Are you being crushed by the critics?

Lately a common theme has been coming up in our household. This year my husband obtained his dream job that incorporates majority of his strengths: organization, event planning, marketing, creativity, public speaking, sales,  networking, design, planning, and budgeting (he’s pretty amazing, guys). But there is a level of public eye and political involvement as well. Anyone who knows him understands he is a very private person and does not desire to be in the spotlight – but he owns it well. 

In addition, I have been trying to expand my creativity in my photography, branding, and photoshopping. This creative push brings about new moments of insecurity and fear. It’s this dichotomy of truly putting myself out there, raw and open and vulnerable, but also trying not to put its value in the hands of others. Creatives want to be appreciated and understood but not at the cost of our authenticity.  So I stand, alone,  in the wilderness and push away those nagging thoughts: “Will anyone like this?” “What will they say?” “What if it falls flat?  It’s a difficult task to add your own value to something despite what anyone else may say about it. Dare I draw the same parallel with God’s work and his relationship to us as humans: He created it.  He added priceless value to it, no matter what other people say about it. I’ll never be able to please everyone- and if I have pleased everyone then I haven’t been completely honest in my work. Not even your own stomach agrees with the things your mouth likes at times- what’s that phrase? “What is sour to the mouth is sweet to the stomach; what is sweet to the mouth is sour to the stomach. 

All that to say: our common theme as we both work our whole selves into our projects is this: the critics are here and waiting with baited breath to take down our creations. The tongue is described in accurate detail in God’s word: it is as sharp as a razor, breaking the spirit, devising destruction. It cannot be tamed as it is restless and full of poison- including the keyboard critics. There’s something about typing behind a screen that gives people the unveiled permission to lay out their evil and hate without restraint. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for freedom of speech. But there is a difference between freedom of speech and the freedom to attack and destroy.  I appreciate those who are willing to stand up and fight for causes with relentless pursuit -but there are ways to go about this- the legal system, donating time and energy to charities- but keyboard cowards do not add value. 

In contrast, we also have the power to build up and create with our words.  They can heal, create, soothe, comfort, support, and encourage. 

One of my heroes is Brené Brown.  This wouldn’t be a proper blog post without mentioning her, hah! She reminded the world of the famous speech by Teddy Roosevelt, a late hero of mine. This speech is the hinge of her book, Daring Greatly. Besides Teddy’s valor and impressionable mustache, he made an impact on me with his words. I know this was Devine intervention because the first time I read it, I saw it more times that same week during a difficult season: hanging in a lawyers office, Pinterest, my book… it smacked me in the face and I fell more in love with it every time:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I tell myself and my husband when we face someone who is being critical of our work: is this person in the stands or are they in the arena with us?  If they are in the stands (or behind their computer) their words are of no worth or value to us. We see their preverbal pile of stinking poop on a platter they are trying to present to us, sometimes with smiles on their faces. And we don’t stretch out our arms in acceptance to take the poo platter and bring it inside to stink up our house. We simply say “no thanks- I’m currently not accepting poo platters at this time” and try not to dwell on it. But if this person is in the arena with us- if they are volunteering putting 509 chairs away on a cold night outside at 10pm- or brainstorming I our committee meetings and helping make decisions — or sweeping the streets at 11pm – then they are getting their butts kicked right along with us. They are failing and rising with us. They are rumbling and fighting along side us. Those are the people we need their feedback. Because their view in the arena, through their dust and sweat dripping down their faces, is a much different view from those in the stands. 

The other interesting thing that happens when you join those in the arena- suddenly you can see their faces- dirt and all. You can see that they’ve fallen many times by how dusty they are. Up in the stands they were mere ant-like creatures running around. But now, you’re closer to them. You learn their names. You see their pain and struggles and they become human. Moving in and moving closer to people keeps their humanity real.  You see they are imperfect and struggling, just like you. 

There is a psychological thought experiment called the “trolley problem.” In this theory there is a moral dilemma where you see a runaway trolley with 5 people in it, headed to their demise.  The track divides ahead into two paths. In one direction the trolley will stop because there is a person in the way of the tracks.  This path will kill the one person but save the five.  The other path is a cement wall.  This route will save the one but kill the 5 trolley passengers. You are standing next to the lever that controls whether the trolley continues on its track to kill the one person or allow the trolley to run into the wall.   Do you kill the one person to save five people, allowing the trolley to stop? If you choose the option to kill the one person to save the five people using simply the lever it’s a difficult moral choice but most people would use that option under the utilitarian principle. On the other hand, if you were physically at the train station and you had to push someone onto the tracks to save the five people it would be a much more difficult decision being physically closer to that same person.  The theory implies that the closer we are to people physically and emotionally the more difficult it is for most people to cause harm to that person.  But if you can remain distant, its as if the guilt has less emotional impact.  Thus, it’s much easier to express disgust through text, email, or social media than if you were in person.  And if you were involved in the process/committee/event it’s easier to give the people grace because you see them at work.  You know they’ve been trying their best and can assume good will.  This is why I love Napoleon Hill’s quote: “No one is impressed with the won-lost record of the referee.”

There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” -Aristotle

There will always be people in the stands, hurling their hatred. But you know deep in your heart if you’re the one in the arena of your life, you are making a difference. You are the value.

So I implore us all: If you see a cause or a need in your community, get involved.  Put on your boots and hat (cuz we’re in Oklahoma y’all) and walk down the stands into the arena.  Get dirty.  Fight along side your community members.  It’s only then you will have a deeper appreciation, richer relationships, and better success over all.  

If you can’t make it into the arena, grab a front row seat in the stands and shout as loud as you can to those in the arena encouraging words, throw roses, snacks, and long distance hugs to them- they need it!


“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:11‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

“The tongue that heals is a tree of life, but a devious tongue breaks the spirit.” Proverbs 15:4 HCSB

“Like a sharpened razor, your tongue devises destruction, working treachery.” Psalms 52:2 HCSB

“You love any words that destroy, you treacherous tongue!” Psalms 52:4 HCSB

“but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:8 HCSB

“Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs‬ ‭18:21‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

What it means to have boundaries with yourself

This one single topic I believe can change your life forever.  Stay with me here, this isn’t an infomercial.  I want to share with you the idea that the boundaries you have with yourself can drastically affect the relationships you have with yourself, with God, with your friends, family, coworkers.  How in the world do you have a boundary with yourself?  What is a boundary anyways?

First we need to define what a boundary is.  It’s much like a house with a yard and a fence.  I often think of my emotional self as a “house” with different “rooms” (parts of myself).  I also have a “porch” where decisions take place: It’s there that I decide what I’m willing to take inside my “house” (my emotional self).  For example, when someone gives me a compliment I literally picture it as someone giving me flowers on my door step.  I choose to bring them inside to admire them for a while. Those flowers (compliments) look good, smell good, and brighten my day in my home but do not determine its worth or valueMy house is the same whether or not there are flowers inside.  Another example would be when some people try to hand me a heaping pile of steaming poo that also looks like a guilt trip.  I can choose to bring it inside into my house where I have to smell it and hold it and cry over the effects of this lingering gift.  Or I can stand on my porch and hand it right back to them and say “currently I am not accepting guilt trips.”  No poo in my house!  But outside my house is my yard with a fence. It separates me from other people, everyone in fact.  I am the only one who lives in my house and it is my job to protect it.  Sometimes I have neighbors on the other side of my fence that I call friends and family who help me from time to time but ultimately this is my responsibility to decide who comes in and out.  If someone crosses that line without being invited there will be consequences.  Now, don’t get me wrong I do let people in.  Those people have my trust and I allow them into my home, some people different rooms than others.  This is the vulnerability glue that holds us together with other humans.  It is part of our ingrained primal instincts to be a part of our herd, our humanness.  Some let others come and go in and out of their house, leaving it in ruins, with little value because they didn’t protect their fence line and then resent them for ruining their house.  Others have let no one in their house in years because someone tried to burn it down once- so they live like hoarders with piles of stuff they haven’t gone through.  So much so, they can’t even walk around, they just stay in one room.  (Are you following, this analogy is getting deep…)

So now we are operating under the assumption that our emotional selves are a house with one owner and it is our job to protect the house, yard and fence.  What happens when someone crosses it uninvited? It really depends on what it is. Maybe the person didn’t see it – they didn’t know it was there and you just need to bring it to their attention- in a kind way.  Like “Hey I saw you texted me last night.  I turn my ringer off at 8:30 so I won’t be answering any texts or phone calls after that.”  Or maybe you need to reinforce it:  “Like I said before, I don’t want your wet bathing suit to be left on the floor.  Please respect our household rules or there will be consequences.” But sometimes people do not respect your boundaries and mow over them- almost challenging you to enforce them: “Next time you choose to come to my house without calling me first you will not be allowed in.”

The main thing that makes a boundary a boundary isn’t the fence – it is what happens if someone crosses it. Otherwise, why would it be there? Consequences to boundaries ideally should be considered at the same time of placing the boundary; Although, sometimes you don’t have time to think about it, because you thought it wouldn’t be crossed. For instance, a guy grabs your butt at a party- do you slap them?  Tell them off?  Call the police and file a report?  The last one is a bit extreme but you get the point.  The consequence should be one that “fits” your conviction to the boundary. If you don’t want your mother-in-law absolutely to not give your children ice cream, and this is extremely important to you, then you may threaten that they may not spend time together unsupervised.  But this may not be an issue for others.

One reason I am in love with PD (personal development) is because I realized I get to grow and learn and become a better version of myself through teaching myself things like boundaries.  A fascination with psychology of humans, I suppose.  Because, like many others, I didn’t grow up in a household where these things were talked about, or even known about.  I am so grateful and honored that I get to be the one to stop these patterns of behavior and instill them in later generations.  I get to alter the course of my own family and help others do the same.  I am by no means perfect and need do overs, permission slips to be human, and have to clean up messy deliveries of information.  But that’s ok because that means that I’m trying and that I care.

Which brings me to my main point- we know how to have boundaries with other people and the consequences but how do we have boundaries with ourselves?  This is something so many people struggle with and it looks like self-control– which is a piece of boundaries anyways. It takes self-control to not blow up on your husband for not putting his dishes in the sink.  Instead of yelling (which is what we want to do because we probably feel unappreciated) is realizing first that it is NORMAL that we want to yell- we are being human.  But we have evolved and realize that he is also human, we assume he did not have ill-willed intention toward you, we give him grace and say “Hey babe, I saw you left your dishes in the sink after dinner.  It would really mean a lot to me if you put them in the dishwasher next time.”  Chances are when your husband, who loves and cares for you, hears that kind request, instead of yelling, he will probably respond with a willingness to help- rather than look for a spiteful defense from the attack of all the yelling.

Grace + Self-control + Kindness = Boundaries with self (aka a term I’m going to coin as Autogenous Boundaries).

What does this look like?

I go through a process in my head.  For an easy example let’s say there’s a warm chocolate chip cookie in the breakroom at work. I’ve been on a diet and lost two pounds and really I don’t want to eat the cookie because I know it will derail the rest of the day.  But my salad is gone from my stomach already and I have 3 hours left of work.  So first I acknowledge my primal human self: “Of course you want to have that cookie! It looks and smells so good and you’re hungry!”  Then I set the Autogenous Boundary: “But the reality is you know what will happen if you eat the cookie, it negates the salad you worked so hard to choke down and will probably come with a autogenous guilt trip which will mean a stop for some fried chicken on the way home.  So if you decide to eat that cookie you will regret it and not lose the weight OR you will have to have that protein shake for dinner (consequences).”  It sounds simple because it is.

Something I was not taught, but now that I am in my thirties, I am fortunate to have learned what types and flavors of abuse there are: physical, emotional, spiritual, verbal, sexual, and there may be more.  I wish everyone was taught not to accept certain behaviors but also how to have Autogenous Boundaries to avoid it themselves.  Behaviors I may have used to but no longer tolerate without exception are:

  • Violations of my body (physical or sexual aggression or threats)
  • Name calling and belittling
  • Violent intimidation, threats, or violent behavior (slamming doors, throwing things, breaking things, punching things)
  • False accusations of my intentions
  • Snarky comments
  • Blaming
  • Guilt trips
  • “Always and never” statements
  • Cursing
  • Voice raising
  • Actual finger pointing
  • Threat of harm to myself or other living things, including suicide

These things stay on the other side of the fence and if they occur all kinds of alarms get set off. Once, I went to buy a clock from someone.  It was not as described and was broken.  I politely declined to buy the piece.  They then started cursing, yelling, and threatening to “beat up” my husband who was not present.  I quickly removed myself from the scene and filed a police report.  While some might say “he called you a mean name get over it,” he threatened the safety of my husband and disrespected my boundary of how I feel I deserve to be treated.  You teach people how to treat you based on what you tolerate- what you allow will continue. That is a necessary piece to drive the whole idea of boundaries- your house has to be worth protection TO YOU, regardless of the value others place on your house.  (Click on What God Says About Me for how to find value in your house).  It is how you (and God) value your house- whether it is a pristine mansion or a shaky shack- it’s up to you to place enough value on it to protect it.  Whatever kind of house you have emotionally it is worth protecting at all costs.  Until you can believe that, you will not have the stamina to protect it.  If you don’t currently identify with that statement: “my (emotional) house is worth protecting at all costs,” you can use progressive language like “I’m figuring out how to value my house,” or “I’m on my way to see what it looks like to value my house in order to protect it.” If you are consistent then eventually you can believe it.

So now we have our valuable house with a yard and fence and we are standing on the porch with a gun. Okay, maybe not a gun, maybe welcoming arms with a discerning alarm system.  These alarm systems are like muscles – the more you use them the better they become.  So don’t beat yourself up if you are “trigger happy” when you first start to protect your fence line.  But trust your gut- if it smells fishy it’s usuallya fish.

All this lead up to say: Autogenous Boundaries are like boundaries with others, except with yourself. Acknowledge the human wants and gut reactions.  Give yourself grace and an allowance to be a human.  Then understand the consequences and don’t allow yourself to fall into patterns of behavior because you didn’t have good boundaries with yourself.  This is how people gain weight, get lazy at work, gain additions, quit brushing their teeth, live their life being swallowed in unnecessary guilt and shame, and tolerate being a people-pleasing doormat.  (How to be a Christian without being a doormat). I have heard myself in an argument say in my head “no self, you’re not going to say that!” Or “If you don’t brush your teeth I’m going to spank you!”-not a real consequence.  But what about a mom who has a child with an addiction: “Of course you want to give him money to get his car out of impound, but we are not going to do that because he has to suffer the consequences of his own actions.”  Or the very rampant problem, infidelity?  Go through the process: “Of course you want to go flirt with the security guard at work. You have been going through a lot in your marriage lately.  It’s human to crave belonging.  BUT there are some SERIOUS consequences to that- so we are not going to do that.  We will instead avoid the temptation and take the stairs.”  (Just to clarify that was a made up scenario). But you get the idea.

If we can give ourselves grace for our human wants, and even primal needs, then we can better set behavioral boundaries with ourselves- whether it’s about our weight, our arguments, our addictions, or our relationships. That understanding will then free us to live our best life- one that we can be proud of.

 “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us. power, love, and self-discipline.” -II Timothy 1:7

Photo credit: Lauren Garrison Photography