By heatherericksonauthor.comThe Erickson Family

Critical Family Members

Critical Family Members

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is C for Critical Family Members.

I am fortunate to have a close family who is very supportive, but critical family members are a common source of stress for caregivers.

Critical Family Members

As a caregiver, you are likely stressed and at times feel underappreciated and unsupported. You may also be dealing with caregiver guilt. Having critical, family members can be especially difficult. What can you do when someone disrespects, discounts or just plain aggravates you?

Don’t respond immediately

Your gut reaction will likely only add fuel to the fire. Instead, consider what was said. Was there any truth to it? Often the most hurtful things have an ounce of truth in them. Check your pride at the door.

Then, consider the source. It’s often nothing personal. They might be insecure, so they criticize others as a way of feeling better about themselves. Does these critical family members have a reputation as someone who loves a quarrel? Do they start an argument with everyone? Then that’s just his or her way. So, even though it’s irritating, don’t take it to heart. Think about the fact that they are probably pretty lonely since people avoid them. That will help you see them in a more sympathetic light.

The Direct Approach

Rather than waiting for things to get even more uncomfortable, talk to critical family members about their concerns. This is best done privately so that they don’t get defensive and/or put a false face on things. It’s important to approach this from a place of empathy, rather than confrontation. Make it your goal to find out what their concern is. Think about what they must be going through in this cancer journey, as well. Hopefully, you will be able to share your feelings with them, too. Who knows, you may just walk away from the table as friends.

Listen with EmpathyCritical Family Members

This is especially important to do if the criticism is delivered in a respectful way. No one is perfect, including you. Maybe you can learn something by hearing your family members out. Perhaps you will gain new insight into what they are going through. This will require empathy. Consider the fact that most criticism is born out of fear. What does this family member fear? Even if your mother-in-law is difficult to deal with, in general, her son’s cancer diagnosis might make her act more critical or hostile. She might be afraid of losing her son and of being pushed out of the remaining time he has left as well as the decision-making process. There may not even be any basis for these feelings, but they are still very real to her. By becoming more understanding of these things, you may not change the behavior of the family member, but you can reduce the negative impact it has on you. You can begin to be more sensitive to the things family members are feeling at this time.

What if they don’t sound respectful?

Then, it’s important to hear the words that they are saying? We often become very sensitive to the way people say things. Sometimes we come to expect that someone is critical of us when they aren’t. Try giving someone the benefit of the doubt by listening to the words they say rather than for any underlying tone. “Tone” is highly subjective and easily misinterpreted. The next time you think your cousin is being sarcastic when she says, “I love your new curtains,” say, “Thank you,” with a smile and leave it at that. This becomes even more important when it comes to matters of caregiving. You may need to politely respond while trying your best not to let things escalate. Let comments made by critical family members run off of you without sticking like water off a duck’s back. Life is too short to stew in the stuff others toss at you. It’s not worth it. Still, there is no denying that words can really hurt.

Walk away

When all else fails, avoid critical family members. This is especially easy to pull off when you are at a large gathering, but not so easy when they start calling, or worse—start calling everyone else to try to turn them against you. If you haven’t already, this is the point at which it is imperative that the patient speaks their mind. There should be no doubt in family members’ minds as to the patient’s approval of the way you are doing as his or her caregiver. The sooner it is cleared up the better. If the patient becomes too ill to deal with this, you are on your own. That’s not a good position to find yourself in.


Always make sure the patient has a health care directive and has shared its contents with the rest of the family. Make sure it is notarized and on file with the patient’s health care provider in case the patient is ever unable to communicate their needs and there a conflict over medical decisions. At that point, if you are the proxy, it will be up to you to ensure your loved one’s wishes are honored.

It’s stressful when a loved one has cancer. It’s common for family members to at times disagree with one another. Thankfully, it rarely becomes a serious issue that can’t be worked out by sitting down for a heart to heart.


I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.


I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!


In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on

Also, check out Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer.

Also, put your memories into words with The Memory Maker’s Journal.

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Have any questions or comments? I would love to hear from you! By commenting, you agree to the terms of my privacy policy.

8 comments on “Critical Family Members

Great post. Who thinks about this? Very valuable. This must be your next book.


Hi Jacqui. My next one is nearly ready to publish. It’s about parenting with cancer. You are right, though. This is the next one after that. Thanks for stopping by!

Good advice for dealing with a critical family member.

~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
My A to Z’s of Dining with IC
Patricia Lynne, Indie Author


Thank you, Patricia. This is such a common problem–outside of the cancer world, too. 😉 Have a great day!

I’m currently in a situation where a loved one is going through an alcohol detox. They are now home and doing very well but it is hard for them and they sometimes get irritable. It is hard not to react but I just try to walk away and then discuss it later. Thanks for the tips.
Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond


Hi Sue. That is so difficult. When someone isn’t themselves due to a medical or emotional issue they are going through, we often have to endure a lot just to hold our tongues. I hope things get better for your loved one very soon.

Excellent recommendations, Heather. In the middle of a conversation, it is important (and sometimes difficult) to put yourself in their shoes and try to see that the comments might be coming from their pain.


Hi Emily, Yes. it is even harder when you are trying to look through your own pain at the same time. This can sometimes result in a powderkeg of emotions. Everyone needs to use care so as not to light the fuse. It can be so difficult. Have a wonderful day!

Comments are closed for this post !!
A to Z Challenge Survivor



Facing Cancer as a Parent Book Cover

Get the Memory Maker’s Journal

Facing Cancer as a Friend!