“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me.” It’s the biggest lie we tell ourselves growing up. About the third time someone says hurtful words and you find yourself still upset 3 days later is when you realize how far from the truth that mantra is. Yet last week, I found myself staring into the mirror, tears welling up in the corner of my eyes, wanting so badly to believe it. “It doesn’t hurt.” “You’re wrong.” “I’m not gonna cry, it’s not worth my tears.” Some part of me wanted to believe that high school was the end all be all to saying mean-spirited things. But if anything, it only gets more hurtful after high school. People stop attacking your looks and start attacking your character. Now, I am guilty of this too. I wrote a blog post last year on how to recover from mistakes like saying hurtful words, and how to prevent it from happening in the future. I tend to speak my mind too quickly sometimes without fully considering how people might feel. That’s the “logic over emotion” part of my personality coming out! It rarely happens but when it does, I find myself having to think extra carefully about what I’m going to say. Unfortunately, there are people in this world who never start to care about who they’re hurting when they say things out of anger or hatred. They continually speak their mind without hesitation and without considering the consequences. And sometimes, the person they’re hurting is you.
Now, not every single negative word said about you should be considered criticism. It should be pretty obvious whether something deserves even an ounce of your consideration, but often it’s not that simple when our feelings are involved, right? Thankfully, I’ve been able to take a step back, look at the times I’ve been criticized in the past, and learn from them… not only learning from the actual criticism but also from the ways I’ve handled it. I’ve come up with these 3 steps to handling criticism that I try to remember whenever any negative word is said about me! I’m still putting this into practice, and it’s not always easy, but I hope you’ll find it helpful!
Step 1: Determine its kind. It’s been said that there are three types of criticism: There’s friendly criticism, which is advice delivered with care. There’s indifferent (or objective) criticism, which is advice delivered with insensitivity to the people involved. And then there’s hostile criticism, which isn’t a good thing at all. A quick way to analyze the criticism you’re receiving is to take a look at where it’s coming from. This is the first step in learning to deal with criticism! If it’s from someone you do not know, it’s rare that it will be friendly criticism, because they have no emotional ties to you. They won’t care about your feelings like your best friend or your mentor would. Friendly criticism will often come from someone who loves you. They deliver constructive criticism wrapped in kind and uplifting words. Someone who doesn’t know you may still successfully provide constructive, helpful criticism, but it should probably be taken with a grain of salt because of the simple fact that they do not know you and often do not know the full story and all of the important, behind-the-scenes details! They aren’t fully involved in your story and often can only deliver surface-level advice. Then there’s hostile criticism. These people may know you or know of you… but they aren’t there to help you because they don’t have your best in mind. Their motives are simply to hurt you and to cause you harm. Hence the word “hostile,” which is derived from the Latin word hostis meaning “stranger or enemy.” They aren’t there to repair… they’re there to tear you down. And once you figure out which type of criticism you’re receiving, you can determine what to do with it! (Hint: Hostile criticism = just ignore it!!!)
Step 2: Evaluate its merit. Take a good, hard look at what was said, write it down, and then read it again. Could you be misunderstanding the tone? Is it at all helpful? What might you need to change? Is it something that your best friend would agree with? Will it BETTER you to follow the advice? This is where it gets hard to put handling criticism into practice! Not many people get excited about change, especially when it involves altering your personal habits. But we would never improve in life if we never learned from others! We would constantly be stuck in a cycle of failing to adapt and make necessary changes to better ourselves. So, point being… if you think it might help you, give it a second thought! Take it with a grain of salt and move on to step #3… the most important step!
Step 3: Bring it before those who love you. There are only a few people in my life that I really trust with my whole heart. I know they have the best intentions in mind when they give me advice, and they truly only want what’s best for me. My dad, my sisters, my mentors, and my fiance are a few of these people that I know I can trust!!! And of course, I lay everything before the Lord and ask HIM to give me new eyes and see myself/the situation in a new light if that’s what’s needed to better my character and soften my heart. If I receive criticism that came from a non-hostile source, seems to have some merit, and I kinda want to take it into consideration… I then go to someone in my circle that I can trust to lead me on the right path. If you are hurt by something someone said, but think some good quality advice might be hiding beneath the hurtful words… go to someone in your “circle” and ask for their opinion! Even if the criticism originates from someone in this circle, you should still take it to someone else within the circle and get a second opinion! PRAY about it, write it out in your journal, grab coffee with a friend and spill your heart to that person you trust. This releases the heaviness off of your shoulders and you begin to bear the weight between two… with someone who loves you and wants to help you! Know who your circle is and trust them to lead you on the path you want to go! For me, I desire to go where God wants me to, so the people in my circle are all Christians who share the same core beliefs, morals, and values that I do! I know that they will pray for and with me, and want to help me handle all the criticism I encounter in this life in the most honorable way possible! :)
One of my favorite things about Mantra Monday posts is that I can open up and share stories from my personal life with more people than I probably could face-to-face. It would be one thing if I ended the blog post here and left it at the three steps and wished everyone good luck. But that’s not my heart… and I wouldn’t be content with that. I want to share my personal experiences. I am such an open book in person AND online… and naturally, it’s resulted in some backlash simply because I’ve made myself vulnerable by being vulnerable, by showing my weak spots, by sharing “too much” or “not enough.” It’s hard to find the balance in between! But one thing I DO know is that just one message from someone saying they’ve been encouraged makes the vulnerability and the risk of receiving criticism so, SO worth it. I’ll bear this cross if it means shining light into people’s lives… shining the blinding truth that they aren’t alone… that there is at least one other person who feels the same way they do… that they don’t have to face their struggles on their own because I’m going through it, too. So, that being said… I wanted to end this post with a real life example of handling criticism that just happened pretty recently… minus the intricate details! We’ll keep it short and sweet! :)
Ever since the wedding giveaway, it has felt like a big magnifying glass has been swept over top of Justin and me and now sits right above our lives. I don’t hate it… it’s kind of fun knowing people have attached to our story and want to be involved in our engagement season and our wedding planning process! Who wouldn’t be excited about that?! Maybe a very private person, of course. But I’m an open book remember?! :) I LOVED telling our story… being open about our commitment to wait until marriage but just as honest about the struggles that come with that. Sharing our joy about our love with the world and making a video together that basically said, “This is my best friend… and I can’t wait to marry him!” But I don’t think we could have known how much of a platform that being a part of the giveaway would give us. Before the giveaway was an inkling of an idea, I prayed that God would use our wedding day to minister to people, whoever I married! I wanted that day to be about Jesus and about the beauty of marriage… and wanted people who also wanted to wait until marriage to know that they aren’t alone in wanting that! And that it’s okay to have that commitment and to make it at any time, even if you didn’t have that commitment in the past!
Anyway, I’m getting off on a tangent here… but the fact of the matter was, I was REALLY passionate about encouraging others through my wedding day… for single guests to walk away EXCITED about marriage… and for married guests to walk away rejuvenated and inspired to better and to value their own marriages more. That was my dream and my prayer for years! And when the wedding giveaway happened, it was like God answered that prayer on a level I didn’t know existed. Needless to say thousands of more people heard our story than I ever thought could… and that can be such a beautiful thing if it’s handled responsibly. But this platform comes with a cost: public scrutiny. My blog, our social media accounts, the GoFundMe page that a dear friend set up for us after we lost the giveaway… it’s all out there for complete strangers to be a part of… but to also pick apart. And that’s the downside to this amazing opportunity we’ve been given to share our journey to marriage with the world. Like I said, if we encourage/inspire just ONE person… if I shine the light of Christ into just one person’s life… that makes it ALL worth it. But in the midst of reading hateful words targeted at me and my fiance… it’s hard to remember that. It’s really difficult to not take everything said about us immediately to heart and grant everyone the power of truth when their words may really be nothing but lies. But that’s where the 3 steps to handling criticism come in! I read one really mean-spirited post last week that took every single one of my fears and doubts and drove a knife right through those cracks. What I had previously just suspected people might think about us actually became confirmed reality.
As I looked into the mirror and repeated “I’m not gonna cry, I’m not gonna cry…” what I had to remind myself was this is just one person. One person who doesn’t know me. Who knows nothing about our hearts. Who is wrong about half of the accusations he’s making. Who was immediately discredited by my friends who DO know and love us. Even though those words were like knives piercing into the depths of my heart… I knew it wasn’t true because I realized first and foremost that it was hostile criticism. That person meant to tear me down and not repair or improve. I also realized that because of the faults in their accusations against us, they were clearly missing a few key details about our story and our situation and therefore couldn’t be given much merit to their argument! And thirdly, I brought it to Justin… he immediately shut it down. I brought it to my dad, and he didn’t give it a second glance. I asked my sister about the accusations and she said she could see why someone might be confused and led to believe what they did, but that people who do really know us know that nothing that person said was the truth. I prayed that God would “create in me a clean heart” and reveal to me what I do need to really change. And suddenly, I didn’t feel so small! At the end of the day, any fear of what people think of me pales in comparison to the joy that comes from knowing I’ve encouraged someone else in their own journey. That’s what I’m really passionate about, and I’ll take any opportunity I’m given in this life to do just that… regardless of the criticism I encounter along the way :) “With great power comes great responsibility…” and clearly scrutiny, too. But that’s okay. I’m going to keep praying God would lead me and keep trusting my core group of family and friends to lift me up, to right me when I’m wrong, and to help me become a better person. And that’s really all I can do! :)