Essay: How to Deal with Haters
Haters come in many forms.
If you’re doing anything remotely public, they are often strangers. People on Twitter or lurking in the comments section of something you write.
If you’re an author or podcaster, they’re there, churning out Amazon or Itunes reviews.
At first, they hurt. A lot.
Then, if you’re lucky, you can take them as evidence that you’re doing something right.
After all, as Marilyn Monroe said, “I let them think what they want. If they care enough to bother with what I do, then I’m already better than them.”
The First Time I Encountered Haters
You never forget your first time.
I discovered that there were strangers out there who seemed to detest me for simply existing when I wrote a piece that was published as a Modern Love.
I was away for the weekend with a friend when I stumbled upon an entire website someone had created to try to figure out who I was sleeping with at the New York Times because it made no sense whatsoever that such a terrible writer would be published in such a prestigious column.
I cried. Weekend ruined.
When I was on a show called Attack of the Show twice a week for a few years, I accidentally stumbled across the message boards one day. Oh, did I wish I hadn’t. I didn’t know better then—I thought defending myself would make me feel better—and so I argued back about every mean thing someone had written. And there were a lot.
Then I couldn’t sleep.
I realized I valued my sleep more than I valued defending myself.
Then I realized that I was never going to win those arguments. That the stranger who’d written the nasty thing was already winning just by getting me to respond.
I Grew a Thicker Skin
At a certain point, the barbs of strangers stopped getting to me. Even when a guy wrote something terrible to me on Twitter and, when I blocked him, dug up my email address so he could write and tell me that I was a “pussy” because I couldn’t handle anyone saying anything that wasn’t complimentary.
Some nasty comments have actually made me laugh. Case in point: “Anna David has a voice made for print.”
(I can be shrill. I know that.)
Some criticism has helped me, like the podcast listeners who’ve written about how much they hate it when I say the word “Right” when someone is talking.
I learned that the interview would sound better without my verbally nudging it along. It is better that way.
Then there was the time that a girl on Facebook recently messaged me that I was single handedly responsible for her relapse because my podcast preached such a ridiculous message. I am no Mother Theresa—I’m actually quite self-involved—but for some reason, in her message, all I read was pain. That she was struggling. And that, even if it wasn’t working, she was listening to recovery podcasts so she wanted something different. I messaged her back that I was sorry she felt that way and told her I didn’t think there was any right way to recover so she should keep at it. (Story doesn’t end too happily: she wrote me back something so nasty that I ended up blocking her.)
Still, it was a change. When I checked for emotional bruises, certain her words must have hurt me at least a little, I couldn’t find any.
So, What Are We Supposed to Do About Being Pissed Off?
People are angry. We all are, at times.
I’m angry. You’re angry. We all have our reasons.
The question is really what we do with that anger. We can take it out on customer service people, strangers who make podcasts or write stories that we don’t like, the people in our lives, or anyone else. We can also write fourth steps and go to therapists and take medication and do gratitude lists to try to combat it.
I’ve tried all these things at different points. Unsurprisingly, when I do the things on the first list, the anger grows. Second list, it diminishes. Jill Bolte Taylor talks about how a feeling only lasts in the body for 90 seconds. After that, it’s our choice to hold onto it.
Yelling at a customer service person or a stranger over Facebook pretty much guarantees that the minute and a half is going to multiply.
The Haters Aren’t Going Anywhere
It doesn’t matter how many websites take away the comments section. Online animosity isn’t going anywhere.
And while I’m used to it, I feel bad when I see other people experience it.
Recently, I posted a story by one of the writers in my coaching program on my Facebook page and people immediately started jumping in with critical comments in a way that made it clear they hadn’t read the story.
My student, who I adore, jumped in to defend herself and I felt terrible for hanging her out for the wolves like that.
But it’s all part of being a writer and putting yourself out there.
It’s good for all of us, on a certain level.
If you’re getting a lot of praise, the haters can keep you humble.
If you’re getting a lot of hate, you’re clearly hitting a nerve.
Not to state the obvious but life delivers a lot of left hooks and our work isn’t to avoid them but to get more comfortable with them so they don’t ruin our day. So here’s a new slogan: “Haters—They Help.”
In the words of Paris Hilton, “When people you don’t even know hate you, that’s when you know you’re the best.”
Now, you may not like Paris Hilton.
You may even, ahem, hate her.
But the girl’s got a point.
So go out there and gather some haters. I know you can do it.
Just remember: I’m rooting for you.