Criticism is a part of life -and not always a fun part of life. It is something we must all face -from friend or foe, family or stranger. The internet is replete with self-help articles on how to handle criticism without being offended. Sometimes, our pride and self-absorption get in the way, but other times our feelings may be triggered for very real reasons, and we should sit up and pay attention.
There are, in my mind, at least three types of critics and criticism.
First, there is the kind of criticism that involves a critic giving his or her person opinion about something you have done for the public. The goal is to give people an idea to the public so that they can decide if they want to spend their time and/or money checking out what you have done. Movie critics and book critics are examples of this. Most of us are not producing things for the public on a regular basis, so we usually don't always have to worry about this too much.
Second, there is the kind of criticism that is intended to be not only truthful but helpful. This can overlap with the first kind of criticism (sometimes public criticisms can provide feedback to help us improve). This can be hard to take, just as it is. Many of us struggle with various forms of pride or perfectionism. Still, this kind of criticism can be very good. It says in Proverbs 27:6, "The slap of a friend can be trusted to help you, but the kisses of an enemy are nothing but lies."
But third, there is the kind of criticism that intends to cut others down so that the critic can feel better about him or herself and draw attention away from their flaws, failures, and guilt. In other words, there are people out there who want to criticize you, and often do it in front of others, just so that you feel bad and are put on the defensive. This provides them a way to feel important, powerful, superior, and not so bad about themselves, while pointing the eyes of everybody (including themselves) away from their own sense of failure and toward you. Their goal is to always put the spotlight on someone else. And these people can be very good and very tricky at doing this, disguising and denying their motives and condemning you for getting upset, accusing you of being the one who has "issues".
For a long time, I confused the second and third types of critic and criticism -largely because the critic I have in mind would recognize I was upset and tell me that I was angry because I was perfectionistic or "didn't know how to handle criticism." Looking back, this was a half-truth used to manipulate me and avoid blame for what they were doing. The real reason I was angry was because they were (and still are) this third type of critic, whether they recognize it in themselves or not. I sensed that I was being manipulated and used as a scapegoat so that they could make themselves feel superior, get people on their "side", and probably avoid the guilt for their own failures. Once I finally listened to what I perceived, I began to realize how frequently they criticize and judge everybody around them. Despite what they say with their lips, I can only imagine that they are very unhappy people inside.
If a friend comes to me with criticism and they sincerely mean my good, it may be hard but I can listen. But you can sense when someone is doing something evil to you, can't you? So what do you do in those situations?
The temptation is to be drawn into the game, to defend yourself, to retaliate. But in so doing, you lose. Even if you somehow "beat" them this time around, just by playing their game you lose. You've lost the moment you utter your first word. You bit their hook. You played into their game. You gave validity to their foolishness and credibility to their lie.
But you don't have to play their game. Who cares if they make you look like a fool for a moment? You could be Jesus Himself and they would find a reason to accuse and criticize you. Jesus dealt with that all the time. But they will show themselves to be the fools in the long haul, especially if you refuse to play the game and refuse to answer according to their foolishness, thereby mocking their kangaroo court. These are childish games played by emotional children. You have flaws. Everybody does. You get things wrong sometimes. Everybody does. What makes you lose is when you bite the hook and engage in their senseless game of theirs. Time to say goodbye. This is your life, the life God (and God alone) has given you and will judge.
It is to Him whom you answer, and they will, too. Who will be found faithful? The one who "wins" the game by having the best comebacks, or the one who refuses to let those games distract them from being the person God wants them to be? Refuse to play the game. Refuse to retaliate. Stand in the truth and let them tarry on... for a while. If there is a grain of truth to anything they say, use it to bring yourself to God so that He can mold you even more.