How to Deal with Critical Words

You know the feeling. You are trying to do your best and someone starts shooting words that send you for a loop. Words that make you want to hide in the back of the coat closet. Words that cause you to start doubting yourself and think something is wrong with you. Words that snatch your smile, send your emotions for a look, and erase your worth away in an instant. Words that bruise you, but leave no outward mark.

These words don’t have to be swearing words. Or I hate you words.

They hurt and bruise because at the heart of the words is criticism. A superiority. A putting you down and pointing out what is wrong about you, but not in a loving or constructive way. These words pin you down like a specimen and provide no grace or room to wiggle free.

They are often casual comments thrown out to bait you. To communicate that you are a failure. Your job was not good enough. You have room for improvement. You made a big honking mistake and by gum they are going to be the one to point it out to you in giant living color.

Sometimes they are deliberate, other times not. They can be masked in humor. They can come from mates, children, colleagues, parents, ex’s, bosses, instructors, neighbors. Often, they come from someone who knows you pretty well. Sometimes it becomes a pattern and it happens over and over.

Your boss criticizing your punctuation mistakes in emails.

You mother in law criticizing your housekeeping.

A colleague asking why you always have to be a party pooper.

An acquaintance criticizing your new dress.

A relative questioning your decisions, big and little.

The neighbor criticizing your schooling choice.

A friend pointing out your proclivity to be late.

The event coordinator reminding that you brought a pie and not a salad, like you signed up for.

Now last time I checked, being a party pooper, bringing pie instead of salad, or being late (along with most of the things they are likely to mention) are not sins,  punishable by city ordinances, or even things for which you can get arrested and residing behind bars.

Most of the time you haven’t done anything terribly wrong, but their words make you feel small, in the wrong, and like you have committed some horrible thing because they are pointing out what they consider your flaws, your mistakes, and your habits that they dislike. You hear their critical aha-I-caught-you-words and suddenly bells are clanging in your head and your emotions are shooting out of the starting gate.

The power of words.

So why do their words send emotions skyrocketing and worth crashing?

Often, their words are hitting upon a sore spot. If our mother criticized our choice of clothes growing up, we will probably react differently to criticism of our clothes then someone whose clothing choices were validated. Words can instantly evoke unpleasant (and pleasant) memories and arouse the emotions that memory carries. Words can have different effects on different people. The same words crush one person, while another person is able to brush them off and laugh at their absurdity.

Our upbringing can affect the way we hear and interpret the words. If we were raised with the expectation of striving for perfection, criticism and a pointing out of our mistakes will often be harder for us than someone who was raised with the standard of grace and encouragement. If we were criticized for our flaws and mistakes when children, we often spend the rest of our life trying to avoid making mistakes and showing our flaws to others.

Keep track. Are your most sensitive spots, when it comes to criticism and words hurting you, areas you were not allowed to falter or be human in at some point in your life? Were grace and understanding lacking from those same areas?

Knowing which areas words have power over us, is helpful in not letting them blindside and control you.

How we let critical words harm us.

When we base our day, our worth, or our self-esteem on what we do and don’t do, or our performance, then critical words will harm us. We will cower and think the person is pointing a finger at us in condemnation. Or we may rise up in anger and attack them.

Building our worth on what others think and say to us often causes us to wander down the road of self-doubt when we hear critical words. Self-doubt can be a lonely road. We wonder how someone can love us when we are failing. Not perfect enough or good enough. This may lead us to question whether we are lovable. And why would someone love us? Which can lead to how could God love me?

Rising up in anger will isolate us from the person and often convince them of nothing more than their current opinion.

Both responses leave us feeling worse than before.

To stop this cycle, we need to have a plan of action.

Base your worth on what is true.

During his temptation, Jesus fought Satan with scripture. Scripture is truth. It is power.

Remind yourself of God’s truth when you feel yourself sliding down into despair from the words of another. When you feel your temperature rise and you want to toss the person three blocks to the north.

Say these words to yourself until you can own and believe them:

God loves me mistakes, flaws, sins and all. Just the way I am. (You love your child, pet, mate, parent, or friend the way they are. You don’t say, I will love you when you quit doing X and Y. God is the same, only to some mega exponent power.)

He calls me beloved; valuable.

Jesus was perfect so I don’t need to be perfect. He doesn’t expect me to be perfect. He created me as a flawed human, and expects me to make mistakes and mess up.

My worth is not tied into my mistakes, flaws, or sins, or what I do or don’t do.

God will never leave me, forsake me, or quit loving me, no matter what I do.

My joy comes from God, and is not based upon what others think or say about me.

My actions do not define me or my worth.

Tell yourself the truth. Remind yourself of the exact things that critical words often send scurrying from our minds. The truth.

Remember: What matters most is not that you made a mistake, but how you respond after your mistake.

Some other things to remember.

Critical words and pointing out of flaws happens. We do it. Others do it. It even happens to perfect people. Think about all the times people were critical with Jesus. And he was perfect! So, don’t be surprised when they happen to you.

Sometimes we base our day (and our worth) on how things are going. Good day equals happiness. Day with conflict equals a bad day and we feel down.

Instead of striving to have a good day, or a conflict free day, a perfect day or a strife free day, realize that conflict is part of life. Strive to have a day where you remember your true identity and that it is not tied up into the day’s events or what you accomplish or don’t do. Strive to have a day where you learn, grow, and give others and yourself grace.

We can’t stop criticism coming our way, but we can change our response. We can also quit taking the criticism so personally and owning it, especially when it is untrue. Most criticism has a lot of untruth in it. So toss the untruth into the garbage can and leave it there.

Criticism can be uncomfortable and hard to hear, but it is easier when we remember whose we are and that our worth is not tied to the expectations or words of another.

And when you find yourself doubting your worth, remind yourself of eternal truths, you precious, beloved, and valuable human. Yes, that’s you!

Join the Discussion: How do you handle the criticism of others?

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About the author : Theresa Boedeker

Theresa Boedeker

Theresa Boedeker, a lover of life and grace, likes to write about this crazy, messy, and wonderful adventure called life. She unwraps life with words to encourage, provide hope, and bring froth laughter. Her blog, Things to Remember, and entertaining story podcast, Life as it Comes, can be found at

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