Coping with Criticism

miami_package_feelthehealdetox“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” (Aristotle)

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” (Winston Churchill)

If you’re not encountering criticism, you’re not building relationships, because relationships should involve value-driven discussions and daily living, which will cause friction among individuals. Of course, the friction should be handled in God-honoring ways. We should respect one another even when we disagree, but how often do we think respecting each other is refusing to disagree? How God-honoring are we when we’re on the receiving end of the criticism? Do we take it personally and have difficulty as we think someone no longer likes us, or do we callously respond as if we don’t care because we’re going to be who we are regardless of what anyone says or thinks of us?

What do you learn from the following verses?

Bear with each other, and forgive each other. If someone does wrong to you, forgive that person because the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

Brothers and sisters, if someone in your group does something wrong, you who are spiritual should go to that person and gently help make him right again. But be careful, because you might be tempted to sin, too. (Galatians 6:1)

In everything you say and do, remember that you will be judged by the law that makes people free. So you must show mercy to others, or God will not show mercy to you when he judges you. But the person who shows mercy can stand without fear at the judgment. (James 2:12-13)

I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other as I have loved you. All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other. (John 13:34-35)

Accept into your group someone who is weak in faith, and do not argue about opinions. (Romans 14:1)

God certainly gave his children guidelines for criticizing others. We must be loving, gentle, and merciful. We are not excused from criticism; we are simply directed to criticize within God’s standards with his provision. We are to accept and respond to criticism in the same way—within God’s standards—even when people criticizing us are not adhering to the same standards. Just because another Christ-follower is bending God’s rules does not make it okay for us to bend God’s rules, thus, fighting fire with fire.

We cope with criticism with the same standards by which we’re to give criticism.

  • Be loving—by God’s standards.
  • Be gentle—by God’s standards.
  • Be merciful—by God’s standards.
  • Be forgiving—by God’s standards.

Responding to criticism by God’s standards is not the same as hiding feelings. It’s setting aside feelings for truth. God gave us feelings to enhance experiences not to distort the truth of a situation. Let God reveal the truth of a situation. You don’t need to know the person’s motives. You don’t need to know how the person will respond. All you need to know is…God. God is truth, and when you invite and trust him to guide, your motives will become God-driven and your responses will become God-guided. You will cope with criticism with God and for God. He is at the center of your life and your relationships, including criticism. Let him lead from the center.

All Criticism Is Not Created Equally

criticismReceiving criticism isn’t an option. It often occurs when you’re most vulnerable, irritable, and discouraged. While you don’t have control over when and how you’ll be criticized, you have choices in how to respond. Some types of criticism carry more influence than others.

Critical to Be Cruel. We might think once we’re beyond junior high and high school, the mean kid stuff is going to stop, but it doesn’t. Some people hone their “mean” skills almost to an art form. They criticize you because they can. They want to see you squirm. We want to believe the best in everyone. Christians are supposed to be nice, right? We all have struggles, and chronic criticism tends to be some people’s main struggle throughout life. How should you respond? Acknowledge the person’s communication with you without accepting the burden of what she’s saying. That’s not to say you should completely ignore what’s being said. There might be a thread of truth from which you can learn and grow. Listen and sort through what is consistent with what others have said. Just because the way something is presented is ugly doesn’t mean there’s no truth somewhere within it.

Critical to Be in Control. Some criticism stems from a need for control. By being the “expert” about something, always having the best solution for every situation, people who criticize to be in control are similar to armchair quarterbacks and backseat drivers. They might appear to know it all, but in reality, they’re rarely willing to step in and actually do the hard stuff they’re telling you to do. Leadership is easier from the sidelines. How should you respond? Realize it’s not all about you when someone criticizes you. There are (at least) two people involved. While you need to consider your involvement in the situation, also consider the other person’s patterns and possible motivations. Be careful, because it can be easy to dismiss someone based on their past interactions with you and others.

Critical to Be You. Some criticism is rooted in jealousy. Whether or not you believe you’re jealous-worthy, there are people who see your responsibilities, opportunities, and relationships and believe what you have is better than what he has. People often don’t know how to appropriately handle jealousy. They know they shouldn’t be jealous. They don’t want to admit they’re jealous, so it begins to surface as anger, judgment, or avoidance. How should you respond? Telling someone she is jealous of you when receiving criticism isn’t going to be very helpful. In fact, you might not even be able to easily identify this type of criticism, because you can’t know someone’s motives. Listen with respect, and respond with affirming ways whenever possible to help others the worth God has given them.

Critical to Be Critical. Some people criticize for no other reason than they enjoy criticizing or have created such firm habits of criticism that it’s difficult to stop. Sometimes people who have been or are constantly criticized think criticism is the norm, so they perpetuate the cycle. How should you respond? Let the majority of this type of criticism roll off of you, but when the patterns continually impact you, you’ll need to speak up and try to develop new patterns.

Critical to Be Helpful. Now this is the kind we want! We’d like all criticism to be constructive. We’ve all learned lessons from people throughout our lives even when the advice or instruction has been difficult to hear and accept. The problem is we’ve often built up our defenses so much against the unhealthy and unhelpful types of criticism that we have a knee-jerk response when we encounter something constructive. We let our discerning muscles atrophy and throw all types of criticism out (or absorb it all much too easily). How should you respond? Despite the hurts you’ve experienced in the past, remain open to potentially helpful criticism. Intentionally invest in people you can respect and trust. When criticized, ask yourself, “Can accepting and applying this criticism help me grow in God-honoring ways? Is it consistent with God’s instruction?”

God will often use people in your life to confirm God’s direction for your life. While you should always respond to individuals with respect, you don‘t have to absorb every person’s opinion of you. Learn to discern among various types of criticism. Keep criticism in perspective and let God grow you through it.

Getting to the Root of Passive-Aggressiveness Before It Uproots Your Relationships

whatever“I’m not mad. Just forget about it.”

“Fine. Whatever you want. I’m not going to argue.”

“I know you probably can’t or won’t do anything about it.”

“I’ll never bring it up again.”

“Just joking.”

You’ll deal with a lot of people, and none quite measure up to the frustration and toxicity associated with those who are passive-aggressive. Passive-agressiveness is a relationship killer. Sure, not every relationship that involves passive-aggressiveness will actually end, but if it continues, it dies a slow death of separation, lowered expectation, and disrespect.

Passive-aggressiveness allows people to get what they want or express their feelings without being disliked or rejected. Well, that’s not really true. When you choose passive-aggressiveness, you might actually be disliked or rejected, because people catch on quickly and either confront, ignore, or avoid you. But it’s a tactic that seems to work well enough that we keep using it despite the risks.

Passive-aggressiveness is hypocritical in its very name. Passive assumes lack of aggression, and aggressiveness seems to negate passivity. Yet this oxymoron actually occurs, and it occurs fairly often. We’ve all learned passive-aggressiveness. Some of us practice it more often than others, and some of us are more aware of and cunning in how we use it. Sometimes it’s difficult to deal with, because even when we suspect it, without knowing someone’s motive, we can’t be positive. Attitude and behavior give us the clues we need for detection.

Recognizing passive-aggressiveness

Not all of the following traits will show up among passive-aggressive people, but you might be able to identify some trends and patterns.

  • Passive-aggressive people try to avoid responsibilities (at least the ones they don’t want or feel insufficient to accomplish), often by selectively forgetting or making last minute excuses.
  • Passive-aggressive people prefer to work on their own schedules while appearing as if they’re willing to cooperate with others. They respond by disregarding deadlines and often procrastinate their work without recognition or consideration of those who are depending on them.
  • Passive-aggressive people often run late but expect others to be on time. They don’t mind being the cause of the delay but behave with indignation when someone else causes the delay.
  • Passive-aggressive people blame others for whatever goes wrong in their own lives. Instead of looking for personal responsibility, they displace the responsibility onto others and want them to be held accountable.
  • Passive-aggressive people often unjustifiably play the victim. They compare themselves to others who are in perceived “better” circumstances and positions, then begrudge those people, judging them for attitudes and behaviors that might not even be accurate assessments.
  • Passive-aggressive people frequently complain of being unappreciated and misunderstood by others, and they often don’t complain to the people they’re most annoyed with.
  • Passive-aggressive people regularly criticize people in authority, judging them for things they really don’t have enough familiarity with to accurately assess. They’re confident they could do a significantly better job if they could be in the same position. However, they usually choose to criticize people and positions in which they realistically can’t attain, making it a “safe” attack.

Dealing with passive-aggressive people

Be respectful. No attacks allowed. If you feed into the tendencies people already have, you’re just affirming and sustaining them instead of curbing them. Place a priority on honesty and authenticity, which both take trust. If you don’t build trust with people, they will often become defensive, which drives them into passive-aggressiveness. Be a role model for honesty and authenticity. Don’t say what you don’t mean. If there seems to be a misunderstanding, ask the other person, “Does that make sense or are there any questions you have that would make it clearer for you?” “I really don’t want to pass along any misunderstandings, so if you don’t mind, can you tell me how you heard my explanation? That way, we can head off any misunderstandings right away.”

Ask clarifying questions. “Are you sure you’re not angry?” “Is there anything you’d like to talk about or settle before we move on?” Offer your availability for follow-up. When possible, ask these questions and extend the offer in front of others, not for the purpose of “having backup” and proving your point later but by showing your intentions to more than one person. You might assume everyone understands or hears what you say, but you might be surprised when others confirm someone’s accusation that you didn’t say what you thought you said.

If subtle approaches don’t begin to change the behavior, you will need to get more direct. “I know you say everything is okay, but your quick responses (or silence or whatever behavior I observe that is inconsistent with the words someone is using) indicate the opposite to me. I want to talk this out, but if you insist what you’re saying is how you’re feeling, I’ll take you at your word.” When you essentially call someone out on their passive-aggressiveness, and she insists on continuing, you’ve at least respectfully let her know you notice what she’s doing. You’ve invited accountability into the relationship because if you find out later that the person wasn’t forthcoming, you can recall the conversation when you gave her an opportunity to express herself.

When You Trash the Church

trash“When you trash the church, you trash Jesus.” (Aaron Brockett)

Are you an offender?

Even if you rationalize you weren’t trashing the Church (with a capital “C,” the overarching Church that Jesus established) or that you’re just admonishing the local church because of bad behavior that needs to be addressed, you might be an offender. Even if you rationalize you’re not trashing the church, just admonishing individuals, you might be an offender. After all, individuals make up the church, and individual churches make up the Church. Anything that offends or goes against the Church, offends and goes against Jesus.

Ouch.

Yes, that means when you talk about someone without going to her or him to find out the truth, choosing instead to trust your “reliable source” who conveyed the information to you. Or when you assume what someone’s intentions were. Or when you’re ready to set someone aside, shove him out the door, or throw virtual stones at him (often from the back side, because you’re too timid to stand and look at the person face-to-face when you do the stone-throwing).

You might rationalize you’re just “upholding biblical standards.” After all, you’re family…all in the body of Christ…so you need to take care of the body. Yes, you do, but sacrificing a member of that body isn’t caring for the body. Putting yourself under the authority of Jesus, and being intimate enough with him to know how to handle the person, relationship, and situation the way God directs you to handle it is caring for the body. When you harm someone in the body, you’re disrespecting Jesus. When you disrespect Jesus, you harm yourself.

Not harming someone isn’t the same as walking around putting on masks of niceness pretending everything is okay. That’s not consistent with Jesus either. Because we live in biblical community with one another, we are often expected to confront one another. Yet too often in the church, we mishandle confrontation and accountability. We handle things the way we want, the way we’re most comfortable handling them. We talk behind someone’s back, rally support from others, and question motives (except our own). We claim to live a faith without shame yet shame others. When we’re faced with information that possibly puts a chink in our stance, we refute it. We determine we’re right and no one can tell or show us differently.

What about Jesus? How much do you really trust him?

Do you trust him enough to carry the burden you’re carrying around? Enough to forgive the offense? Enough to put down the stones you’ve been throwing? Enough to rely on his courage to face someone? Enough to listen to someone with respect and patience? Enough to set aside your own preferences and assumptions?

Look Jesus in the eyes before you throw another stone with your actions, words, or thoughts. Are you willing to throw the stone at him?

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he went back to the Temple, and all the people came to him, and he sat and taught them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery. They forced her to stand before the people. They said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught having sexual relations with a man who is not her husband. The law of Moses commands that we stone to death every woman who does this. What do you say we should do?” They were asking this to trick Jesus so that they could have some charge against him.

But Jesus bent over and started writing on the ground with his finger. When they continued to ask Jesus their question, he raised up and said, “Anyone here who has never sinned can throw the first stone at her.” Then Jesus bent over again and wrote on the ground.

Those who heard Jesus began to leave one by one, first the older men and then the others. Jesus was left there alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus raised up again and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one judged you guilty?”

She answered, “No one, sir.”

Then Jesus said, “I also don’t judge you guilty. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.” (John 9:1-11)

Cope with Criticism

healingthehurt“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” (Aristotle)

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” (Winston Churchill)

If you’re not encountering criticism, you’re not building relationships, because relationships should involve value-driven discussions and daily living, which will cause friction among individuals. Of course, the friction should be handled in God-honoring ways. We should respect one another even when we disagree, but how often do we think respecting each other is refusing to disagree? How God-honoring are we when we’re on the receiving end of the criticism? Do we take it personally and have difficulty as we think someone no longer likes us, or do we callously respond as if we don’t care because we’re going to be who we are regardless of what anyone says or thinks of us?

What do you learn from the following verses?

Bear with each other, and forgive each other. If someone does wrong to you, forgive that person because the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

Brothers and sisters, if someone in your group does something wrong, you who are spiritual should go to that person and gently help make him right again. But be careful, because you might be tempted to sin, too. (Galatians 6:1)

In everything you say and do, remember that you will be judged by the law that makes people free. So you must show mercy to others, or God will not show mercy to you when he judges you. But the person who shows mercy can stand without fear at the judgment. (James 2:12-13)

I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other as I have loved you. All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other. (John 13:34-35)

Accept into your group someone who is weak in faith, and do not argue about opinions. (Romans 14:1)

God certainly gave his children guidelines for criticizing others. We must be loving, gentle, and merciful. We are not excused from criticism; we are simply directed to criticize within God’s standards with his provision. We are to accept and respond to criticism in the same way—within God’s standards—even when people criticizing us are not adhering to the same standards. Just because another Christ-follower is bending God’s rules does not make it okay for us to bend God’s rules, thus, fighting fire with fire.

We cope with criticism with the same standards by which we’re to give criticism.

  • Be loving—by God’s standards.
  • Be gentle—by God’s standards.
  • Be merciful—by God’s standards.
  • Be forgiving—by God’s standards.

Responding to criticism by God’s standards is not the same as hiding feelings. It’s setting aside feelings for truth. God gave us feelings to enhance experiences not to distort the truth of a situation. Let God reveal the truth of a situation. You don’t need to know the person’s motives. You don’t need to know how the person will respond. All you need to know is…God. God is truth, and when you invite and trust him to guide, your motives will become God-driven and your responses will become God-guided. You will cope with criticism with God and for God. He is at the center of your life and your relationships, including criticism. Let him lead from the center.

God’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Welcome to Healing the Hurt, a 10-post series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

This Week’s 7 – Serve Your Spouse

Each Monday on the Pure Purpose blog, I feature This Week’s 7, a simple list about an everyday topic, giving you ideas and encouragement. Today’s post is the third in a series on service. It’s written from a woman’s perspective. That’s what I know best (although I’m still learning to apply these principles!), but I’m confident you’re smart enough to shift perspectives if needed.

    1. Get to know him…again. People change. Don’t assume interests, knowledge, and routines will remain the same.
    2. Do something unexpected without mentioning it, especially if it’s a job you don’t particularly like.
    3. Make a special dinner. Think “favorite dishes,” even if you have to call your mother-in-law for them.
    4. Hold your criticism. Be encouraging.
    5. Don’t expect to be all things to your spouse. Encourage him to have guy friends who hold him accountable.
    6. Appreciate your man. Nothing builds a man up more than respect. Nothing tears him down faster than disrespect.
    7. Be willing to say “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong.” A little humility goes a long way in building a relationship.

It is hard to find a good wife, because she is worth more than rubies. Her husband trusts her completely. With her, he has everything he needs. She does him good and not harm for as long as she lives. Proverbs 31:10-12