How Christians can Handle Criticism
The Christian life compels us to accept criticism. Pastors admonish us to improve ourselves. The Bible cuts our consciences like a two-edged sword. Ultimately, correction is for our good, helping us to grow and become more Christ-like. Still, criticism is excruciatingly painful, especially if it is primarly destructive. It may attack our self-esteem, peace of mind, sense of security and self-image.
We need to recognize and process the good and dismiss that bad. So how do we separate the wheat from the chaff – the constructive from the destructive?
Criticism is often a mixture of both. There are steps we can take to dismiss the bad and profit from the good. No matter how off base the criticism may be, it will probably has elements that we need to think about
Characteristics of destructive criticism
People are are in a state of bitterness and negativity. There are a number of reasons why someone may criticize us. Some people have a negative outlook on life and criticism rolls off their tongue like butter. For them, nothing is good. Some people are critical because they are angry, bitter and complaining whiners who see everything as bad or wrong. They are quick to judge and condemn others.
Criticism is more likely to be constructive if people:
- share a mutual trust and close relationship with us
- Care about us and has our best interests at heart (Proverbs 27:6)
- Prayerfully consider what they will say before confronting us
- Are wise and discreet (Proverbs 16:21)
- Rarely criticize and only do so if they feels it is absolutely necessary
- Are dispassionate and logical rather than emotional or angry
- Have evidence to back up their claims
- Uses words that are nourishing and helpful (Proverbs 10:20-21), giving praise as well as correction
- Limits their words and focuses on only one issue
- Approach criticism in a spirit of humility
- Has a sincere desire to help us be better people or to encourage us to improve ourselves such as adjusting our attitudes or improving our performance on the job
People with an agenda. Some people are very set in their ways and sure that they are right. Smug and self-righteous, they attack anyone who does not fit their rigid view of the world. They criticize in the hope that doing so will make us fall in line with what they believe is right.
People who are arrogant and judgemental. Unfortunately, some people think that their Christian faith justifies them judging and condemning others. They don’t just criticize, they blurt out all kinds of garbage (Proverbs 12:23). Their mouths expose them as fools because they are unable to hold their tongues.
Proud people think they are showing off their intelligence, but actually being foolish. They are not interested in understanding another person’s view – they want the satisfaction of sharing their own opinions (Proverbs 8:2). Sometimes their words stir up strive and provoke a physical attack (Proverbs 18:6).
People dislike us. Sometimes, people just don’t like us. They may jealous of what we have, irritated by some of our characteristics, or simply have an irrational dislike. They will jump on the chance to correct us and put us down.
How to respond effectively
God sometimes puts people in our lives who have the qualities needed to give us constructive criticism. It is important to respond to correction in a godly way so that we can recover and learn from it. God may also put us on the firing line of destructive criticism as well. All experiences can teach us something – even bad ones.
“Don't mind criticism. If it is untrue, disregard it; if unfair, keep from irritation; if it is ignorant, smile; if it is justified it is not criticism, learn from it.”
Admit when we are wrong. When we realize the corrections that are needed in our lives, we should promptly confess it and apologize, if needed. We will be tempted to flog ourselves for our errors and shortcomings. Instead, we should cry out to God in a spirit of repentance and ask for His forgiveness. Then we can let go of our guilt and shame, and should put the incident behind us.
We will probably feel hurt and humiliated at first when someone corrects us. Even though the words of correction we hear are devastating, we are wise if we accept correction (Proverbs 10:8, 12:15, 15:5).
Some people, however, cross the line between correction and abuse. For example, a boss chooses to bawl out a staff member out in front of the entire office instead of quietly pulling her aside and pointing out that she made some data entry errors. He bristles with indignation as he makes comments about her lack of intelligence and ineptness.
“In the face of unjust criticism we can become bitter or better; upset or understanding; hostile or humble; furious or forgiving.”
William Arthur Ward
We should be held accountable when we make mistakes, but no one has the right to put us down or verbally abusive. We are within our rights to tell people to stop talking when they are out of line.
It is no use talking to some people because they will just scorn what you say (Proverbs 23:9). Their words pierce like swords instead of promoting wellness and healing (Proverbs 12:18).
Accepting the constructive criticism
What do we do if the criticism is much needed correction? In this case, it is best to acknowledge that we have heard what the speaker has to say and tell them we will address the issues raised. We will be tempted to argue the points and defend ourselves, but this will probably just start an argument. We also risk entering an angry, hurt or overly emotional state where we lash out at them. We may be putting our friendships or relationships in jeapardy.
We will need time to consider the points raised by the person confronting us. We may need to put together an answer that will satisfy them. In other cases, the person will assume that we have heard them and will act on their feedback.
We can ask for time to think about what has been said. It is best not to answer when we are hurting and upset. Criticism needs to be accepted with humility and an open mind. If feelings of resentment and hurt pride bubble up, we need to repent and ask God for forgiveness. We also need to pray for the ability to forgive the person who criticized us. This ensures that our relationship with the person will continue to be a healthy one.
Criticism – both destructive and constructive - is painful, but needed on occasion so that we can improve our Christian walk. Even the worst barrage of nonsense from a fool can teach us something. If we are wise, we will listen and learn from others (Proverbs 9:9-10, 12:1).
© 2013 Carola Finch