10 Stages of Surviving Mean Comments (and People)
by Ashford Evans
We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Said something or done something that was misconstrued by someone? It’s in our nature to make mistakes. To act impulsively. To react poorly for one reason or another. In real life, it can be over as quickly as it happened; or it can have lasting effects. But online? It’s there forever. Your words, their reaction, the whole nasty business. And as we all know: people concealed by anonymous screen names (shielded by the safety of their laptop) can be especially nasty. Mean. Hurtful.
I recently had such an experience. I guess I’ve “made it,” as some would say. I wrote my first piece that elicited hateful comments. In fact, there is now an entire comment thread on a popular website devoted to those who hate me. Horrible, evil, hateful comment after comment making absurd assertions about my character, my writing ability, my role as a mother.
It’s been a helluva week and quite the roller coaster of emotions and turmoil. The mood swings have been so violent I fear I may get whiplash. Despite the encouragement of my (super supportive) writer friends, this has been a journey that I must take largely on my own. At some point during my ups and downs, it came to me that this is a process that I am working through; and that there is an end in sight. It is not much unlike the “10 Stages of Grief” that we hear so much about. So with that in mind, I have an adaptation that I believe will benefit anyone that has ever read/made a comment on a website.
The 10 Stages of Mean Comments
1. SHOCK: “What?!?! How on earth could people find this offensive? That’s not what I meant at all!” Your mind is a whirlwind of intentions, frustration, and disbelief. This is the stage where you obsessively refresh the offending site/article to see if any more comments pop up. You begin googling your article to track down any other terrible comments. You read them over and over. This usually results in “numbness.”
2. EMOTIONAL RELEASE: This could be tears, it could be anger, it could be angry tears. There are usually hastily written text messages to supportive friends, links to the article in closed writer groups or texts to friends. “What did I do wrong?” you ask over and over. The emotional release quickly gives way to step 3.
3. DEPRESSION: “Why did I write that?” you ask yourself over and over. “I didn’t mean to come off that way. Maybe they are right. Maybe I’m a bad person. A bad mother.” This stage is extremely isolating, as you withdraw into yourself afraid to make any sudden movements for fear of eliciting a new onslaught. I let it affect my daily life. I moved slower and wasn’t functioning like I should.
4. PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS OF DISTRESS: This could manifest in many ways, for many people. It could be loss of appetite or even over-eating. I suffered many sleepless nights, and faced a raging return of my long-standing gastrointestinal issues. This stage sucks.
5. ANXIETY: As writers, we are professionals at being anxious. We all want people to connect to our words. We all feel the twinges of trepidation when hitting the “submit” button. Now this anxiety is amplified. I felt as if my life was on display with a giant magnifying glass.
6. HOSTILITY: This is where the true anger sets in. I became irrationally angry toward my aggressors. I began pleading my “rightness” and defending my stance to all those who would listen. I began to take on a self-righteous attitude about my opinions. But, as much as I wanted to, I never responded to any of the comments. I was careful not to “burn down the house because I saw a spider in it”. It’s important to keep your hostility in check and only manifest it in safe places. I was careful to keep my emotions in check around my family and friends as well.
7. GUILT: I began thinking of those I may have hurt with my words (however misunderstood they were). I began feeling guilty about the hostility I had exhibited (and then grateful I had not acted on it).
8. HESITANCY TO RENEW NORMAL ACTIVITIES: I believe this one speaks for itself. After getting raked over the coals I think we are all a little hesitant to put ourselves out there again. “What if I’m misinterpreted again?” swirls in your head along with that pesky Writer’s Block. I had to look back at the positive support, and understand what was truly happening.
9. HEALING OF MEMORIES: The realization that you are growing as a writer, and that these things will happen. For me, it was a piece written outside of my normal voice; my true self. It was a piece where I was trying to mold myself to fit a larger site in hopes that they would welcome me into the fold. The problem is, it was disingenuous. It wasn’t me, who I am. So of course I felt misunderstood and misinterpreted. That’s exactly what I put out into the world. No wonder I was attacked and ridiculed. While it wasn’t deserved, it was an eye opener of what I needed to do from now on.
10. ACCEPTANCE OF ONE’S NEW ROLE IN LIFE: Ultimately this was a good experience for me. It helped me grow as a writer and gave me resolve to stay true to myself and my style. It has thickened my skin so that next time maybe it won’t hurt as badly. It happened, and it’s over. And I must move on. This truly was a freeing moment. Knowing my writing style is something that many spend years to achieve.
I think this piece shines an interesting light on who we are when we visit websites, news sites, or community boards. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, it would benefit everyone if we kept kindness in our thoughts. A friend of mine, Galit Breen, tackles this topic in her amazing book, Kindness Wins. Click here to check it out!
If you’re curious what got Ashford into this situation, click here to read the post.
Have you ever written a mean comment on the internet? Tell us in the comments!