Matthew Fish has been attending PCC for over 15 years. He works in mental health and has done youth work in the past. He is married to Natalie, who is on our staff team at PCC. Here are his thoughts...
I have noticed two things develop within me over the last 6 months that I am not used to.
Firstly is this strange feeling – an ‘oddness’, hard to label… hard to pinpoint what it is, but it is not nice. The feeling doesn’t really fit within a standard emotional vocab, but the best label I can find is “something is not right … something bad is going to happen”. Hardly surprising really!
The second thing is that I have been more critical of others, and I thought I’d share my thoughts.
In his book “Brain-Based Parenting”, Dan Hughes talks about what he terms ‘blocked care’. Within this concept, a parent can find it really hard to meet the needs of the infant when haven’t got their own needs met. He talks about the role of the Amygdala in the brain.
“Our brains rapidly assess our social environment for safety or danger using an automatic screening process that works under the radar of our conscious awareness….. called the amygdala, the brain filter for all incoming sensory information….
A key part of this is detecting potential threats in less that 1/10 of a second… if it detects a threat, it can instantly switch our brain from approach to avoidance or fight or freeze…. If the system does not detect any real threat, it activates our social approach system, engendering a sense of safety and promoting trust between people”.
Generally, there will be lots of potential threats for people in the current climate. Some shared, some idiosyncratic.
So with me, the threat I identify means my amygdala is activated. This means that I am more likely to interpret external things in a negative, or threatening way. I think this is why I am thinking more critically. I am more likely to see the danger and less likely to trust and ‘love’. What magnifies this is that this social avoidance that this will generate is practically law at the moment in the UK!
What can I / we do?
It’s not just me that is being critical. I’ve noticed it as well in others, in both work, social and church settings.
Identify, and take out the log.
“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye”. Matthew 7: 5
It is no coincidence that the take out your log verse is framed in the context of anxiety, and our life’s needs/wants. In many cases the foundation for our log is fear related. It can be tricky identifying what the fear is. In the context of judging others/being critical of others, there is one CBT technique that can be helpful, which can be called the “worst case scenario” technique. Here you bring to mind what your grievance is with someone, and then you keep asking yourself repeatedly what the worst thing is about this thing. Here is an example:
“My boss never listens to me. I gave a great idea, but he just ignored it. He is so arrogant!”
"Whats the worst thing about this?"
“Well, it made me look silly in the team meeting”
“It’s embarrassing. I’ve been given this pay rise and if I can’t maintain some respect in the office, then my colleagues won’t listen to me!”
"What’s the worst thing about this?!"
“Well, then if my colleagues won’t listen to me, then whats the point in me being paid anymore! I may lose my promotion!”
So, you are scared that you may loose this promotion…. Whats the worst thing about that?!...
You could keep going, and you may get no-where, but potentially you could find out that your initial angry reaction to someone was actually motivated by some fear… some insecurity. If you can identify this, Jesus is a great person to help you get over this!
What’s your thinking style?
With mental health concerns such as anxiety, particular ‘thought biases’ (that are common with most of us) can make it harder to feel some peace in an issue. One common thinking style is ‘catastrophizing’, or thinking the worst case scenario in a situation.
See here for a list of others… https://www.psychologytools.com/articles/unhelpful-thinking-styles-cognitive-distortions-in-cbt/
Take a look, and if you think your criticism fits, maybe hold fire! Are you jumping to conclusions? Or using emotional reasoning? Time now to re-consider your criticism, and re-assess. If we are able to identify we have been led by one of these, here’s our log!
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” James 3: 17
I like the James verse. Constructive criticism is important and needed. However, what I think we also need to consider alongside identifying our motives, is how we communicate. The James verse is helpful for us to assess if our criticism in constructive, particularly as its in the context of the ‘taming the tongue’ verse.