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How to Silence Your Critics

THE KNOW-IT-ALL CRITIC

Some people can't help but contradict everything that comes out of your mouth — no matter how inane or innocuous. "I'm a pretty good cook, but my ex-boyfriend fancied himself to be this great epicure and chef, even though we both had about the same level of experience," recalls Amy Harrison, a 33-year-old photo editor in New York City. "So he was always belittling my skills in the kitchen. I'd tell him I wanted to use butter and he'd make a face and insist we use olive oil. Or if I wanted to use olive oil, he had to have butter. It was like living in Opposite World."

Whether in the kitchen, at the office, or at your children's school, the know-it-all considers communication an excuse to bash you over the head with his superior knowledge and opinions — regardless of whether he's right.

Granted, some know-it-alls are simply analytical by nature and enjoy taking on the contrarian role. "In his mind, he's sorting through and presenting all the options," says Dellasega. In a weird way, he may even be trying to help you think outside the box.

All too often, however, "a know-it-all type is obsessed with the idea that there exists a balance of power in every relationship," says Tessina. "This person will gladly run your opinions through the meat grinder in order to keep the scales tipped in his favor, which makes relating as equals pretty much impossible."

What to do? Unfortunately, says Tessina, there's not a lot you can do with someone who's more interested in followers than friends, and who will likely drive you away with his faux-intellectual smackdowns. Besides, "there's no point in calling him on it because he'll just take the contrarian view as usual," she says. As for Amy's ex, he got the picture for a second — when she broke up with him.

If the know-it-all in your life is someone you can't get away from, like your boss, give up trying to get a word in edgewise — this is a battle you can't win. Let her blather on and try to keep wildly divergent opinions to yourself, if only to be spared the inevitable razzing you'll get for dissenting. This doesn't mean you should roll over and play dead, but there's no point challenging someone whose sole satisfaction comes from arguing and complaining. After all, isn't it better to be happy than to be "right?" Let us answer this one for you: Yes!

THE MOTHER OF ALL CRITICS: YOUR MOTHER

"I wouldn't get those pants if I were you. They're made for slender bodies."

"I've never seen anyone hold a baby like that."

"You look so...tired."

"Don't read that book, dear, it's too challenging."

You might be the most competent and confident wife/mom/professional in the world. Yet even the hint of a negative word from your own mother can get under your skin — deep. "As a kid, you were raised to not disappoint her," says Susan Newman, Ph.D., author of Nobody's Baby Now: Reinventing Your Adult Relationships With Your Mother and Father. "It's very common to get stuck in those childhood roles." Your mom also knows better than anyone how to push your buttons, and may well come down harder on you than she does on your brother(s) because she thinks that she understands you better.

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