Today, I woke up and took a look at my emails on my phone, only to see that I’d been insulted on LinkedIn. The insult came as a response to a comment I made while sharing a post from my friend William Arruda on 7 Parenting Traits that Help Children Succeed At Work.
The parenting trait that I indicated was my favorite in the list was humility. I won’t dignify the insult I got by repeating it verbatim, but basically, the commentator smacked me down with a few sentences on how I don’t display any humility, so how can I say I like it? And if I do “like” humility, what do I think it means? (insinuating that I must not understand the definition of it because I’m totally without it). And he’ll be happy to educate me on how I have no humility.
From the moment I read this insult, my morning was darkened. I noticed I started to breathe more shallowly, and my head and heart starting churning with hurt. I agonized over what to do in response. Should I leave it? Should I respond? And if so, what exactly should I say?
As one who discusses every day the need for women to speak up more publicly and assertively, I felt that saying nothing was the weak way out. For me, not responding felt equivalent to not being the person I wanted to be.
But as I got thinking more about speaking up to this critic, I began having some post-traumatic stress around being hurt and smacked down earlier in my life, after speaking up or “showing up” in a bigger way earlier. Suddenly, I had a flashback of a series of scary, nighttime obscene phone calls I received as a teen girl after being a lead in a school musical, which made me afraid to go to school.
Then, I had a flashback of a very frightening time as a therapy intern years ago, when I asserted myself powerfully to one of my rageful, out-of-control male clients who had a violent past. His response made me feel that he might possibly harm or attack me (as we were alone in the office at that time in the evening). I was terribly afraid as my hand hovered over the red “HELP” button that, when pushed, would summon the police in a few instants.
All this to say that if I’m having these feelings and flashbacks after being insulted digitally — and I’m very used to having my work critiqued in the public eye — I’m guessing that many of you who are reading this can relate deeply to how awful it feels to be insulted online. Especially when the attack is personal and rips at your core personality and the way you engage with the world.
I’d love to share some info that might be helpful to you (and to me), going forward, in how to deal with being insulted publicly.
Here’s my take:
First, we need to get hip to what to expect
I put out a lot of content every week, and some of it is certainly controversial, so I’ve had to steel myself to accept that what I share will inflame some folks. In fact, I’ve come to see that that if I’m not getting people hot beneath the collar and agitated, I’m probably not saying much that’s different, important or helpful.
So lesson #1 for me has been that if I want to share my personal take on issues, especially deep and controversial ones, I simply have to be prepared for people to offer their own personal take that may be very different, and very emotionally charged.
And I also have to accept that I’ll be criticized, and perhaps not in a respectful way. That’s just the price we pay for speaking out and up about complex, important issues that have no easy answer.
Secondly, we have to realize that there are some people lurking out there who are true haters
Most of us are not haters. Most are kind, compassionate, and caring and have some empathy for other people, even strangers. And most of us don’t want to tear people down because we disagree with them. Nor do we want to rip apart a stranger – we’re just not triggered in that way, usually.
But the anonymity of the internet has made us more cruel. We would be too naive if we didn’t understand that there are indeed haters in the world who are lurking online, wounded, waiting to pounce. They feel the need to rip someone down so they can feel better about themselves. Of course, that never works, but they’ll keep trying anyway.
I realize that this person who insulted me must have been reading my posts or watching my videos and something today triggered him to want to insult me.
I call these people “pouncers” – people who don’t have the courage and fortitude to engage openly, respectfully, and articulately, but just want to pounce and insult.
For these folks, I’ve decided I won’t waste my time responding. In fact, for haters who can’t engage in respectful ways, I’ll block them from my sites and profiles, and I’ll feel good about doing it. In other words, we don’t have to catch every ball that’s thrown at us.
Thirdly, if you want to show up – with your heart, soul and spirit fully engaged – and make a vivid, powerful and courageous mark on this world, you’ll have to learn how to handle critics.
As Brené Brown shares so beautifully in her talk “Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count,” Theodore Roosevelt offered advice that changed her life, and it’s shifted mine as well.
Here’s what Roosevelt shared, so wisely and powerfully:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
So the final lesson about how to deal with being insulted online is this:
Understand that you don’t have to concern yourself (or give a second thought to) the hurtful critics who aren’t courageous enough to get in the arena themselves.
You don’t have to take in their insults, or process them, or do anything at all with their hateful remarks, but eject them out of your sphere, for good.
In fact, the more you stew and fester about an online insult that was given solely as a way to hurt you, the more you open the door to being suppressed and diminished. Sure, take in true, constructive feedback from folks who want to help and encourage you to grow and learn.
But under no circumstances should we allow (or wallow) in cruel, personal insults that are all about the critics’ hate, and nothing to do with our own efforts to show up, be heard and make a difference.
So, I hope you’ll stay your course as I will mine – continue to be active in the arena, and share your messages, and your heart, soul and spirit openly with the world. Haters be damned.