Don’t you just love being criticized? I don’t know about you but it is definitely not one of my favorite pastimes. However, there is value in being critiqued. External criticism shines a light on our blind spots where we might not otherwise see areas needed for improvement. Constructive criticism is feedback we receive that is useful, meant to help us improve, and isn’t focused on the personal gain of the person providing it. On the other hand, all criticism isn’t edifying. Destructive criticism is when someone expresses disapproval for what they perceive as your mistakes or shortcomings. It is important for us to discern whether or not apply or reject the criticism. I’ve had personal experience with absorbing destructive criticism (because I didn’t recognize what it was) that I’ll share in a moment.
Consider these questions to determine whether you’re receiving constructive or destructive criticism:
Who’s the source?
Think about your relationship with this person. If you just met them, they may not have enough knowledge about you to provide information that accurately reflects you. Do they care about you? Are they knowledgeable in what they’re critiquing you about? Think about their background, expertise, education, successes, and longevity in the topic. Does this information make you feel that they’re a credible source? Are they qualified to be providing feedback about this?
Where is their perspective coming from?
Studies show that different people can react to the same situation differently. Therefore, it is important to gauge the point of view from whomever is providing the criticism. People’s perspectives are shaped by their upbringing, personal experience, religious beliefs, and overall personality. Pay close attention to their level of objectivity. In other words, are they truly able to make sound judgments outside of their own feelings, interpretations, and biases? If not, then they’re only seeing the world through their own rose tinted glasses, which leaves no room for them actually see you. Take feedback from people who focus on you, stick to the facts, and don’t get defensive during the course of the conversation.
Do they have your best interest at heart?
To have your best interest at heart means someone wants to help you succeed and reach your goals despite how it affects them. They are genuinely taking a stake in helping you grow regardless of whether they will benefit from it. This means that they’ll give honest (not rude or brutally honest) feedback as it is the only way to get to truly address an issue and bring about change. You will also notice that this person won’t broadcast to the world that they helped you and won’t take credit once the improvements start to show. Lastly, they won't expect anything in return. There shouldn’t be any “I did this for you so you I expect you to help me move next month.”
Realize when it’s just an opinion
Not only is everyone entitled to their opinion, but they’re very proud of it too. However, their opinions are derived from their value systems and agendas. Their values may be on a completely different wavelength than yours. Therefore, it’s imperative to STAY TRUE TO WHO YOU ARE! Otherwise, you will be miserable trying to conform to someone else’s standards. What if their opinions are based on shallow ideas or bitterness from bad decisions that they’ve made? That increases the likelihood that you will make bad decisions or you will lose who you are and forego walking the path God paved for you.
In my own experience, I took on someone’s destructive criticism, disguised at constructive criticism, and adopted it to the point where I almost lost my way:
A few years ago, I was dating someone whom I admired and respected as he was a generally good person. So of course, I wanted to please him and ensure he was happy with me. I knew that we was a very vocal person so I just assumed his feedback was just blatant honesty. At first the criticism was subtle, “Can I see your eyes when we hang out today?”. Sounds sweet, right? Well, after time went on and comfortability set it, the requests became, “I think glasses on people makes them look ugly. You look better without your glasses”, “I really love your personality but your clothes are too loose.”, “Have you thought about getting new furniture?” I made adjustments; wearing my glasses left often, getting rid of some clothes and buying more form fitting items, and buying new bedding and kitchen chairs. Although I was focusing on allocating money toward other things, I figured I could go ahead and fix these things in the name of constructive criticism. Maybe he was right and I needed not to put these things off, I thought. After a while, the criticisms became more frequent and personal. The tipping point came with the stern focus on my eyebrows. One day he caressed my face and I thought he was just being sweet until he asked, “So, have you ever thought about filling in your eyebrows? They’re really thin.” What? Wait, there’s something wrong with my eyebrows? I became increasingly aware of eyebrows EVERYWHERE and I compared them with mine. Maybe he’s right and they are too thin? If I said I was going to shape them, he would strongly oppose. After much back and forth with my own conscious, I realized this was more than constructive criticism. I understand that Hollywood has set standards for what women’s eyebrows should look like, but, I like mine and I’m not changing them.
Before I started making any changes, I should have more carefully the questions above. Who is my source? Well, it was my boyfriend, whom I trusted, so I figured I should just change things based on his feedback. However, what I didn’t consider was his perspective. As I found out through time, my former mate had a different view of what beauty and style was that differed from mine. His standard derived from widely accepted societal trends which is different from how I view beauty and from what my priorities were. In essence, he was expressing his disapproval of me. Did he have my best interest at heart? He probably meant well but the criticism came from a place that was more about what pleased him rather than how the criticism would benefit me or help me grow. Lastly, I realized that he wanted me to change based on his opinion of what I should look like, which was based on a completely different value system than mine. Making permanent adjustments would be dissolving my own opinion and values which are no less important than his were.
What am I trying to say here? We need to filter the criticism we receive before we start making life changes from it. All of us are masterpieces in progress that could utilize constructive criticism to make more beautiful parts of our whole picture. However, don’t let it compromise the core of who you are. Afterall, each of us is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) in God’s own likeness and we have individualized purposes to carry out His glory.