Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will crush your spirit, break your heart and demolish your dreams. For those of you who have ever heard that old childhood adage, you know that isn’t quite how the saying goes. In fact, that playground saying taught us, as children, that words are meaningless and non-impactful. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Words ARE powerful. They mold and shape us. It was with words that God created the heavens and the earth. Words have the ability to create and destroy. That is why it is so hard to escape the clutches of words, particularly negative criticisms.

When trying to overcome the aftermath of criticism with positivity, the ratio is seldom 1:1. Rarely, do we reverse the effects of one incident of spoken negativity with only one kind word. Oftentimes, the antidote for the venomous sting of harsh words is a superfluous amount of positive affirmations. Our human nature has a natural proclivity to negativity. We would sooner believe the worse about ourselves (and others) before subscribing to a kinder truth. Why do we accept harsh words as true, and why do we deliver them as fact? One of the best answers to that question came to me from a quote in Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s book “The Great Gatsby:”

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Many of us are like Tom and Daisy. We are careless and reckless, particularly with our words. We go through life regurgitating our unstrained thoughts on our unsuspecting victims and then we retreat into our ignorance, our wealth, and in some cases, our apologies. We hide behind popular colloquialism like, “I keep it real” or “I call it as I see it.” Here’s a truth: We don’t just get to impose our “truths” on others. We don’t have a right to just say what we feel—uncensored, unadulterated and unfiltered. Our words should edify and administer grace to those hearing it (Ephesians 4:29). It should not cause people to retreat into despair and desperation. We should also note that not everyone is equipped or called to deliver criticism. Criticism that is truly meant to correct should be delivered with love and with consideration given to the appropriate timing. Like they say, “timing is everything.” Constructive criticism should also be devoid of hatred, pride and/or malice. In other words, it should come from a good place.

In a perfect world, people would have tact and decorum. But our world, and the people in it, are far from perfect. So what can you do to disarm the sting of hurtful words? Below are my top ten ways.

  1. Know who God is!
  2. Know who you are! Know that everyone on this earth, including you, was made on purpose and for a purpose. You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).
  3. Know that you are not perfect, and that’s okay. Know that it is okay to be human.
  4. Know that not every criticism is a personal attack. Sometimes, other people have issues that have nothing to do with you.
  5. Learn to be introspective. Sometimes, you have to learn to look deeper at yourself. Even criticisms that come from a negative place might have some merit. Weigh the message and the source. Apply what’s applicable and discard the rest. The person you are today should always strive to be better than yesterday’s version.
  6. Know that you cannot please everybody. Strive to be your best, but know that some people will always be disappointed.
  7. Learn to laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  8. Learn to laugh at others. Don’t always take people too seriously.
  9. Develop relationships with people who will keep you morally, spiritually and personally accountable.
  10. Don’t just wait for others to affirm you, compliment yourself. Sometimes, you have to learn how to encourage yourself.