Criticism’s mother

Once in a while, a perplexity that has fogged my brain for a long time suddenly clears. That happened to me last weekend when I attended Inspire, a women’s retreat in Indiana.

The keynote speaker spent her sessions giving us a good dose of much-needed Christian psychology. Understanding how we are put together and how we tend to process life is an incredibly helpful aid to living well.

One of the revelations in my heart and brain as she spoke had to do with contempt and what gives birth to a critical spirit.

By “a critical spirit” I’m not referring to the helpful and healthy kind of feedback that happens between people who love and trust each other. I’m talking about contemptuous criticism; the deeply wounding lack of approval and tearing down of a person at the most vulnerable level.

This kind of criticism, the kind that slices and shreds mercilessly, is born out of shame.

Shame is criticism’s mother.

Now I see clearly that trying to remove the contempt and criticism in myself will never work. If I try, shame will only give birth to more.

I also can’t stop others from criticizing me. I can’t please someone whose shame wants to choke me out.

In my next post, I want to tell you two stories from my life to illustrate how shame and contemptuous criticism have affected me, both in how I relate to others and also in how others relate to me. I want to look at possible solutions and hear your feedback. This is a journey in process for me.

How have shame and criticism affected you?

To the blog readers who came and introduced yourselves to me at Inspire: THANK YOU! I only wish I had been able to sit down for a long talk with each of you! I savored each connection as a gift from God.

15 thoughts on “Criticism’s mother

  1. trevaeicher

    Thinking this over, and it makes a lot of sense to me. It is much easier for me to be critical of other people when I am fighting my own demons, so to speak. Eagerly waiting for your next post!


  2. Browsing

    Feeling ashamed and condemned can certainly lead to self-beratement. If our childhood was filled with authority figures who thought they were training and disciplining us by engaging in that behavior, we might think that’s the way to motivate ourselves until God sets us free. We might even repeat that ugly pattern with our own children if that’s how we were raised, until God shows us his own parenting style and sets us free.

    People who rip other adults to shreds don’t seem motivated by their own shame, to me. I don’t really see that. They either don’t know God, or misrepresent Him. They seem intent on causing shame, and intent on having nothing to do with experiencing appropriate guilt themselves. A desire to dominate, manipulate, intimidate, and control are all hallmarks of witchcraft and the way of the world. Jesus modeled authority in serving in love, and his submission and headship provide us with the way to direct and receive direction. He tells us if we’ve seen him, we’ve seen the Father, and he tells us the parable of the father with two sons to show us what grace in parenting is like, amongst other things. “Damaged people damage people” is a current catch-phrase. You have to wonder how many people who tear down others actually think God is that kind of father, and that their behavior is pleasing to Him. I’ve known several church members with backgrounds in Freemasonry and other occult practices who act like that. Not properly understanding the gospel of salvation by grace, they’re unholy agents of condemnation and the worst legalists I’ve ever encountered. They look down on everyone who breaks “the rules” they don’t, and “the rules” they themselves break are “understandable mistakes.”

    The church often does a poor job of teaching about grace, and the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin. Biblical definitions of guilt, conviction, shame, condemnation, and grace are always needed, because the enemy is more than willing to counterfeit them with perverse alternatives. “Criticism” can mean many things, depending on to whom you speak. “Feedback” is sometimes asked for, but not received by people who are learning. Pastors sometimes hate being shown where they’re contradicting the Bible, even though they should want that from a congregation. We need to speak the truth in love, and know the difference between our own opinion and the truth. Samuel said that stubbornness is as the sin of idolatry, and it’s been explained that’s because stubborn people make idols of their opinions.

    I was studying Zephaniah this morning, and was struck by how many times God faults his people for refusing to receive his correction. Humility and pride determine our response to the Lord’s correction. When others correct or criticize us, we need to take it to the Lord to get his perspective and then respond accordingly. It takes a mature relationship with God to have his peace when others would rob us of it, and it takes maturity to respond to them appropriately. As it says in Hebrews 6, “let us go on to maturity!”


    1. Shame may not always be the motivator, I agree, especially in cold-hearted and evil people. I do not rule out the possibility of spiritual darkness, either.

      What surprises me, though, is how much shame I see in myself and in others whom I love. Serving out of love rather than shame looks and feels entirely different.


      1. browsing

        The root of inappropriate shame in Christians almost always is based on a poor understanding of who our heavenly father is. We were either taught wrongly, or we believe wrongly, based on our life experiences, and the enemies lies. God is not the absent clock-maker who wound things up and then took a vacation in another galaxy, leaving us to do good deeds until he returns and we give account. We must pursue healing for our image of “father,” and cry out for help for our unbelief until our internal definition lines up with Biblical reality. We’re not to serve him from a distance; we’re to abide in Him and face everything in His strength as we rest in His presence in our everyday lives.

        Jesus died so we could be reconciled to him now, and have His father as our father, and have fellowship with the father and son through the Holy Spirit, right now. Yet many Christians don’t feel very safe when they think of intimacy with him, or they don’t care about it and prefer to think God exists to make all their dreams come true as they “work out their destiny.”

        Christians who think God loves them but doesn’t particularly like them often don’t understand how to view and address their sinful nature and ongoing tendency to sin once they begin a relationship with him. They picture his disapproval and disappointment, and think their “lovability” is determined only by perfection. When we begin to understand his love for us existed while we were still his enemies, we start to understand his love does not fluctuate as we learn to yield and submit and take the help he offers us when faced with temptation. When we do sin, he still loves us, and beckons us to reconciliation. When we confess, he is faithful to forgive. The angels rejoice over our repentance. There is no condemnation for those in Christ.

        Yesterday I heard a Christian song that attempted to deal with shame in a wrong way. The chorus trivialized sin, saying we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we do “x,y, and z,” with x,y,and z being things the singer didn’t think were very serious. Sin is always serious. So is the remedy. Jesus bore our punishment, and his blood provides the cleansing. When we disobey, our shame is to motivate us to move forward in reconciliation immediately; it is not the reason to avoid him because we think he doesn’t like us any more. All the provision for our reconciliation was made by him because he loves us. We can’t add anything to it by trying to make up for our sins by grounding ourselves and keeping a distance, or by doing good deeds to try to get back in his good graces. Grace is not earned, so we must fight to believe our father waits for us to turn back to him in humility after each sin, and waits to embrace us and forgive us after each confession. Shame is to be short-lived, not a life-style. The truth sets us free!


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