Steve and I were watching television recently, and he criticized me for some small issue.
Because I can still slip back into being sensitive to criticism due to childhood traumas, I felt a stab in my heart. I was tired of criticism and trying to get over it.
Steve and I both have had a problem with criticizing each other and being sensitive to criticism, but I wanted us to be free. I’ve prayed and prayed about this, but so far we still slide back into the battle of remembering to say kind instead of cutting words.
Even though I wanted to take up my criticism sword and swing it right back at my husband, I didn’t.
Instead I recalled a saying I heard years ago: “It takes twelve compliments to get over one criticism.”
In the past I realized I would subconsciously embrace the twelve compliments declaration thinking that it would take awhile before I could feel good about myself after a criticism. I even went around fishing for compliments to somehow prove to myself that I wasn’t as bad a person as critics like my husband or children proclaimed. And what if my husband or other critics gave several criticisms in one sentence? Did I need thirty-six compliments to make up for that?
That thought dragged me down to the pit. And no wonder I often felt I was in one. I was letting criticism really get to me.
It didn’t seem to matter that in our 38 years of marriage this was a common occurance and that I had an understanding of why my husband engaged in the behavior. I shouldn’t be taking it personally, I thought, but I was, and it hurt.
How can this vicious cycle of criticizing each other be stopped? I wondered.
Give yourself twelve compliments right now, was the next thing that came to mind.
I grabbed a piece of mail and on the back of an envelope I wrote: I’m compassionate, I’m intelligent, I’m friendly…”
It’s amazing how quickly I felt better. In a flash I was back to my pre-criticism state. In the past when feeling vulnerable, I would have played the criticism over and over in my mind—sometimes for days or weeks.
I was feeling good about this discovery until Steve and I went to the store yesterday. For some reason, he was in a frustrated mood, and he dealt with this by barraging me with criticisms while we shopped. I confess I’ve done the same to him on occasion.
I wanted to try out my “give yourself twelve compliments” method again, but when the criticisms started piling up, I felt overwhelmed and upset. By the time I got home I was worked up, and when we got in the door I criticized Steve for being so critical.
That was a mistake.
We worked it out, and by the end of the day Steve and I were back to being sweet and kind, but it took awhile. I wasted a lot of one day caught up in self-pity and thinking I could fix this habit in my husband with my words. What I discovered was that my “give yourself twelve compliments” method didn’t work.
What did work is to turn to God’s Word, which is filled with “compliments” and promises and statements that go against any criticism that people may lay on us. Just these words from Psalm 91 lifted me so much as I realized that no criticism from anyone on this earth could change how God feels about me or perceives me—a truth I need to be reminded of again and again.
“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver him and honor him and show him my salvation.” (14-16 NIV 1984)
Steve and I will keep working on being more gentle with our words and building each other up instead of tearing one another down. And I’ve discovered saying gently, “I feel sad over that criticism” is OK.
But we need the Lord’s help to do this. With we humans it seems criticism comes naturally but building up is a learned skill. Sometimes I think the enemy whispers criticisms in our ears to say to our spouses and others. If we are not alert, we just blurt them out.
What I know is that I can’t keep anyone from criticizing me. I’ve tried. But I can ask God to help me to stop criticizing, and teach me to respond to criticism in a godly way. Today and in the days ahead, I can choose not to take negative statements from others to heart and let them ruin my day or my life.
Another thing I know is that God uses criticisms to make me more like Jesus. I’ve got a ways to go.
How about you? Do you handle criticisms in a not-so-godly way? Turn to the Lord, and He will help you to be set free from an ungodly response to criticism.
Here’s a new song I found today that lifted me up.
“I Have A Shelter” by Sovereign Grace Music from the album “Come Weary Saints.”
I’m going to try this when I start criticizing myself. I get into that “pit” more from self. Sometimes it starts with others but many times it starts with the way I see myself.
Dear Christine, Both Steve and I also have problems with self-criticism. Maybe that’s why we’re sensitive to criticism from others. I pray for grace to keep remembering who God says I am. Isn’t it wonderful that He does not criticize us?
One thing that I have learned from being in full time ministry is that you must not be easily offended or you won’t be in ministry long. I had to work through similar things with my husband and my family.
Dear Anita, Thanks for your comment. I find that I’m not as easily offended in ministry with strangers, but in ministry with my family I still have some growing to do. Maybe it’s because I feel I try hard, and then criticism still comes. But that’s probably how my other family members feel when I criticize them. Lord, please let your mercy flow to me and through me.