How to Deal With Negative Comments From Those You Love

At some point in your life, you've probably received a hurtful comment or two from a loved one. These types of dynamics can affect you more than you might think. In fact, they can cause your brain as much pain as a physical injury.
How to Deal With Negative Comments From Those You Love
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 07 November, 2022

Words are molecular elements of language. Depending on many variables, they can leave an emotional imprint, rather like a tattoo on your soul. But why can human communication be so harmful?

Negative comments can leave scars that form part of your internal dialogue for years. For example, cruel words said by a parent that you can’t forget, an insult from your partner, or a taunt from a friend. They’re forms of psychological aggression that humiliate you and stay in your memory forever. However, why does someone who claims to love you hurt you?

This question is difficult to answer. Sometimes, those who speak badly to you do so because it’s how they assert themselves and gain power over you. At other times, violent communication is simply part of their behavioral repertoire. In other cases, there’s a lack of emotional responsibility as they don’t understand that love means respect.

The way others speak to us conditions us. In fact, it does so to the point of sometimes causing genuine trauma. Speaking nicely to each other means taking care of what we say and selecting our words well so we can build solid and happy relationships. It’s an extremely simple and basic practice yet it’s one that not everyone understands.

Often, those who are ill or in physical pain experience greater suffering when they receive negative and critical comments from those around them.

Man receiving negative feedback
Negative comments from people we like hurt more than those from a stranger.

Beware of negative comments from those who say they love you

At some point, we’ve all had to deal with negative feedback. At school, work, and even on the street, you might sometimes hear a bad word, a criticism, an insult, or a cruel joke at your expense. These events are hurtful and may also make you angry. However, negative comments do more harm when they come from someone you care about.

You build up certain expectations about how you expect to be treated. For example, you expect your parents to treat you with love and affection and make you feel worthy. And you take for granted that your partner will offer you love, care, and tenderness. Therefore, when you receive just the opposite, a painful dissonance occurs.

A study conducted by Dr. Martin Teicher, an associate professor of psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts (USA) claims that children who are verbally abused by their parents experience alterations in their brain development. This makes them more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.

As humans, we’re not prepared to receive negative comments from our closest and most significant environment. Sharp words damage and change us and leave a deep mark on the architecture of our brains. These hurtful interactions can appear in various ways.

Although it’s true that we may sometimes speak ill of a loved one due to a poorly regulated emotion, we always try to repair that damage by asking for forgiveness. However, there are those who aren’t aware of the damaging impact of their words.

Sarcasm and irony: hurt disguised as affection

A study conducted by Dr. Raymond Gibbs and published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology states that, in our everyday language, it’s common to use linguistic resources such as sarcasm. Nevertheless, sarcasm and irony can turn into verbal aggression when they’re personalized and used to ridicule someone close.

This dynamic is extremely common in relationships. Indeed, there are those who delight in being the intellectual bully and, with their communicative ingenuity, belittle their loved one, while apparently being affectionate.

Criticisms that seek to be useful yet are painful

“Don’t take it the wrong way and I’m only saying it for your own good, but you really should …”, “I’m saying this with the best of intentions but you must …  “. Who amongst us hasn’t heard these kinds of negative comments camouflaged as well-intentioned advice?  As a matter of fact, the people you love the most often criticize you thinking they’re doing you a favor. 

These are really common situations. That said, you don’t always know how to react to them. That’s because some criticism, although it may be intended to be constructive and even affectionate, is a direct attack on your self-esteem. 

When they love you but underestimate you

“Don’t you see how clumsy you are?” “It’s no use forcing yourself, you just won’t be able to do it”. “Look at you, it’s clear you’re not going to get anywhere.” When a stranger doubts your worth, it doesn’t hurt as much as when someone close does. Negative comments also often take the form of underestimation and lack of confidence in your potential.

These situations in which your parents, partners, or friends make fun of your abilities are harmful and humiliating realities. They’re the kinds of experiences that can limit you or make you angry, an anger that you often choose to silence.

Sarcasm, ridicule, and comparison are often harmful dynamics that can appear in the communication processes between people who have a close relationship.

Man and woman talking about negative comments
Communication is taken care of every day by making an effort to respect each other.

Comparisons: when you feel worthless

If you look back to your childhood, you might find yourself faced with this type of situation. In fact, it’s common for parents to compare their children to others. They might say things like “John isn’t as smart as his brother” or  “Peter’s much slower than Andrew”. 

These types of negative comments can also appear in arguments between partners. They’re the moments when one partner compares their loved one with other figures in their lives. they do it with the aim of showing them everything that they’re apparently doing wrong in the relationship.

What to do when someone who loves you makes negative comments

Those who love you shouldn’t ever use negative comments, contempt, ridicule, harmful criticism, and sarcastic phrases. Affection demands physical, emotional, and communicative respect. Without these pillars, no relationship will be satisfactory or happy. However, thinking objectively, it’s highly likely that in your close circle there’ll be someone who’s spoken badly to you at some time or another.

Behind those who use violent communication and don’t see the effects of their own words, lies a problematic personality. What you must do in these cases is to react and demand respect. Just because they’re your father, brother, friend, or partner doesn’t mean you should tolerate language based on ridicule and undervaluation.

You’re within your rights to ask that they address you in a respectful manner, and to request that they speak to you as you speak to them. If you let it go and choose not to say anything, the negative comments will escalate and your discomfort will only grow.

Communication is the bridge that unites or distances people. You should expect from others the same that you offer them: care in actions and words, trust, and empathic and emotionally nourishing communication. If you don’t receive it, that relationship isn’t viable.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • McGuigan, William & Vuchinich, Sam & Tang, Chiung-Ya. (2014). Negative Communication Behaviors During Family Problem Solving: Cohesion as a Moderator in a Growth Curve Analysis. Journal of Family Communication. 14. 95-111. 10.1080/15267431.2013.864291.
  • Samantha E. Lawrence, bRebecca M. Puhl, bMarlene B. Schwartz. The most hurtful thing I’ve ever experienced”: A qualitative examination of the nature of experiences of weight stigma by family members (2022) Qualitative Research in Health. Volume 2, December 2022, 100073.
  • Teicher MH, Samson JA. Annual Research Review: Enduring neurobiological effects of childhood abuse and neglect. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2016 Mar;57(3):241-66. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12507. Epub 2016 Feb 1. PMID: 26831814; PMCID: PMC4760853.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.