When we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical. – Unknown
In my teenage years, I became extremely close to someone who was fluent in criticism. I loved her dearly and counted her as one of my most treasured friends; yet, when I was around her, I felt… heavy. A conversation did not go by without her ripping someone to shreds – often herself. Her comments seemed far-fetched and petty. Still, in spite of it all, I loved her and my heart hurt because I saw her critical spirit as a symptom of something deeper going on in her heart.
At some time or another, we all have to share a critical word with someone else. When we do, it is important to strategically speak in a way which builds up and encourages (cf. Ephesians 4:29).
There is a difference, however, in sharing occasional criticism and being a critical person. My beloved Miss Betty mentored me for years and at times offered constructive criticism about some of my unwise decisions; yet, I still count her as one of the most encouraging people I have ever known. She was not like those who live and breathe to criticize others, not realizing they are putting their fears and insecurities on display by doing so.
Criticism is not always harmful, but when it becomes a pattern or an adjective, (e.g., “she is such a critical person,” “he always has something snarky to say,” etc.), it will tear down relationships. Something to remember about criticism is that it can be sneaky. It does not always show itself boldly and loudly.
Look at that woman’s ridiculous dress! You know, some outfits should not come in certain sizes. She better not go down the cookie aisle!
Sometimes criticism is quiet. Sometimes criticism comes with a smile. Sometimes criticism is hidden within a question. Sometimes criticism is hidden in a compliment. And, sometimes criticism comes out in gossip because we do not want to confront the person we are criticizing.
Do you ever wonder if you are a closet criticizer? I was! I think most of us are (at some level) if we are honest. Do you want to overcome your propensity to criticize as I did? If so, keep reading! ~smile~
Is Your First Thought Typically Negative?
Recently, I realized that whenever I come into contact with a new idea, my first reaction is usually to resist it or to find the bad in it. If I catch myself, I can switch on a dime and find the positives, but it disturbs me that my first thoughts are critical. I fancy myself a laid back, encouraging lady (and I am – on the outside); but, in the depths of my heart where only God and I can see, I struggle. I can be negative about myself which spills over into how I feel about, and eventually treat, others.
If you find your initial thoughts tilt towards the negative side, practice immediately dismissing those thoughts and replacing them with at least five positive thoughts.
Critical thoughts: Great. Our game group invited a new couple over. I am so not in the mood for getting-to-know-you small talk with new people.
Positive replacement thought: Some of my dearest friends have come from this gaming group.
Positive replacement thought: All of my friends were once strangers. This new couple may end up being a huge blessing to our lives.
Positive replacement thought: Almost every time I get nervous about meeting someone new, I end up having a good time with him or her.
Positive replacement thought: “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” – Charlie “Tremendous” Jones
Positive replacement thought: I hear they have dogs, so we are bound to have a lot in common!
It is hard to remain annoyed, frustrated, or critical when you choose to flood your mind with positive goodness.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2, ESV)
Do You Talk or Listen to Yourself?
We may be in the habit of listening to ourselves, but seldom do we stop and intentionally talk to ourselves. As suggested above, what we think about determines the path we take. If we sow critical thoughts, we will produce critical fruit; and, if we sow encouraging thoughts, we will produce encouraging fruit.
However, to fully overcome a criticism addiction, we need to take it a step further. Instead of only thinking positive thoughts, we need to speak positive thoughts. Hearing encouragement is more powerful than merely thinking positively.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17, ESV)
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1, ESV)
Write down at least ten healthy, positive truths you struggle to accept and repeat them to yourself – out loud – every morning and evening. Self-help gurus and the self-esteem movement want us to repeat happy, pretty words to ourselves, but this is not the time for that. These are truths. Instead of saying, “I am beautiful,” I would say, “I am an attractive and loving person.” Some people are beautiful and that is great. It is fun to look at beautiful people, but I do not have to deceive myself into thinking I am physically stunning to accomplish my goals.
The less we criticize ourselves, the less we need to criticize others. The more we encourage ourselves, the more encouraging we will be to others.
Does Your Negativity Affect your Relationship(s)?
When I think of a critical person, I picture a cranky, verbally abusive, self-centered, miserable human being. The kind of person who makes you turn and run when you see him or her coming. These are the folks who would drive you to the glorious silence of your rooftop (cf. Proverbs 21:9, Proverbs 25:24).
However, I have learned a critical person can also be an exceedingly nice person. One of Eric’s superpowers is his ability to generate ideas. Not every idea is a winner, but he can crank out one possible solution after another in a way which leaves me in awe – as long as I do not have to carry out his latest brilliant idea. ~smile~ Several years ago, I got into the terrible habit of shooting down any idea Eric communicated if it made me nervous. When he shared a thought, I jumped on it without hesitation offering reason upon reason as to why we should not pursue it. I was not mean about it. My intentions towards Eric were not cruel. But, my reactions exposed my heart in a way my kind exterior could not hide.
At the core of my being was a negative and critical person. Though I did not always verbalize my criticisms, they swam inside and contaminated my every thought. Eric could not hide from the real Heather. If I was going to mess up and accidentally show this side of me, he was going to be the “lucky” guy who had to endure it. It was not until Eric shut down in the middle of a conversation and said, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” that I realized how much my negativity (which was greatly rooted in fear and insecurity) was affecting my relationship with him. My man who would burst in the door excited to share his latest brainstorm with me no longer wanted to talk to me about his ideas. That was a turning point in my criticism addiction. That is when I became determined to meet Eric’s exuberance with encouragement rather than “helpful” problem-spotting.
And, you know what happened? When I made myself shut up, listen, and find something to encourage, Eric was happier and I was too! When his ideas grow into plans, then we discuss pros, cons, and concerns; but, until then, I get to be an encouraging force in his life and that job is so much more fulfilling than my former position as dream-crusher.
In your primary relationship, and in your other relationships, get in the habit of letting your first response be an encouraging response. Even in those moments when you must deliver unpleasant news or feedback, you can begin with an uplifting remark.
Encouraging response: Your help on this project has been invaluable. I could not have finished on time without your hard work. Thank you.
Encouraging response: You look stunning. You have an amazing talent for fashion.
Encouraging response: It is remarkable to me how easily you come up with good ideas.
Encouraging response: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25, ESV)
Encouraging response: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29. ESV)
Pro Tip: It does not take much to turn a criticism addiction into an encouragement addiction!
Step one: Replace each negative thought with five positive thoughts. Do this until it becomes a habit.
Step two: Start talking to yourself daily. Verbally cleanse your mind with the truth. Do this until it becomes a natural part of your daily routine. (For best results, do it upon waking and before going to bed.)
Step three: Learn to respond to others with encouragement. Do this until it becomes a habit.
You Do Not Have to be a Divorce Statistic!
Dr. John Gottman, one of the nation’s leading researchers on marriage, warns us of the four greatest predictors of divorce (i.e., the four horsemen) – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. It is no surprise that criticism is listed first as it tends to be the gateway to the other predictors. Have you ever felt contempt for, been defensive towards, or stonewalled someone for whom you felt no criticism? Keeping criticism out of your relationship is one of the best ways to shelter it and keep it strong.
Just as recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, gambling addicts, or sex addicts can never let their guards down and say, “I am fine now. I am cured. I can fool around with my temptations without getting burned,” I cannot say, “I have this encouragement business down pat. I am golden!” As soon as I do, I know I will fall right back into my old patterns of negativity – a place neither Eric nor I ever want to live in again.
If you struggle with criticism, you can overcome it. Keep it out of your dates. Keep it out of your engagement. Keep it out of your marriage. You will sometimes stumble as we all do, but by the grace of God, you do not have to allow a spirit of criticism to take over your life. ~smile~
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV)
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23, ESV, emphasis mine)
Have an encouraging week, friends!
How do you overcome the temptation to be critical?