Morning friend,

We are sick at our house. Prayers appreciated. It’s been a tough few weeks.

Today’s Question: How can I unhook myself from getting offended by others' abusive words and false accusations? 

Answer: What a great question. Instead of asking “How can I get someone to stop falsely accusing me” or “How can I get someone to speak more respectfully or honestly” or even “Why are they treating me this way?” you asked the only question that you have any control over.

The answer is simple and yet difficult to put into practice. Simply, you have to stop caring so much about what other people say or think about you. When you stop over-caring, becoming indifferent to other people’s opinions, words, or thoughts, you will no longer get hooked. For most Christian women, this is a hard pill to swallow.

Women are natural connectors. God made us that way. We want people to like us, believe us, and validate us. We care about what they say and think, especially the people in our life who we call family and friends. When we are maligned, attacked, blamed, accused, invalidated, unheard, disregarded, and ignored it hurts our heart (and our ego). But even when these behaviors are done by strangers (such as internet trolls) we can feel offended, get anxious, lose sleep and start defending ourselves. I know. I have fallen into caring too much about what other people think.

You asked a how question. How do you get yourself unhooked so that you stop caring (too much) what other people say and think about you? Here are a few things I have found helpful. That doesn’t mean ugly words don’t ever sting when they smack you, but the sting no longer hooks you like it once did. Now you know how to shake someone else’s words or actions off quicker. Here are two steps forward.

1. Ultimately, other than God, the person who must care the most about who you are, what you think, and how you behave is you. Once you get crystal clear on becoming a woman YOU are proud of, other people’s words and opinions are not as powerful. When you are clear on who you are and internally validate your own decisions or actions, other people will disagree. They may disparage and criticize you. But when you are confident of what you are doing or the decisions you have made, their words lose their power to control you.

I remember feeling the fear of “man” when I wrote my book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. In it, I said that I believed abuse was grounds for divorce. No conservative Christian author had said that before. I prayed. I studied. I consulted with Biblical theologians that I respected. And at the end of the day, I had to speak the truth as I saw it.

But who was I? I was just a woman. Not a Biblical scholar or a theologian. But I stood by what I believed was true of God’s character and God’s word. Believe me, I had my critics, both constructive and destructive. I have not wavered in my stand. I don’t need those who disagree with me to like me, approve of me, validate me or support me for me in order for me to be strong. God makes me strong. (Psalm 89:17) 

This journey of self-knowing, self-awareness, self-discovery and self-growth is often opposite to what many conservative Christian women have been taught or believed is good for them. Taking the time and energy to know yourself or be true to yourself has often been seen as selfish, self-seeking, and even sinful. But that’s not true. Women are created by God to be unique people, created in his image, for his purposes (just like a man). As women, we are not simply created to be “helpers” to men, but co-equal in representing God’s image to the world. (Genesis 1:27) God created people to have choices about who we are, what we do, as well how we live. 

[Tweet “When we allow other people to define us as unworthy, or not enough, or evil, or stupid, we give them power over us that they should not have.”]

Throughout history, there have always been oppressive leaders, cultures, and regimes that have not allowed certain people groups full expression of their God-given humanity. People of color, Jews, slaves, and women have historically been marginalized or the “oppressed” even within the pages of God’s Word. But being the oppressed does not mean that oppression is God’s will or God’s design for any people group. God's word is clear. He is on the side of the oppressed, never on the side of the oppressor. 

Here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself to get started on this journey. It’s a fearsome thing to assume ownership of your own feelings, your own desires, your own goals, and values as well as how you want to show up and live your one precious life. It feels easier to defer that responsibility to others and stay dependent and passive. But that keeps you hooked. Plus, that is not God’s will for you as you mature into an adult. 

Here are some starter questions to help get you to pay attention to what’s inside as well as to get to know your authentic self.

How do I feel about ……..? It could be how do I feel about myself? Or my marriage, or my parenting. Or whatever else. Are you satisfied? Happy? Miserable? Anxious? Pay attention. Your feelings inform you.

Are the choices I make aligned with my authentic self? Or am I living to please or accommodate someone else? Do I compromise me in order to get someone’s approval, love, or validation? Is this a pattern for me?

What is important to me? Do I know? Am I willing to stand up for myself, even if someone doesn’t think that should be important to me? Am I validating my own self or am I waiting for others to continually define my value and worth?

Do I do live from fear or faith and love most of the time?

Remember, this self-exploration, the self-knowing journey has often been labeled selfish and unbiblical. Yet, John Calvin, a great theologian said this:

[Tweet ““Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God.” – John Calvin”]

2. With all that said, sometimes the harshest words are something we need to pay attention to without being hooked by them. We would love for everyone to give us feedback in the kindness, most positive way, but that is not reality.

Sometimes the truth is we are not acting in our best self. We are reacting negatively. We are sinning. We are doing things that violate our own values or moral code of action. When someone calls us out on that, we can feel offended, or…… we can feel grateful. Hebrews 3:13 reminds us that we all need truth-tellers in our life lest anyone of us become self-deceived. (See also Psalm 141:5).

Balaam was confronted by a donkey. (Numbers 22:22-39). God uses all kinds of people or situations to wake us up. These moments can be humiliating but they are for our good. They are times for reflection and if needed, repentance. It’s not a time for defending and protecting our ego. 

When Nathan confronted David on his abuse of power over Bathsheba, David saw his self-deception and sin and repented. (2 Samuel 12). We all mess up. No one is perfect. You are not perfect. You will do things that are contrary to the person you want to be, contrary to the person that God calls you to be.

When someone has the courage to call you out, be grateful and reflect. What do you need to do to course-correct? To be more of the person you want to be? Who God calls you to be? Not who the other person tells you to be.

If you take these two steps and put them into practice what would that look like for you? First, you would do the work to define you. Who are you? What’s important to you? What do you stand for? What do you stand against? Once you are clear on that, if other people disagree or criticize you, at least you know that you are standing firm and being authentically you, no more pretending.

Second, if you’ve done the work of defining yourself – what’s important to you, how you want to live your best life, or how you want to show up…and someone is critical of that, take a breath and give yourself a moment to reflect. Is there any truth in what they have to say? Are you being criticized or disparaged because you’re not aligned with the person you want to be or because they disagree with you, or don’t like what you’re doing?

If you are in alignment with what you are doing, thinking, or believing, then you must learn to shake off their words because their words are meant to break you into someone they can define and control. They want to be god for you by defining your worth, value, and purpose. Your job is to not let that happen.

Friend, what other ways have you learned to detach from criticism or the need for other people to approve, validate or like who you are or what you think or do?

13 Comments

  1. Sara on January 10, 2022 at 9:59 pm

    Praying for complete healing for you and your family Leslie. Your book & Conquer group have been freeing & life-changing for me. God bless you for all you’ve done & continue to do. 🙂💕🙏

  2. Ellen on January 10, 2022 at 10:14 pm

    Great article. I hope you and your family are feeling better Leslie and I’ll be praying for you.

  3. Candace on January 10, 2022 at 10:51 pm

    This came to me at an opportune time. Thank you for this message .

  4. Margaret on January 10, 2022 at 11:19 pm

    Leslie, this is one of my favorite columns you have written. So true that in conservative Christianity we women are not encouraged to embark on the brave journey of self-awareness, learning to heed our own emotions, our needs, our gut. And defining our own purpose, what it means to be our best self. So much of this resonates with me. I find the first point more powerful because it is a message less heard in the church. Thank you for courage in standing up for what you believed.

  5. Lisa on January 11, 2022 at 11:44 am

    How can these criticisms be handled when someone close to you gives unnecessary feedback or responds so negatively? Basically character assassinates you. My tone can trigger such a negative reaction. It makes any response when not the response this person expected deemed bad, when in fact it’s just being completely honest.

  6. Chris on January 11, 2022 at 1:31 pm

    “God’s word is clear. He is on the side of the oppressed, never on the side of the oppressor.”
    What freedom there is in that statement. Thank you for your courage in telling the truth and teaching us to see and tell the truth. Along the lines of divorce and the oppressed I would like to let you know about Mike Winger’s you tube channel and the 3hr plus long Biblical and Faith Historical teaching on divorce. It really just proves your point using the tools of scripture.

  7. Elaine on January 11, 2022 at 1:58 pm

    Thank you! I really needed this right now. I have to put this into practice. I believe it’s the answer to the prayer I’ve been praying this week. I’ll be praying for healing for you and your family. Blessings!

  8. Lois on January 11, 2022 at 3:31 pm

    Just a few thoughts of how I am learning to be my best self: 1) Is to practice guarding my heart before meeting this difficult person. I easily would rather avoid this person/relative/church attender, but it just isn’t always possible. When guarding my heart, I would also “prepare my mind” and say, I know this person is negative(critical…etc) and 2) I can choose to not get hooked by not giving them too much information, but I can choose my words carefully. I work to just be factual, or say something like ” I choose not to say.”, or attempt to change the subject. 3) The most difficult thing to do is to stay firm and believe in what I am thinking is correct and not out of making peace agree when I do not. 4) So it is a challenge to keep at peace in my heart toward that person and just let go of the expectation that they will consider my thoughts as valid. It helps to let go of the hope that we could agree… so I just say little to give them ammunition and I choose not to argue or explain myself. I rather just say, “I will just have to believe that we will disagree, I accept that.” [This statement has been a source of great irritation to the challenging person.] 5) I also guard my heart and accept the fact that even when I do everything possible not to get hooked by their contentions that they will try other manipulative means like “scoffing” or “insults” or “cut downs.”(So, when they are still hurtful in response to my careful words, I am prepared and not surprised by it.) It is unfortunate that that is how they choose to behave, but 6) I need to kindly keep my emotional and mental self separate. I say kindly because that, by God’s grace, I can still serve them a meal without agreeing with them and I can be emotionally distant. I believe this is the beginning of feeling integrity. (I welcome your comments or tweaks on how to live better with those who sin against us) It is so hard, but so freeing and fun when I remember to practice these things and see God in it all.

  9. Bill on January 12, 2022 at 12:45 pm

    First off, it took me a bit to actually hear the message of this as I’m a guy and the general assumption is that men have no issues with being controlled or figuring out who they are. I assure you this is not true. This is pretty amazing stuff. I struggle to see my value and purpose. I was controlled by my mother growing up such that I never knew what it was to have an opinion. Opinions were things that were evil or at the very least disrespectful. There was no way to express an opinion that differed from hers, and as such, I never learned who I was. I’ve been married for 20 years and we’re really struggling because I have transferred the control role to my wife. I am learning that I am valuable and chosen by God, but my self esteem is very slow at growing. The enemy of my soul wants to keep me weak and ineffective, but I know that I need to step up and stand on my own two feet. It’s something that I am quite terrified of. To allow myself to be quiet and listen to what the Spirit says to me is not something I do often enough. He reminded me that I was chosen before the foundations of the Earth (Eph 1:4) Thanks for this!

    • Leslie Vernick on January 12, 2022 at 6:37 pm

      You’re so right, men have also not always done their own internal work to figure out who God make them to be/become. That is our work to do of maturing into a healthy adult. Good for you that you are learning this and taking steps forward. You will like yourself better as you do this, even if other’s are critical or disappointed that you are not as easy to control or manipulate.

  10. Mary on February 1, 2022 at 3:39 pm

    Say”Not my monkey not my circus”
    To unhook.

    I redirect to 10 things to be thankful for…list my quality friends and what they say about me. Keep positive
    Go for walk

    I try to find 1 thing about them to be thankful for to distrigger the anger.

    I speak out loud daily my big circle values. Call them out like I am living in that victory of the finished work of my big circle character
    As I keep plowing for that line of saying what God says and doing what God says

    I run my race for Gods approval not man’s.
    That way I am loving God self and man

  11. Bonnie on February 19, 2022 at 12:21 pm

    I have lost myself at least for the last 20 years. Your words are powerful and healing. Thank you for speaking the truth in love.

  12. RJ on March 20, 2022 at 11:21 am

    All helpful tips in your comments. Biggest truths that have helped me: I’m not responsible for someone else’s thoughts or feelings, only my own. I can’t control others falesly accusing me, I can only choose to respond well. If I am right with God, that is the most important. My spouse may be unhappy w me, but if I’ve done nothing wrong, I can rest easier knowing I’m right with God. Praying for the person who’s hurting me helps, too.

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