Whether we realize it or not, people are constantly saying negative things about us, either to our faces or behind our backs.
My son, Casey, had a bad experience last week at recess when a boy picked on him. The boy was getting in my son's face telling him what an awful basketball player he was. The boy was mean and condescending. It hurt Casey's feelings. When Casey told me about it, he said he knew what the boy said wasn't true, but I heard a tinge of doubt in my son's voice.
So, how do we know if a disapproving comment made to us about our skills, talents, character, etc. is true? How do we know if we should take the words to heart, change who we are or shake it off?
I think the easiest way to know is by following the "WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, HOW, WHY" method:
WHO is the one making the comments about you?
Is it someone who knows you well, who cares about you and who you trust? Or, is it someone who generally doesn't speak to you or get along with you?
Sometimes answering the WHO is tricky because even the people who are supposed to love and care about us the most can say things that aren't true.
Another important thing to consider is WHO else has said these things about you. Was it just this person, or are there others? Has anyone you trust told you the opposite?
In my son's basketball situation, two of his close friends comforted Casey by saying they thought he plays great and his basketball skills had greatly improved during the past year.
WHAT is the person saying?
Is the person using words like alwaysand never? Are they using words that tear down or lift up? Are they saying things you already know or suspect are true or things you have never thought about before?
The WHAT is also tricky because, when under extreme stress or sadness, even the kindest people can say hurtful things. It can also be difficult to determine because sometimes we are unaware of our own downfalls, weaknesses and bad habits.
So, let's keep thinking ...
WHEN is the person talking to you?
Is it during a fight, or is it when you are speaking calmly to each other? Knowing the WHEN can help you determine if what the person said was rational or just based on heightened emotions.
Also, think about how many times a person has said the same thing to you. If someone we love says something multiple times in different occasions, often there is truth to it. In those cases, even though they may have said it calmly the first couple of times, don't be surprised if that calm becomes irritation or anger.
WHERE are you when the person says these comments?
Are you in public where everyone can hear, or are you in private where discretion is appropriate? Sincere compliments are often quite appropriate to be said in public settings, but criticism is normally best said in private. So, thinking of the WHERE can help you determine if the person is trying to help you or hurt you.
HOW is the person making these comments?
Are they angry and irrational, or are they trying to be objective and helpful? Is the person in your face and yelling or calm and focused? Are they engaged in the conversation, giving you eye contact? How is their inflection? Are they frowning, smiling, scowling, laughing?
Someone who really wants to help you will act a certain way. I think you can guess how.
WHY did the person make this comment?
Answering the WHY is perhaps the hardest of all because it is something we often have to figure out on our own. We must base the WHY on past interactions with the person and on the answers to the other questions above.
Since there are some cases when criticism is positive and necessary for personal growth, then there must be people who offer it with the best intentions. The people who truly love us want to help us be the best we can be. So, in appropriate moments, they may gently mention opportunities for improvement.
On the other hand, someone who doesn't care about your best interests doesn't care if they hurt your feelings or if what they are saying is even true.
A person may be saying certain things because they are envious of you, they have been treated similarly by others, they are insecure or unhappy in their own skin, or they may even have a mental illness and cannot control all they say.
I went through a time in my life when the person who was supposed to love me the most treated me the worst. I was often called worthless and unimportant. Was it true? To him, perhaps. To me? Well, it ate at me, and even though in the back of my mind I knew it wasn't true, I couldn't believe that someone who loved me would talk to me that way. There must have been a WHY. For this person, I believe part of it was self-inflicted shame because of harmful choices he was making and hiding from me.
Answering the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and HOW helps you know if what someone is saying is worth holding on to, but the WHY helps you understand. The WHY allows you to have compassion for that person - enough compassion to forgive and move forward.
Doesn't all this seem obvious? Yet, but it isn't. I have spoken to many people who are damaged, seemingly beyond repair, because of often-repeated hateful attacks on their character, talents, education, relationships and lifestyle. Even when they know that something isn't true, hearing it makes them doubt themselves and fear that it could be.
If you are one of these people, know you are doing better than you think you are and certainly better than how those who verbally abuse you make you feel.
Every person on this earth is a loved child of God. We all have that going for us. Jesus died for us all. Nobody is better than anybody else.
Let us all try to be humble and see our own weaknesses clearly before we point out others'. If we do point out others' faults, let us do it appropriately: in love and gentleness, with a true desire to bless others' lives.