When People Criticize You
No one likes to be criticized. It doesn’t feel good. It also tends to touch pain points we all have developed since childhood. As little children, when our parents got upset at us, we would internalize these events as there being something wrong with us. In especially dysfunctional homes, children are often specifically told that they are the problem or that they are defective. Children will also internalize the conflict and anger of the important adults in their lives as being their responsibility.
When someone comes along and criticizes us in a personal way, it tends to confirm that inner voice in us that secretly has confidence issues.
When someone comes along and criticizes us in a personal way, it tends to confirm that inner voice in us that secretly has confidence issues. The little child in each of us tends to be insecure. It tends to believe that it is somehow inadequate or defective. When someone comes along and criticizes us in a personal way, it tends to confirm that inner voice in us that secretly has confidence issues.
Now the adult in us wants no part of that. When someone is exposing our inner fears, it causes us to feel shame. This shame is unpleasant and often not even something we are aware of on a conscious level. A common reaction to being caught in a shameful experience is to get angry. Anger is a natural response to our personal boundaries getting violated. It is a way of protecting ourselves from the wolves. A self-preservation response.
Now most of us don’t examine our lives. We don’t stop to ask ourselves, in any kind of serious fashion, why it was that a person’s criticism has shaken us so badly. Often, the person criticizing us is someone we already know is toxic.
We’ve probably already observed them attacking other people. Logically then, we should be able to dismiss their criticisms as coming from a tainted source. Unfortunately, It rarely is the case.
Instead, we find ourselves brooding over their comments. Having trouble sleeping.
FLIGHT: FIRST RESPONSE TO FEAR
When we have been criticized in a manner that has embarassed us or hurt us deeply, one of the first reactions we often have is to run away. For Pastors it involved thinking about or acting on the desire to go to another district or even to another country. For Lay leaders, the first step is usually to step back from active leadership and invovement in their local church. The second step is to start shopping for another church or to simply stop attending church altogether.
“We have the idea that we ought to shield ourselves from some of the things God brings around us. May it never be! It is God who engineers our circumstances, and whatever they may be we must see that we face them while continually abiding with Him in His temptations. They are His temptations, not temptations to us, but temptations to the life of the Son of God in us. Jesus Christ’s honor is at stake in our bodily lives. Are we remaining faithful to the Son of God in everything that attacks His life in us?”
FIGHT: SECOND RESPONSE TO FEAR
Some of us are more fighters than runners but if we cannot escape our situation easily, almost all of us resort to fighting to get out of our situation. As a pastor, I’ve been in many situations in church life where my first option, had I been a lay person, would have been to simply resign and walk away. Unfortunately, because I depended on the income from my job and because I knew that as a pastor I needed to take the high road, I often felt trapped with no where to go.
This has happened to me often in the context of a church board meeting. I have asked the church board to take a certain action, say approve a budget for an upcoming evangelistic event, and then someone on the board takes objection with the expense. I then find myself faced with two unpleasant choices.
1. I drop the request and move on the the next item on the agenda. If I choose this option, the evangelistic plans I had for the church for the coming year will die. Not exactly something I’m going to be proud of or think is right.
2. I respond to the criticism that has been levelled against these plans. Too often though, unconsciously, I fear that the motion will be defeated and so I find myself going into a fear based response. My heart starts to race. My adrenaline starts to pump and my body gets ready for a fight.
Usually, what happens next is that I start to forcefully and sometimes emotionally attack the idea. This has too often ended up being a back and forth argument between me and the person who has raised the criticism. The result isn’t pretty.
Yes, I believe there is. It involved taking a step back and looking as objectively as possible on the issues that have led to the criticism. Ask yourself, why is this person or group criticizing me? Is there any truth to their criticisms? Self-examination is often painful but it is also necessary. Proverbs has much to say on this subject. Proverbs links those who are confident enough to self-examine after criticism as being wise and those who will not or cannot as foolish.
“Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” – Proverbs 9:7-8
LEAD PEOPLE AT THE SPEED THEY ARE WILLING TO BE LED
We must guard against moving our people too fast. We must also guard against using kingly power. Yes, as Pastors we could force our people to do things our way but at what cost? Church members may allow us to get away with forcing them to do something but it will hurt trust. It will also reduce the level of honesty you get from your executive leaders. Honesty requires safety. Safety is built on trust. If you don’t have the trust of your leaders, they will not share with you what they really think.
I used to get very upset that people would remain silent about issues or problems they were well aware of. Many of these same leaders would make me think that they were supporting me in my position simply because they were not speaking against it to me while I spoke to them about it. Understand that this is a false sense of security. Just because you aren’t criticism of your ideas or initiatives does not mean that your leaders or the church is in agreement with them.
OUR CHALLENGE: We need to embrace our imperfections. We need to be willing to admit to ourselves AND to others that we can be wrong about our assumptions, ideas and opinions. We need to be willing to admit that there is more than one way to look at any given problem. We furthermore need to be willing to keep an open mind about a different approach than what we would do.
As we practice this openness our leaders trust in us will go up. They will know that we are willing to hear views that are contrary to our own. That we encourage dialogue and respectful disagreement. As they see us model this, our leaders will be more and more inclined to speak the truth about their views and the true condition of the church and their respective situations. The end result is that we will experience much less toxic criticism. We will build loyalty in our members and leaders. We will take big steps towards a healthier, safer church and ministry.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments below!