We hadn’t been married that long when my husband said, “Theresa why do you take everything so personally?”
Which offended me more than his previous comment had, which yes, I was taking personally.
Does this happen to you? Do you find yourself bristling, mentally arguing, and feeling beat up from other people’s comments? (And we are not talking about comments from our enemies or less liked tribespeople. We are talking about comments from people who love you. People like your mate, kids, friends, and co-workers?)
I know I did every time my husband tried to give me constructive criticism, offer reminders, give advice, or be helpful.
It happened with small thing.
“Turn on your blinker,” he would say while I was driving, and I would think he was putting down my driving ability.
It happened with bigger things.
“Do you think it’s the baby’s bedtime?” felt like he was questioning my ability as a mother.
“That dress does not look as good as some of your other ones. I wouldn’t wear it again,” made me think, “What does he know about fashion?
It didn’t take long before we fell into a predictable habit.
I would silently fume and bristle, and he would think I took everything to personally.
Now before you take sides, I want you to realize it was my perceptions about myself that was derailing me. His comments were just highlighting the false expectations I had of myself.
When our self-perception gets tied to our worth.
I grew up craving approval from my mother.
I also thought I needed to earn love. And one way to earn love from my mother and God was to be perfect. Or so I thought.
Being perfect was my goal. And for a short while I thought I was succeeding more than failing.
Then I got married. And then children came along.
And I slowly realized I was striving for the wind and was far from perfect. Ultimately it didn’t matter. Because God and others still loved me.
Eventually I realized that the dance my husband and I engaged in was partly my fault.
I would pout. Get silent. And sometimes lash back because I felt my husband was being critical, putting me down, and pointing out my faults / weaknesses. How could he love me if he started seeing my flaws? Or so I thought.
I was full of insecurity, and it was showing. Big time.
I was taking his advice, his reminders, his helpful opinions, and turning them into attacks and put downs.
I was putting me worth into my performance (my desire to perform at near perfection and feeling shame when I didn’t).
I wasn’t putting my worth in who God says I am. Worthy forever because he is forever worthy.
I wasn’t allowing myself to be human and make mistakes.
I was forgetting that God’s compassion never fails.
And I forgot my husband had compassion too, and that he saw my weaknesses and still loved me, just like God does.
It wasn’t all his fault.
My self-belief that I had to be perfect was tripping me up. Causing me to fall into self-shame, blaming others for my reactions, and the feeling of “not being enough” over and over again.
Hurtful words versus helpful words.
Advice. Helpful reminders. Different opinions. Criticism. All these can be hard to take graciously. Hard to hear. And I am talking about loving, constructive criticism, not mean-spirited criticism that is disguised as trying to help you put downs and attacks. (And yes, I know many of us have been on the receiving end of this type of negative and soul crushing criticism more than we can count. I am in no way condoning this type, nor do I approve of it masquerading as being helpful or loving. Because it is not.)
But sometimes those who love us are trying to help us in a loving manner. And we need to hear their words. And perceive their words as trying to be helpful, instead of instantly thinking they are finding fault with us and trying to shame us.
A lesson which took me awhile (okay years) to learn. And one I am still learning.
It is something I am trying to teach my kids. When I lovingly correct them, I am trying to help them. Yes, it can be hard to hear we are not as perfect as we believe ourselves to be, but to grow we need some loving feedback.
Not only did I need to change my perception about myself (needing to be perfect in order to be loved), but I also needed to change my perception about criticism (not all criticism is bad).
Now I am not saying I have achieved perfection in this area, or even success, but I will say I am getting better.
9 tips to deal with hurtful words.
Here are some things that have helped me deal with words that seem hard to hear. Words that I immediately bristle at and want to define as an attack:
1. Ask if there is any truth in what they are saying. If the truth meter does not register at least 60 -70% truth, then don’t waste your time trying to evaluate if their words can be useful. (They are probably just attacking you and speaking in anger.)
2. Pause to look at the situation from their point of view. Are they trying to help you? Remind you? Hurt you? Their wording may not be as mild as you would like (and something you would definitely tweak if you could), but are their intentions good and pure?
Separate what the person is saying from how they are saying it. My husband is direct, a man of few words. He gets right to the point, which tends to catch me off balance. I want a paragraph and maybe some side stepping before you step on my toes. But that is not his style. Over time he has tried to be less harsh and I have tried to not get so offended by his launching right into his message.
3. Limit your self-talk to the actions they are talking about. Not you as a person. Being late does not make you a bad person. It only makes us human. Don’t start beating yourself up and make it bigger in your mind when someone is only addressing an action.
4. Don’t get hooked by their comments. Separate yourself from the criticism. Look at it from outside your body, as if you are your friend, and evaluate what is said. Our instant response is often generated by our self-perceptions and past and may not be the intent of the speaker.
Ask yourself, what is the goal of the person who is speaking? To get you side railed. Upset you. Vent. Bring up the past. Help you. Etc.
5. Tell yourself the truth, especially God’s truth. You are more than your actions. Loved faults and all. Especially after harsh and critical words that leave you wounded.
6. Realize everyone is entitled to their own opinions, thoughts, and perceptions (which will often be different from yours). So, they don’t like your yellow paint. You do. Agree to disagree and try not to take it personally.
7. Take responsibility for only what you can control. Your own actions and thoughts. Not their thoughts, words, anger, perceptions, etc.
8. Try to catch yourself (even if it a day after the incident) when you jumping to shame and blame because that is how you were raised or because it is your default method or internal self-talk.
Determine if a false self-perception is tripping you up. Are you thinking you need to be perfect? That everyone is out to get you? That you are not loveable with faults? That if people only knew the truth they would not like or love you? That you will never be enough? Are you trying to prove your mother, father, coach, or someone else wrong?
9. Run the words or scenario past a friend and see how they interrupt the scenario.
I do this a lot with my sister. Having an unbiased opinion often provides a lot of clarity. Sometimes she reminds me that I am making too much out of the situation and to just let it go.
Change takes time.
I know this is a long list.
And no, neither your or I can do all of these tips with every situation, or even during the conversation. But we can do many of these after the conversation and see if our initial response was correct or false. We can see if we need to take the words to heart or toss them aside.
We can replay the scenario and decide what we would do next time. Which prepares us for more success in the future. And allows us to learn from the incident.
We can become more aware of the words others are using and how those words are causing us to miss-perceive things about our self and them.
Like always, give yourself grace. Lots of it. Life is a process of learning and growing.
So, celebrate your steps on this journey, no matter how small.
Thanks for stopping by. Keep remembering what’s important.
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Join the Discussion: Do you find yourself sensitive to words? How do you deal with hurtful words.