This post originally appeared on Bed Crumbs as an answer to a follower’s question.
You pop on Tumblr and see a message notification on your dash and click excitedly. Because getting mail is exciting, whether it’s an thin envelope in your mailbox or a note slipped into your locker or an unread email. Even junk mail is acknowledgment of your existence, and we all have days of vanity where getting garbage is better than nothing. Maybe this message is admiration, maybe it’s a “Hey, I like your blog” or “Where is this photo from?”
But no. Not today. It’s an angry note accompanied not by a name, but a faceless gray circle with sunglasses. What do you do?
Well, first thing’s first: do nothing. Yes. Don’t do anything right away. Immediate reactions are rarely good ideas. Take a step back and look at it.
Was it about something you said or posted or wrote or a way you behaved? Was this person upset with you? Did they have reason to be? Sometimes I broach touchy subjects. Sometimes I write things that people really don’t like. Sometimes we say and do things that hurt other people. We often don’t mean to; it doesn’t make us bad people. No one is an innocent, myself included. But people are still hurt, and they let us know.
Did you offend someone for good reason? If, after careful deliberation, the answer is yes: apologize. It’s never too late to say you’re sorry. I promise. Did you offend someone, but still don’t think you were in the wrong: apologize anyway — but let them know you stand your ground. Not all opinions are pretty, and you are allowed to believe what you want to believe. Apologies are not concession speeches.
I used to think that being a writer required having thick skin. That I had to be immune to feeling any sort of pain from negative reactions. I am learning now that not everyone will like what I have to say, and rather than remain mum or just talk about it behind my back, in which case I may never know, they will tell me to my face.
Sometimes they do that anonymously. On some levels, I think that anonymous criticism is cowardly. If you feel strongly about something, attach your name to it. On another level, I realize that sometimes anonymous is the best way for someone to vent without burning bridges. Maybe they don’t want to negatively affect their relationship with you, but they feel the need to offer their counterpoint and feel there is no other way to respond. Consider that this is complicated.
But what if it wasn’t criticism? What if it was just plain, bold faced, simple hate? Did they bash you out of the blue? Tell you things like “You’re full of shit” or “You don’t know what you’re talking about so shut up” or other nonsense? Sometimes I humor them. They made the effort to tell you this. I often reward them with a condescending “Bye Felicia” or GIF or a snarky little line or two. A taste of a response, but nothing more than that.
But what if they called you horrible names? Names you wouldn’t say to anyone? What if they told you that you were worthless or a terrible writer or singer or photographer or whatever it is you do and you should just quit? What if they told you to kill yourself?
That, friend, requires nothing.
Delete it. Delete it. Delete it.
Don’t answer it. Don’t let it sit in your inbox to taunt you on the lowest of your days, those days where you feel like throwing yourself a pity party and let every negative remark you or someone else has thought creep into your mind and simmer. Don’t do it. Get rid of it.
That kind of behavior is inexcusable, and does not deserve to be dignified with a response. People use the anonymity of the internet as a shield. They hide behind the dim glow of a computer screen or phone and tap away at their keyboards, typing things that they would never say out loud, things they could not say to you if they saw you in real life, and no one should tolerate that kind of hate. They get off on seeing you react, so don’t do it.
And please, don’t listen to what they say. Don’t let it into your heart. I know it’s so hard to ignore. We have feelings. We’re humans. Sometimes I envy people who can brush things like this off. “Fuck it, it’s not worth my time and energy.” Life would be much simpler if that was possible for everyone. I am not one of those people. And maybe you are not, either.
I’m sensitive. I think a lot of that has to do with being a writer. There has been a touch of sensitivity to me for, as far as I can remember, my entire life. I feel things. I need to feel things, because I live in and write from a place of emotion and passion that can’t be turned off. And so, try as I might, mean words are always going to sting a little bit, warranted or unwarranted.
Maybe it’s not so bad to not have thick skin, though, or at least, not as thick as I used to think I required. Don’t be soft, but do not allow yourself to harden. If you do, you lose your goodness. You lose that sensitivity that makes you a kind, empathetic person, that makes you, if you are like me, a writer or an artist or a musician. That sensitivity that helps you create or appreciate the creations of others.
Acknowledge that hate the best way you know how, and move on. Don’t let it affect you too much. Sometimes it may take seconds to get over, sometimes hours or even days. Process it in a way that is healthy and right for you. Don’t be angry at yourself for allowing it to hurt. Accept that it does. Embrace that it does. Let it teach you lessons for next time. Because there will be a next time. There will be a lifetime of next times.
People act like sensitivity and vulnerability is bad, that it’s weak. Maybe it isn’t.
There’s this quote I absolutely adore from Stevie Nicks (of course) that I think is kind of relevant here. In an interview from the 80s, she was asked about a time someone accused her of stealing “Sara.” Sued her and everything. It was hateful, and she acknowledged that she was naive and vulnerable and hurt by it. The interviewer asked if she was angry that she was so vulnerable:
“No, because if I’m not vulnerable, I won’t ever write any more songs about vulnerability and then what am I doing? I need to help people. I need to make people believe that it’s alright to be vulnerable and to be a little naïve and to be still sweet and kind and good.”
Stay sweet. Stay vulnerable. Because people are going to say cruel things. They are going to criticize you. They will send you hateful messages on anon. Dealing with them on the surface is easy. It’s dealing with your feelings later that’s hard. Even the best get hurt. I want you to know that it’s okay if you do, too.