how fantastic your mayor is and start in on a story. If they want to use religion to blast the dinner party into pieces, discuss how loving and kind Jesus was and how he didn't open His mouth in the face of his accusers. If they hate industry, talk about charities. If they are environmentalists, talk about how you installed solar panels in your toothbrush to save the spotted owls. Okay, I am being stupid, but you get the idea.

#5 Encourage them to think of others first

Because these individuals have spent all their time thinking themselves to be superior, they need to be reminded that we are all equal. They think their ability to think about problems is superior and that's why other people are such idiots; but if you kindly let them know we all struggle to find truth, to properly react to circumstances, and to be who we ought to be, they will often have moments of enlightenment and actually listen to what you're saying. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn about them. Be very gentle, because this is a small window into the fortress they've built around their heart. If they sense danger, they'll slam the window shut and smash your fingers in it.


You choose every day whether you want to be everyone's critic and think about everything from a negative slant, or whether you want to be on the same team as your friends and family and focus on the good in the world. Face the negative and resolve issues when necessary. Don't be afraid of confrontation, but don't wallow in it.

Matthew 7:3-5 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, Let me take the speck out of your eye, when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

Image credits:

Critical coworker image from
Negative conversation image from
Harsh words image from
Narcissist universe image from
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