I’ve been very fortunate to have supportive friends and family on my zero waste journey. But not everyone is going to accept your zero waste, environmentalist lifestyle. I’ve encountered my fair share of judgmental friends + family throughout the years too. It’s so easy to critique something – less easy to try and understand it. And, understandably, we want the people we love to accept our decisions, or even consider adopting some sustainable lifestyle choices of their own. But the truth is, not everyone will – and some people will speak out openly against it.
One time I was at a family event and someone made a very rude comment about my lifestyle. They asked me “whose it sustainable for – you?”, aka implying I was only doing what I do for the money. The irony is, my blog is a free resource for everyone – and its helped thousands of people reduce their waste. Yes, I do occasionally get sponsors – but I believe people deserve to be paid for the work they do. And truthfully, I don’t have to justify making an income. That person said what they said to get a rise out of me. In those moments, the best thing to do is disengage – because they’re looking for an argument. But I was better than that and refused to take the bait.
That said, some family or friends are better at hiding their judgment. Some whisper and gossip about you and you only find out when it’s too late. Or, someone on the “in” of it confides in you what’s being said because they feel you deserve to know the truth. Whatever form of judgment you’re facing know this – I’ve been through it, and I can thankfully say there are ways of dealing with. They’re just not always the easiest. So here are some tips I have for you.
5 Tips to Help You Deal With Judgmental Friends + Family
1. Have a conversation – not an argument
Sometimes, getting on the defensive isn’t the best route to go. It just makes others tense and angry too. Having a calm disposition where you talk about your lifestyle, and why you’re doing something, is always better than jamming it down someone’s throat and saying “you gotta do this!!”.
For example, lets say you’re at your aunt’s house and you ask her for a real plate for your dinner, instead of a single-use one. If she responds negatively, or looks confused, the best response you can have is to simply say “I’m trying to reduce my reliance on single-use plastic and create less waste. I’ll wash it after I’m done!”
Instead of getting defensive and saying something like “why won’t you give me it?”, explaining yourself calmly opens up the chance for dialogue. Now, this may not always be possible – but I find when you do this, people are more willing to listen. Sometimes, all it takes is explaining yourself and having a nice conversation!
Also, dishing out facts is always a good idea. Sharing statistics like “only 5-6% of plastic actually gets recycled” and “plastic has been found in human blood, feces, placentas” tend to get people thinking.
When all else fails – be a little selfish and focus on it from a health point of view. I find people respect that more sometimes than simply saying “I’m doing this for the environment”. Saying something like “plastics are endocrine disrupters” and avoiding them is important for your health typically shuts people up.
2. Learn how to talk about sustainability
Sustainability isn’t always easy to talk about. There are a number of reasons why this is – Maybe you’re afraid of how the other person will react, or if it’ll start an argument. Or, maybe you don’t feel you have enough facts about the topic yet. Whatever the reason, it’s important to recognize this and not beat ourselves up over it.
That said, it is important we have those hard talks. Because lets face it – talking about sustainability, climate change, environmental racism, etc. – it puts it on the table. It makes it real and tangible. These topics shouldn’t be the elephant in the room you desperately try to skirt around. If we want real change to happen, the first thing we need to do is talk about the issues at hand. Actions matter, but so do our words. It’s how we choose to use them that count. We need to start talking about problems so we can create solutions.
Thankfully, there are several ways to go about having the sustainability conversation. And not all of them are direct. You can be passive/indirect and still get the job done.
- Live zero waste + let your actions speak for themselves.
- Share videos, posts + articles on social media.
- Invite someone to go bulk shopping with you or to the farmers market.
- Give sustainable gifts that promote an eco lifestyle.
- Talk to a loved one about climate change.
- Ask your parents what they know about climate change and discuss it with them/ fill them in.
- Share an informative article directly to a friend about climate change related issues.
3. Know when to disengage
Picking up on social cues is important – and understanding when people just aren’t interested in the topic at hand is too. If you want to avoid an all out argument, or boring someone, know when it’s time to stop talking about sustainability.
Sometimes, the reason for judgmental friends + family is simple: We’ve become overbearing without realizing. Maybe they’re judging the way we’re constantly talking about sustainability, or making it into a chore rather than a discussion. And that can make people bitter and resentful (total opposite of what we want).
I find giving people space and waiting for them to ask you about something is the best solution. For example, if someone wants to know about zero waste, and they ask you a question about it, it’s going to be a much more engaged conversation than if you start talking about it on your own randomly.
By learning to read the room, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief and headaches. And, judgmental friends + family won’t have much to say about you if you’re not the one starting the conversation.
4. Avoid the judgmental person(s)
This is not always possible, but avoiding someone, if you have the option to, may be the best for your own mental health. Especially if they broke your trust by gossiping about you and saying something hurtful. Why put yourself in harms way, you know?
I’m the kind of person who has dealt with their fair share of fake friends/family – so I know what it’s like to be the subject of gossip. Or to be seen as “never good enough”.
I also have gotten quite good at cutting toxic people out of my life. I know this isn’t as easy for some, but truthfully, it’s one of the best things you can do when said person doesn’t value your input, opinion or time.
Relationships are two ways streets – if only one of you is putting in effort, it’s not going to work. Know your own self worth: You’re trying to make a difference in the world by living a zero waste, eco-friendly life. If your friends/family cannot honor or respect that, maybe it’s time to put some distance between you and them.
5. Never accept abuse
There’s a difference between talking/disagreeing and being downright abusive. If someone is insulting you, yelling at you, or making you feel uncomfortable in any way – you don’t have to sit there and take it. Leave. Exit the room. Talk to someone else. Whatever is going to diffuse the situation and give you peace of mind.
Just remember – if you’re trying to have a conversation with someone, and it turns into an argument – no one has the right to disrespect you. You don’t need to accept/put up with insults or nasty comments. Only begin the conversation if you feel safe to.
So, how do you handle judgmental friends + family? Let me know in the comments below – lets turn this into a resource!
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