Responding to Blame and Criticism

responding to blame and criticism

Do not take hurtful words literally as if he/she means what he/she says. He/she is merely “firing for effect.” He/she wants to intimidate and uses strong words or tone to show dominance. This is done to push you into submitting. You are not the worst person in the world. You can choose not to take his/her words at face value.

You can agree that he/she feels the way he/she feels: “You sound hurt. That must be painful” and so on.  You can keep your version of the facts to ourselves. This is called, discretion, which is the power to choose how much you wish to reveal and when. Right now, you do not have to choose to reveal anything. It wouldn’t help if you did. He/she isn’t interested. You can choose to do something else instead, such as:

• You can agree with him/her e.g., “It certainly seems like I’m hard to get along with.” You are not agreeing with the facts of the matter, you are agreeing that he/she feels the way he/she feels. Feelings are a reality too.

• You can say, “I’m sorry you are so angry.” This is not a confession of guilt. It is an expression of appropriate regret that the other person is in so much emotional pain.

• You can tell the truth: “It makes me angry when you blow up in my face for telling you how I feel.”

• You can say “It must make you angry when that happens. I don’t blame you, I’d be angry too if that happened to me.” This is an appropriate validation of the other person’s anger and of their worth as a person. When you validate the other person’s anger, you are validating him/her as a worthwhile human being in spite of his/her unpleasantness. Moreover, you are validating yourself as a worthwhile human being at the same time. That is making a choice in reality. That is control.

Below are other useful responses:

• “That would be nice wouldn’t it?”
• “It seems that way sometimes doesn’t it?”
• “I never thought of it that way.”
• “You may have a point.”
• “I don’t know how you stand it.”
• “You got a real problem there, I don’t know what to tell you.”
• “It’s just awful, isn’t it.”
• “Thanks for calling that to my attention.”
• “I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

You must use your tone to ensure you are not being provocative or antagonistic. Have you ever taken a road trip and gotten lost? You don’t know where you are and feel a bit confused on what to do. Do you stop and get directions? Do you turn around? Do you pull over for the night? Do you keep going? You’re concerned, confused, and unsure what direction to go. That is the tone to use, confused. Really you don’t know what’s going on and why the other person is making these false accusations. You speak slow and softer, but deliberate and clear.

Notice the responses above do not have to make sense. You are using your response to set limits. It is not your responsibility to straighten him/her out and defend against his/her false accusations. You are implying that this is not a court of law and you do not have to prove your innocence and defend against the guilt of some absurd accusation. The game of tug-o-war is over, you are not going to pick up the rope and get dragged through the mud.

These are not defenses. They are not counterattacks. You are in control. You are choosing to make these interventions happen. They can have the effect of setting limits and allow you not to take his behavior personally. You are creating an atmosphere in which cooperation is possible, which is the first step towards an appropriate solution to the problem. In this context, your new choice is to use your judgment to override your defensive attitudes.


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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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