Criticism – Turning it into a Tool Part 1

Whether a criticism is intended to be harmful or helpful, you can still choose to be in control of how it affects you.

Criticism is similar to many other events in our lives in that we can choose both the extent to which it affects us, as well as the type of outcome it has upon us.

Most of us remember the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Yet, many people carry hurt their entire lives as a result of critical words spoken to them during childhood. While there is some truth to the old saying, the error in it is that words can “never” hurt; yes, they can hurt if we are unaware of the fact that we can choose not to allow them to harm us. This is especially the case during childhood when we are supposed to be in a loving, nurturing environment in which we shouldn’t need to protect ourselves and, hence, haven’t learned how to do so. Once we begin growing and stepping out of our protected environment, we must learn to evaluate critical statements as to whether they have any value and use the situation as an opportunity for personal growth.

A reader asked specifically about dealing with unfounded criticism, so we will also cover that in the process of this post.

First of all, consider the source of the criticism and what you perceive the person’s intent to be.

Did the criticism come from someone that is usually a harmful person by nature? If that is the case, it is most likely something that needs to be discarded. Also, if the person is harmful by nature, realize that the hostility of the words they spoke also needs to be discarded from your thought life. Their words only have power over you if you continue to think on them. Whatever you think on will alter your emotions and influence your decisions. God describes it this way, “For as the thoughts of a person’s heart are, so is he (Prov. 23:7)” or so is the direction of his life. That is why God gives us 2 clear steps for dealing with harmful thoughts.

1. We bind, or stop immediately, harmful thoughts and put them out of our minds. “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).” People who are harmful by nature are counting on you continuing to think on their destructive words so that they can hurt you; it gives them a sense of power which, to their corrupted mind, brings pleasure. You, however, have authority and power over your thoughts, and thus the resulting emotions and decisions, so take captive those thoughts and put them out of your mind, freeing yourself from the harmful person’s influence.

2. When harmful thoughts are trying to re-surface in your mind, you cannot solely ignore them; you conquer them by replacing them. God’s second step to dealing harmful thoughts is “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think about such things (Phil. 4:8).” You take control of your own thoughts. Do not give another person authority that is not theirs!

It is worth noting here that our perceptions of people and the purpose of their words are not always accurate. For example, if the hurtful criticism came from a friend or family member who is not usually a hurtful person, the remark may need to be dismissed due to the fact that they are speaking out of stress or illness; we all have bad days in which we speak more harshly than intended. If that is the case, forgive and forget just as you would want the person to do for you on a bad day. Or, if the criticism came from a person not normally hurtful, is it due to a prior hurt that you caused him or her and have not resolved? If so, take the needed hint and bring resolution to your valued relationship.

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Second, look at the situation objectively, as if it were with someone else, and evaluate if there could be a slight element of truth in the criticism.

Whether or not the person is a harmful person by nature, for the sake of your own personal growth, it does not hurt to step back and evaluate if there is any bit of truth to the criticism. As people are rarely as effective communicators as they desire to be, many times overly critical words are spoken because frustration has built up in the individual due to a personality flaw of your own. If you have read the posts on controller and compliant personalities, this illustration will be clearer to you. For example, you may have repeatedly violated the other person’s boundaries by consistently being late for appointments or leaving responsibilities that are yours for them to do. If so, overly critical words may have resulted from frustration that you are causing, even if their words were not completely true.

I will speak a word of caution with this self-evaluation, however.  Remember, a compliant person is easily made to feel guilty by controlling people in regard to things the compliant person should not feel guilty for.  For example, a compliant person’s spouse may pound him or her with criticism for losing their temper, saying the relationship troubles are mainly the compliant’s fault.  First, no one is perfect.  No reason to beat one’s self up for a lack of perfection. Second, it is wrong for the compliant spouse to beat his or her self up for losing their temper when the actual source of the conflict was the controlling spouse  committing gross violations of the relationship with repeatedly destructive behavior. Anyone would, and actually should, become angry over consistent destructive behavior to the relationship.

This is Part 1 of a 2-part post. In the second post, we will cover aspects of using criticism, whether or not it is unfounded, as a catapult for personal growth.

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