Question:What to say when someone puts their hand on your shoulder and sympathetically says 'I'll pray for you to make better decisions about this in the future.' They sound caring but are really saying I'm making bad decisions.
Response: Yes, this is a difficult one. I'm sure the temptation is to respond, "And I'll pray for you to know the difference between sympathy and criticism." But, of course, if you did, the person wouldn't have a clue what you mean.
If we look at my article 7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People several rules apply to addressing this behavior:
1) What is the reward? In this case, the PA person can appear well-intentioned while at the same time criticizing your behavior. If you become angry, the person can easily express bewilderment at your reaction and respond with feigned innocence: "I was only offering my prayers!" And then behind your back say to others, "She is so rude! When I said I'd pray for her, she bit my head off. What's wrong with her?"
2) Choose your goal. Your goal may be to prevent the PA person from feeling self-satisfaction and superiority at your expense but without giving them ammunition to talk behind your back. A statement such as "Oh, you needn't bother. I'm quite happy learning the lessons life's mistakes provide me" said with a pleasant smile is likely to confuse the person into silence.
3) Choose your words carefully. Responding in such a way requires a careful planning of word choice so as not to provide the person a way to respond, continue to criticize, or blame you for becoming upset or angry. So, it is best used in situations for which you can prepare in advance. And you may have to practice your acting so as to not show your underlying anger.
Another possible response (if you can say it somewhat innocently and not as an accusation) could be: "Oh? Do you think I did something wrong?" This method is an indirect confrontation which forces the person to either deny the previous criticism or to say it more directly. If they are direct, then it gives you the opportunity to assertively respond which is what PA people don't want. Instead, they want to be able to criticize without having to be responsible for their rude behavior.
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