How To Use the Disarming Technique with Nagging Critics


image“There is no easy way to train an apprentice. My two tools are example and nagging.” — Lemony Snicket

Are people giving you a bunch of great advice, but you don’t like getting pushed around?

You can use the disarming technique.

To use the disarming technique, you take the wind out of your nagging critic’s sails by agreeing with your critic, but making it your own decision, not theirs.

In Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, David Burns writes how to use the disarming technique to deal with nagging critics.

Pushy Approaches Don’t Work

Critics nag and nag.  But nagging doesn’t work.  In general, we resist pushy people.

Burns writes:

“Your sense of paralysis will be intensified if your family and friends are in the habit of pushing and cajoling you. This nagging should statements reinforce the insulting thoughts already echoing through your head.

Why is their pushy approach doomed to failure?

It’s a basic law of physics that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

Any time you feel shoved, whether by someone’s hand actually on your chest or by someone trying to boss you around, you will naturally tighten up your chest and resist so as to maintain your equilibrium and balance.

You will attempt to exert your self-control and preserve your dignity by refusing to do the thing that you are being pushed to do.

The paradox is that you often end up hurting yourself.”

An Example of Nagging in Action

Burns shares a story about Mary, a woman in her late teens, who avoids doing things because it would mean giving in to her mother.

Burns writes:

“Supposed you are Mary, and after thinking things over you decide you would be better off if you got involved in doing a number of things.

You’ve just made this decision when your mother comes into your bedroom and announces, ‘Don’t you lie around any longer! Your life is going down the drain. Get moving! Get involved in the things the way the other girls your age do!’

At that moment, in spite of the fact that you have already decided to do just that, you develop a tremendous aversion to it!”

How To Use the Disarming Technique

Make it your decision.

To use the Disarming Technique, simply make it your decision, not your nagging critic’s.

Don’t cut your nose off to spite your face.  You can disarm an attack and, by making it your own decision.  Simply assert that your choice is because of your own decision and that you are exercising your right to make your own choices.

Burns writes:

“The disarming technique is an assertive method that will solve this problem for you. The essence of the disarming technique is to agree with your mother, but to do so in a way that you remind her you are agreeing with her based on your own decision, and not because she was telling you what to do.

So you might answer this way:

‘Yes, Mom, I just thought the situation over myself and decided it would be to my advantage to get moving on things. Because of my own decision, I’m going to do it.’

Now you can start doing things and not feel bad. Or if you wish to put more of a barb in your comments, you can always say, ‘Yes, Mom, I have in fact decided to get out of bed in spite of the fact you’ve been telling me to!’”

Key Takeaways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Pushy approaches don’t work.  I don’t think anybody likes to be told what to do. At the same time, life’s full of unsolicited advice from family, friends, teachers, colleagues, bosses, you name it.
  • Disarm the attack by taking ownership of the decisions.  In cases where the advice is sound, but you don’t like their approach and you don’t want to give up your power to make your own decisions, the key is take ownership for your decisions. It’s ultimately a win-win because., if they really had your best intentions at heart, then they’re happy to see the results. You’re happy because it’s your decision and you made it cleat that nobody is pushing you around.

Don’t get pushed around.

Use advice as input, then make it your decision, not your critic’s.

You Might Also Like

13 Negative Motivation Patterns

10 Distorted Thinking Patterns

Motivation without Coercion

Coercion is a Deadly Enemy of Motivation

Little Steps for Little Feet

Little Steps for Meetings

Little Steps for Housework

How To Use the TIC-TOC Technique

Learn to Endorse Yourself

How To Use the But-Rebuttal Method

How To Use a Pleasure-Predicting Sheet

How To Use a Daily Record of Dysfunctional Thoughts

How To Use an Anti-procrastination Sheet

How To Use a Daily Activity Schedule


  1. What if your family keeps telling you to LOSE WEIGHT? What if they keep insulting you, calling you names, saying that you are FAT in front of other people, in the hopes that you will start a diet?

    And what if, at the same time, you decide NOT to follow a diet at that time?

    For example: I have already lost 66 lbs during the last few years. I have stopped dieting for about an year, and I’m in maintainance mode. To reach normal weight, I have to lose another 80 lbs or so. BUT – right now I take lots of classes and work a lot, so I can’t concentrate on dieting, so I no longer lose weight.

    However, my parents and relatives keep pestering me – sometimes in a rude way.

    Is there a way to put an effective stop to this?

  2. @ DriverMax

    That sucks. Here’s a few things that might help …
    – remember that you can only control your own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Since you can’t control theirs, the best you can do is be your best, regardless of what they say. There’s strength in that.
    – you might be able to get them to change focus, by asking questions. when you ask questions, you change focus. Get creative here. Questions work way better than statements.
    – use the waterfall technique and when they dish it out, just imagine being surrounded by a waterfall of upward rushing water, 360 degrees. This will make you stronger.

  3. JD, I have to leave this comment in response to the family that keeps pestering the person to lose weight. If they get rude and embarrassing with their comments, sometimes you just have to mirror back the same…..

    To the person whose family pesters about weight to the point it’s rude…say…

    I may be fat, but you’re ugly and I can diet. What are you
    going to do about that face?

    Sorry, I just could not help myself.

Comments are closed.