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.
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:
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?