I learned four things about myself this past week. I’m 54 and thought I knew myself pretty well but self-awareness is a lifelong journey, I guess. I learned these things because I received an email from a “hater” who was angry with me. When I was still agonizing over the hater’s words three days later, I decided there must be a lesson in there somewhere, one that I was obviously not getting.
The first time I read the email, I was slightly amused. It was difficult to read because it was poorly written, full of grammatical mistakes and malapropisms. It was hard to take the words seriously because they didn’t make much sense. But the second time through, I zeroed in on the names I was being called…petty, manipulative, toxic. Ouch.
My first instinct was to feel embarrassed and angry…no one likes to be called names. I knew that these words were coming from someone who was disgruntled with me. I said to myself, “You can’t win them all” and “Everyone isn’t going to like you.” But even though people say nice things to me all the time, those insults kept resonating in my brain. I wondered why it mattered so much to me that one person said unflattering things about me.
I fretted and worried over those words. Am I petty, manipulative and toxic? Clearly, the hater thinks I am but do other people think of me that way? If I know for a fact that there are ten people who like and respect me, why do I care that there’s one who doesn’t? Why is it so easy to believe the haters and so hard to believe those who praise us? Am I the only person who gives too much credence to the words of haters and not enough credence to the words of supporters?
Whenever I receive negative feedback, I try to objectively decide if it has validity. If I decide the negatives are valid, then I decide whether they are something I can, or am willing, to change. And then I try to make appropriate changes to address them. Since I didn’t believe these insults are valid, I thought there was nothing I needed to change or correct. And yet, I couldn’t shake off those words. Then I had a “lightbulb” moment.
I realized that my reaction to the hater’s words prove that I’m not petty, toxic and manipulative (if I was any of those three things, I wouldn’t care what anyone said about me). But my reaction did highlight four other unflattering things: I always want to be right; I always want to have the last word; I am way too good at striking back with a vengeance when someone makes me mad or hurts me; and I can’t tolerate being rejected.
For three days, I had my finger poised over the “reply” button. I’m proud to say that I didn’t ever push it but boy, did I want to! I wanted to refute every single accusation and set the record straight so I could prove that I was right. I wanted to hit back, way below the belt. I played out imaginary conversations in my head, thinking of all the ways I could use my exceptional verbal skills to emotionally slash the hater. I was itching to have the final say.
I was indignant at the rejection…how dare they think these unkind things about me? Don’t they know that our local newspaper says I’m one of the 10 Most Influential People in town? Don’t they know that I am supposed to be universally revered, just because I’m me? Don’t they remember all the nice things I did for them, all the times I overlooked their mistakes and helped them out of messes? How dare that hater…did they not read the rulebook that says “Everyone must like Debra, all the time, no matter what?”
I can’t believe I just admitted thinking all of that. It is pretty scary inside my head sometimes.
I was so caught up in imagining retaliation that I didn’t acknowledge the lovely thank you note I got from someone and I didn’t reply to the beautiful Facebook comments on the pictures of JSAP’s triumphant performance at Disney World. I can’t get those three days back, but I can go forward with the intention of never repeating these mistakes if I can help it.
When I need inspiration, all I have to do is look around me at the example the 503 children and adults with special needs in JSAP show me every day. They don’t waste time plotting revenge. They don’t hit below the belt. When they are wrong, they admit it. When they are rejected – which happens to them every single day – they turn to their friends and family for reassurance of their value and let the haters roll off their backs.
So, the next time I encounter a hater, I am going to try to remember these things:
I am not entitled to have everyone like me.
I’d rather be content than be right.
It will not make me feel better to have the last word because getting in one more round of hurt only prolongs a dispute, it never resolves one.
It doesn’t matter how old I am or how well I think I know myself…I will always have lessons to learn. I’d love to be able to say, “I’ve got this…I’ve learned it all” someday but I’m a work in progress. And I’ve got life’s best teachers to help me!
P.S. I realize that writing this post could be construed as a great way to get in the last word. My intention is to share what I learned about myself after reflecting on my reaction.
P.P.S. I’m also not fishing for compliments but I’d to love hear about a time when you’ve been in a similar situation and what you learned from it.