When We're Criticized...

By Josanna Ponsi

Criticism often appears in the workplace, at school, and at home. We've all probably felt the criticism of others and have probably been critical of ourselves, too. So, how can we best deal with criticism?

Criticism can either be negative or positive.

  • Positive criticism is often called "constructive criticism." Its intention is to help one grow either professionally or personally.
  • Negative criticism tends to take the form of personal bias or opinion. It is generally meant to hurt.

Criticism seems to be based on your and others' expectations of behavior.

  • Have you ever heard the saying, "How do you know your friends from your enemies? Your friends will tell you your faults, and your enemies won't"?
  • The question then follows: What is the intention of the criticism? Is it to help us become a better individual, or is it a personal attack?

In order to figure out the intention of criticism, we have to do some spiritual listening.

  • In a Personal Communication class textbook, I saw a picture diagramming a Chinese character for listening. The parts included heart, ears, eyes, and mind. This idea showed that in order to listen, we must hear, perceive, understand, and care what the other is saying.
  • Jesus said, referring to spiritual perception, "Having ears, hear ye not?" (Mark 8:18).
  • If we are genuinely and spiritually listening to what others are saying, even if it's critical, we can understand what others are trying to communicate.
  • If it's positive, we can accept it; if it's negative, we can ignore it and not let it get us down.

Jesus knew how to handle negative criticism. The Pharisees continually criticized and condemned him. The book of Matthew alone has at least twenty-one accounts of such condemnation. One example that stood out to me was when Jesus healed Jairus' daughter (Matt. 9:23-26). When Jesus told the people she was sleeping (rather than dead), "they laughed him to scorn" (24). After the mourners had laughed at him, he removed them from the area, paid no attention to their comments, and raised Jairus' daughter back to life. That "scorn" -- criticism -- did not hold any weight in his thought and could not influence his healing. Jesus had said, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). He didn't allow negative criticism to keep him from helping Jairus' daughter feel and be the perfect daughter of God, full of life.

However, when someone points out something we've done wrong or shows us how we could've done something better, being able to listen to such positive criticism is helpful, even necessary for our own growth. I was deeply offended by a friend who was more truthful about my behavior than I would have liked. Even though I was hurt, I was able to reflect on my friend's comments. I decided to listen to her so that I could grow. After an open conversation, I was able to determine that she wanted more deliberate communication on my part, as well as hers. I am appreciative of her expectation of me, and our friendship has improved.

Criticism has no effect upon our relationship with God or what He knows about us.

  • In Genesis we read, "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (1:27).
  • There's no mention of seeing faults in others and feeling the need to correct them.
  • When we are critical of others or ourselves, or when we accept negative, fault-finding criticism (which are simply personal attacks and not the truth about us), we are not seeing God's creation as He made us -- in His "image."

Whenever we're tempted to get hurt by criticism, or even to criticize others, let's remember Jesus' words and example, and say with him, "Not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42).

Read "Criticism's Antidote," which explains how to stop criticism.