Can you imagine how the art world would have been affected if Internet trolls had been around during the life of Pablo Picasso? I mean, can’t you just picture it, after posting his best work of art to his blog or Instagram, someone commenting, “UMMM why does that girl have TWO noses? And a mouth on her forehead? And why isn’t she wearing clothes? ::thumbs down emoji::” He probably would have given up on painting entirely.
Okay, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I like to think Picasso would have been like “whatevs” and moved on. But you get the idea: there was a time in which a person could create something with little idea of what someone across the world thought of it, but now we have the technology to know almost instantly. In many ways, that’s a beautiful thing. But it also means that we live in possibly the most hypercritical culture in all of human history. If you are someone who has any kind of online presence – or, more likely, if you are someone who has made a career from your online presence – perhaps you are familiar with the sea of negativity that can exist in the land of social media and Internet comment sections. If so, then perhaps you’re also familiar with how difficult it is to be on the receiving end of such negativity.
But the truth is, criticism is old, as old as humanity itself. It comes in all shapes and sizes, from a variety of sources – from strangers online to friends or family members in our daily lives. And while some of it is well intentioned, much of it just isn’t. That being said, it’s important to know how to continue being your amazing, boss self in the face of haters. Want to know how to shake ‘em off? Here are a few good ways to get started:
Figure out why it stings
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” may have been the worst expression I learned as a child. For one, it stirred in me an unnatural fear of sticks and stones (how do they break your bones exactly?). But it also led me to buy into the lie that words can’t cause pain. And by the way, words can totally cause pain. You are not weak if you find yourself injured by bitter comments. In order to move past the hurt, however, it’s important to understand where the pain is coming from. What is causing you to be damaged by these words? Is it some lingering insecurity? Have you been wounded similarly by someone in your past? Sometimes the simple act of identifying your feelings can help you to start the process of healing.
Separate the Haters from the Concerned
This is a tough one, so I’m just going to rip it off like a bandaid, okay? Not all criticism is a bad thing. While unwarranted negativity is the absolute worst, there is such a thing as constructive criticism. Usually, it comes from people with whom you have a relationship, those who have earned the right to speak into your life. But sometimes, as is the case with the world of the online comments, it can come from people who are respectfully expressing concern. Don’t immediately disregard things that are difficult to hear. Evaluate the intention behind the words and reflect on whether you can grow from them.
A temptation in dealing with criticism is to write off anyone who gives it to you as menacing and evil. But that sort of thinking only leads to negativity within yourself, which isn’t healthy. Instead, try to put yourself in the mindset of your criticizer. Think of the things they must be going through if they believe that the best use of their energy is to spread vitriol in your life. Consider the idea that their pessimism may be rooted in deep pain, and allow that perspective to soften the blow a bit. This, however, does not mean that it’s ever okay for someone to abuse you with hurtful words, and if that is happening to you, feel justified in disconnecting from that person.
Surround yourself with Celebrators
Gather up people in your life who just freakin rock – those individuals who tell it like it is but who also practice kindness and make you feel no shame about the person you are. I’m not saying fill up your social circle with a bunch of Yes-men and women. All I’m saying is that the people closest to you can deeply impact how you view yourself, so make sure they are the ones who genuinely care about you. I call these people “celebrators” because, for one, they are the ones who celebrate all of the phenomenal qualities that you possess, and for another, “celebrators” rhymes with “haters” and rhyming is fun.
Keep doing you
I cannot stress this enough: keep making awesome things, keep moving forward, keep exploring, keep showing up. You may be the boldest, most self-assured person in the world, but never underestimate negativity’s ability to knock you on your ass. However, the best way to hold your ground is to continue spending your energy on the things you care about. Shake those haters off and keep doing you.