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The Defensive Mechanisms of Criticism and Withdraw

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
Why People in Church Fight? Part IV

Do you feel you have to be right to speak your mind, even when you do not have all the facts?

Why People in Church Fight? Part IV


A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue… without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. Proverbs 17:27-28; 26:20

Do you feel you have to be right to speak your mind, even when you do not have all the facts? Do you have the passion to interrupt and refuse to listen to others? Are you good at finding and picking at the flaws of others? Then you may have a problem with criticism. Criticism is seeking the shortcomings and faults in others and then joyfully exposing them. This, too, comes naturally to us fallen humans. We attack the other person with putdowns, devious remarks, and sayings such as, you are always…or, you never... Perhaps, we are seeking to be verbally dominant for whatever personal agenda we may have. This is just the escalation of negativity or the engagement of gossip. In a church it is controlling the conversations, maneuvering oneself in the best positions and opportunities, bulldozing over others regardless if we warrant them. It is seeking to put down others we perceive as threats and so forth. In a marriage, it can be putting down our spouse or not caring how their day was. It can also be exhibited by always talking about you and never caring or listening to another person. This is being self-centered and not Christ centered.

Criticism is the best way to escalate any conflict. This rotten symptom is a weapon that helps create weapons for the other side. It builds “defensiveness” and “withdraw” armaments in the other person. It is a weapon factory that makes other weapons for both sides! It creates a negative response that keeps escalating back and forth to one another. It can take a minor disagreement that takes you and others all the way up the mountain of swelling church conflict to full blown divergences resulting in people leaving or a church that is split. This weapon will not allow a ceasefire or solution so the circumstances will get worse and worse. It hurts others before they can hurt or continue to hurt you.

Criticism in play is the action that comes from our feeling that the other person is wrong and we are right. This is not the same criticism as to examine something or someone; rather, it is deliberately putting others down. We pick and poke at others like chickens in the henhouse. This is from our self-centered nature. We tend to criticize others without serious examination, engaging in verbal abuse, discouraging others, giving critical comments, making our disapproval well known, pointing out the faults in others like a joyful game to engaging in physical abuse. Instead of helping someone, we are tearing them down. We have to see that being critical by using our personal agendas to put others down can be very damaging to members, visitors and potential visitors. This leaves emotional scars and broken relationships. Yes, it is easier to critique others than encourage them. But, we are a Church, the people of God and we are called to encourage and not to discourage. Consider how you feel when someone gives you that critical comment when you are reading yourself for worship, a comment designed as a quip, or the start or parlay of gossip, quenches the Spirit and neuters the church.

When criticism is in action, we are exercising condemnation and thus becomes pawns of Satan and not servers of our Lord. The Bible goes on to say that people who do this are also spreading gossip. This means to have malicious intentions. Even if you do not start it, or do not do it as much as the people who start the gossip in the first place, you are still guilty when you spread it. This is a form of malice and leads to destruction of property and persons; it is just as bad as how a fire would destroy a home or even a church. We quickly rationalize that it is OK to gossip and do whatever it takes to put that person down, even a family member or spouse. It can escalate to the point we will give credence to every rumor, story, or criticism that springs up around them. It does not make any difference if it is true or not, because, since we do not like them, we then rationalize that it is OK. When this happens we develop trust for falsehoods and become nonchalant with the Truth. Gossip destroys and erodes trust to the point that we do not care if it is true or not because we feel no responsibility for its truthfulness. This is also a form of hatred.

Criticism creates strife and its only purpose is to treat people in a condescending and damaging manner. It hurts others and leaves us depleted and resentful. The result of this gossip being spread is an worship center and body of Christ with an atmosphere of discontent and distrust and not filled with his presence. We will miss the mark that Christ has for us. This is a lesson for all of us; we all have skills and issues that we all need to work on in our spiritual walk with the Lord. I do not believe we, as Christians, will ever reach full perfection; actually, God not call us to be totally perfect. However, God does call us to be our best and bring out the best in others; this is a key role of any given church. When we refuse to be encouraging, all we succeed in doing is criticizing and, in turn, hurting Christ, His people, and ourselves.

Good and positive communication is a powerful builder of relationships while criticism destroys relationships. When we are “fake listening” or ignoring and saying nothing does nil to help you! Be real and be sincere. Do not keep bringing up past hurts, rehashing and trying to manipulate others by guilt, toying with feelings or attacking others personally as well as their families. If you keep bringing up the same arguments and flaws in others, you will never solve them. You will, however, be causing abuse, the reverse of God’s call for the Christian.

Remember, people need to be listened to; this is a key, if not the most important component of healthy relationships. The old adage is so true; people will not care what you say until they know that you care. Showing criticism is not showing that you care!


I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Do you hate to get into fights and conflict? Well, that is good! What about hiding yourself from them so you never have to deal with them? What about having unexpressed feelings and distancing yourself from people? Then, perhaps, you have a problem with withdrawing. When you remain isolated and show no signs that you care (even if you do), the other person has no idea so you convince them they are not important, and you lost the relationship. Overly clinging to a person is the opposite of withdrawing, and this is dysfunctional too; it is called codependency. You need to give the other person some space.

Withdrawal is a form of avoidance. This is the unwillingness to solve issues and or explain your feelings. It is not giving up; rather it is a first strike weapon that prevents and disrupts communication. We do this by not listening, not caring to getting up and leaving the person. It is a way to not participate so you can "turn off" yourself during a disagreement. In Church leadership, this is ignoring potential problems, not dealing with conflict or dysfunctional personalities so others become the dry rot to your church.

This will keep the leader using withdrawal from engaging in important discussions by physically and/or mentally turning the other person off. This is to prevent their involvement; protecting what they feel is more important than their feeling or fears or feeling they are just too busy. Withdrawal is a form of passive aggression, to confront another’s attack or to initiate an attack oneself. It is a form of rejection that seeks peace but only brings further conflict. This is basically stonewalling another person so they are forced to chase us. People engage in withdrawal because of the fear of loss or of criticism, or to avoid the contempt and disapproval of another. To ignore someone is retreating from the fight as well as the reconciliation. This is one of the best ways to escalate a problem or argument. This is done by not talking, avoiding eye contact, and refusing to talk about the problem so as to bring resolution or seeking opportunities to heal. Withdrawal focuses on the other person, and they become angry because they cannot draw us out. We attack by closing ourselves off from others. This creates isolation; we may feel protected, but in actuality, we hinder any relationship growth and even cause relationships to fail. Remember, it takes two to tango. If one refuses to, then the dance will not continueâ€"a relationship will not continue. And with a church, withdraw as a leader and people will withdraw from you and your church!

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. Matthew 5:13

Why do we withdraw? As in the other defensive mechanisms, it is a form of protection; but, here, it is mainly the act of protecting ourselves from disappointments while cutting our selves off from opportunities. We need to be willing and able to come out of our hiding and learn to deal with the conflict, and be willing to actively listen because the healing can only begin when we are in good communication. When we realize that Jesus overcame the world and paid our dept, we have no need to withdraw, for we are great in Him.

Just think this through, what are the buttons people push that cause you the most alarm and harm? Usually it is when someone is being Defensive toward you. They are not taking responsibility, nor are they listening to you. It is as if they are attacking you without cause or reason, or are overreacting and you have no opportunity to make the peace, explain or work it out. Now look at what happens to you when a fellow church member or leader or pastor or a loved one shows you Contempt. How do you feel? They are actually putting you down as you are not worthy enough for their time or effort or they see themselves as superior. What happens when your best friend is always being Critical towards you? Probably you will not stay friends long will you? What happens when your coworkers do not engage you in their plans or conversations, they Withdraw and have little to nothing to do with you, they do not even respond. Now place all this in a church situation, where each one of these comes into play. Perhaps they are critical and you withdraw, they are treating you with contempt and you retaliate by being defensive and so on and so on. Then the weapons ammunition becomes replenished by each blow you receive until you see no hope for peace talks and suddenly you are in full born war or alone, lonely and bitter, or so glad they are gone left with your wounds. They hurt you so you hurt them back; you hurt them first because you do not want to be hurt and so on and so on. It does not have to be this way!

© 2008, Research from 1980- 1998, 2007-2008, R. J. Krejcir, Ph.D., Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development

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