“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your spouse’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your spouse, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your spouse’s eye.
Typically this verse is applied to the sin of pride; people who have a bloated sense of self and are blinded by their own grandiose sense of importance. Jesus was onto something, as this humble truth can literally save marriages from being destroyed and rescue hearts from the clutches of death that pride inevitably brings.
But what happens to this timeless truth when self-contempt (self-hatred) enters your relationship? What happens when this verse becomes weaponized, used to silence those who struggle with self-contempt? Those of us who struggle with both narcissism and self-contempt must learn to wrestle with this verse in a new way. We must no longer pervert Jesus’s words, but rather more fully live them.
Many psychologists and sociologists define self-contempt as the “inner critic”—the judge inside ourselves that watches us through a lens of harsh self-judgment. It is important to note that self-contempt is not just low self-esteem; it is much darker than that. Therapist Andrew Ide defines self-contempt as “an active, degenerative, languaged presence within us that seeks to nullify goodness.” Therapist Chuck DeGroat describes the inner critic as “at worst . . . a 10-foot tall monster within, attacking us with accusations, and no doubt prompted by the Accuser himself.” The evil one hijacks our inner monologue and uses self-contempt as a way to steal and kill and destroy us (John 10:10).
When you have an unhealthy relationship to yourself, you cannot with clarity look at the log in your own eye because you believe the entire forest is in your eye. Self-contempt distorts the truth and compels us to own all of the sin in the relationship, rather than what is actually our sin to own. One example of this would be the woman who wants so desperately to honor both God and her husband that she remains silent in their church community about his infidelity and ongoing compulsive pornography use. She so desperately wants to own her “log” in their relationship issues that she enables his immature, toxic, and destructive behavior to continue. Self-contempt blocks our ability to have healthy boundaries and allows narcissists to continue cowardly and destructive behavior.
I remember one courageous woman who had been fighting for years for her husband to become a kinder more loving man. His heart had turned hard, he was isolated from his friends and family, he had a strained relationship with his own children, and his aggression towards himself started to spill out on every area of his life. She had been going to counseling for years, trying to find support, learning how to survive a toxic home situation, and attempting to save what little marriage she had left. Finally, after a year of conversation and much convincing, she got him to agree to come one of our Marriage Intensives.
I remember the ineffective nature of bringing Matthew 7:3 into our work during the intensity of our counseling weekend. After I spoke about both parties owning their part and seeing their own log, the gentleman enthusiastically agreed, “Yes, she needs to own her part! She must see her own log!” In his pride, just like the Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking, he missed the entire point of the verse. I quickly changed course and trying to get him to see his sin more clearly. He was unwilling to see his own log, and even in the middle of being confronted about it, he still found a way to make everything her fault and blame her for the condition of their failing marriage.
Narcissistic pride does this. We become blind to our own failures and yet see so clearly the failures of our partner, and we want to make those failures well known. Or as Matthew Henry’s Commentary states, “We must not make the worst of people. Here is a just reproof to those who quarrel with their brethren for small faults, while they allow themselves in greater ones.”
Over the years I have worked with many couples in my counseling practice, and seldom does the bearer of the log know that he or she is the one who bears it. I have found that those who struggle with this form of pride, a.k.a. “The Saviors”, are normally the ones who attempt to convince me that it is their partner who has the issues and needs continued counseling, while the brokenhearted partner is the one who unsuccessfully attempts to create boundaries and can easily slip into the sin of self-contempt, a.k.a “The Goat”. Those who bear self-contempt have a difficult time taking a stand against abusive behavior and seeing themselves clearly.
Let’s not allow pride or contempt to steal the goodness that God has for us. On whichever side of the spectrum we fall, we must examine ourselves more deeply and see what God sees; no more and no less.