Guilt and Judgment and Shame, Oh My!

Why is it so easy for me to talk someone else down from the ledge when they are feeling judged or shamed and so difficult to avoid internalizing those negative messages when they are aimed at me?

Why is it when we find the courage to open up about our insecurities and question our own motives publicly certain individuals see that as an invitation to skewer us with judgment and hatred?

How long will I have to work on my own resilience, reminding myself that nasty comments speak volumes about the person uttering them and not much truth about me?

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post that exposed some of my own issues around guilt.  The folks who commented here on my blog were supportive and loving and read my words in the spirit in which they were written.  Then BlogHer decided to feature the post in their “Money” section and all hell broke loose.  With a couple of exceptions, most of the comments on the BlogHer site were supportive and insightful.  The theme of the comments on BlogHer’s Facebook link to my post, however, was decidedly more nasty.  It affected me physically.  My stomach twisted, my cheeks flushed, and my heart rate sped up.  My mind instantly went in two directions at once: 1. defend, and 2. what portion of what these people are saying about me is accurate?

I have learned enough in my 40 years on this planet to know that going through and rebutting each nasty comment line by line is useless.  While I could defend myself, chances were those people who reacted negatively would just read some nuance into what I wrote in defense that would lead them to attack on another front.  After an hour of sitting with the discomfort that these strangers’ words brought up for me, I decided that, for whatever reason, certain people (strangers, all)  had already made up their minds about who I am and weren’t likely to be swayed.  I will confess to writing a couple of responses (BlogHer likes its writers to engage with commenters, you know) in which I may have attempted to clarify a couple of points, and others where I thanked those who liked my post.

Yeah, I could have done some more editing before I posted that piece. I could probably have clarified a couple of things or said them in a different way. I could even go back and do that now – changing the original post on my site.  But even if I did, there would be someone out there who could potentially misconstrue.  Even if 99% of the readers agree on what my message was, there could possibly be someone out there who reads something entirely different between the lines.  There is no way to be all things to all people and if that is my goal, I’m going to make myself crazy trying to reach it.  So I have decided to leave it as an example of raw, honest writing that came from my gut,  knowing that it could still get backlash.

To be honest, I was shocked at the way I felt.  I have been blogging long enough to have gotten some unpleasant feedback on my writing, although not much of it attacking me personally.  Bubba reminded me that if I am going to put myself out there in my writing, I have to develop a thicker skin and know that what I see as far as comments comprise both ends of the spectrum and very little in the middle.  Those individuals who chose to comment did so because my message either resonated with them in a strongly positive way or because it really rubbed them the wrong way.  In both cases, their responses have much more to do with them and what is going on in their lives than they do with me and who I am.  The fact is, there are a few people who read and comment on my blog who truly know who I am as a person and the rest are there for other reasons entirely.

It was days before I stopped mining my past for other examples of bad behavior that might bolster the arguments of those who were angered by my post.  It took a long time for me to stop feeling defensive. It helped me to go to the Facebook links for some other featured BlogHer posts and recognize that other writers are getting this same treatment.  In one case, I even felt compelled to write a supportive comment of my own, letting the author know that the snarky comments came from a place of judgment and fear within the commenters that had nothing to do with her.  And when I was done, I pretended that I was that author and I read the message, part of which said, “…so long as you know who you are and you are true to yourself and your intentions, it doesn’t matter whether everyone else ‘gets it.’ And they won’t. Some will, but what really matters is that you feel good about you.”

And I do.

8 replies
  1. Unknown
    Unknown says:

    I think you're quite brave for putting this out there and for acknowledging that, hey, you are quite human. There is a level of sensitivity that allows you to write with emotional punch and that is exactly what kicks in when someone leaves a less-than-kind comment. Don't lose that sensitivity. We need more of that in the world.

  2. chriswreckage
    chriswreckage says:

    I completely agree. Writing from the heart shouldn't create such venom, but apparently it can. Just do what you do and try and not let it affect you. Much easier to say than do, I know. A thoughtful discussion or disagreement can always bring about some interesting ideas, while attacks only lead to more attacks and hurt feelings. Unless they have something to offer other than ugliness, it's not worth the notice. Thank you for sharing

  3. Dee
    Dee says:

    Dear Kario, the truth is that almost all of us want to be liked. And why shouldn't we? Being liked by others is a sign that we're doing something right.

    And yet, and yet, every so often we need to truly air what we are feeling or thinking or experiencing and let the chips fall where they will. Our honesty may surprise our friends and may make enemies of those who cannot easily engage in dialogue. In fact, our honesty may surprise even ourselves.

    And yet, and yet. If we do not let ourselves be real for ourselves than we can be real about nothing.

    And so I applaud you always for looking at difficult questions and situations and writing about them. I'm not surprised that the negativity of some hurts your feelings. You are a kind and compassionate person yourself and must find it hard to understand how others can be less so.

    The surety you finally reached in your search to put all this in perspective says so much about you. That you examine your journey and learn from it. That you are willing to examine your life and change. That you are a Renaissance person who's very being probably threatens others.

    Be gracious to yourself as you would be to others.


  4. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    As a veteran of receiving some crazy, crazy comments and even hate mail, I empathize with you completely. I think the very fact that you paused and even attempted to understand what these people were saying is testament to your true and authentic voice and mature ability to self-reflect. At worse, I say F#$#ck 'em. At best, move on dear Kario!

  5. mamanaturale
    mamanaturale says:

    Wow. I've been there too. It's hard to get thick skin. I found myself blogging a lot less because it got to the point where so much of the feedback was nasty I was getting depressed. Not worth it for me. Good luck with it all!

  6. Alicia D
    Alicia D says:

    Ok, i am really pissed off about people being nasty to you – WHAT THE?!?! Im sorry, you are handling it very graciously, but that makes me so upset bc i can tell you are a kind, insightful, reasonable person simply trying to express personal feelings that most everyone could relate to.

    I think you came to the proper conclusion – there are some people out there with their own issues who will read into things the way the interpret the world. Some people are always on the "defense" and create meaning into things that wasn't there. I remember having one bad commenter on a post I wrote for another site and she accused me of being "materialistic and shallow" and that if i saw someone like her with her "unpainted toenails and ratty clothes" I probably wouldnt speak to her…. WHA??? i couldn't even get offended bc it is SOOOO not me and no one who knows me would EVER describe me like that. i AM the person with nasty toe nails and nasty clothes 90% of the time!! whatever.

    Writing is an art and as with all art, there is that element of subjectivity – of having the consumer bring their own "baggage" and emotion and life experience into it. So, they will see/experience/interpret some things through their own lens… and sometimes it's very telling about who they are. Perhaps the people who take the time out to "criticize" other writers are simply "critical" people and thus… unhappy people. There are ways to express that you feel differently without being mean and nasty, ya know? We should all be respectful.

    Girl, you keep writing from your heart and from an honest place. Don't worrry about the few "outlyers." its probably more about them and their issues than a true sense of your writings and what you are expressing.

    Crap, sorry this is so long! Im just feeling protective of you right now!! 🙂

  7. Deb Shucka
    Deb Shucka says:

    I'm really sorry you had to go through this, but it sounds like the whole experience gave you one more opportunity to know what really matters to you. I think those nasty comments mean you've arrived as a writer – you're able to elicit feelings across the spectrum. Of course none of the comments are ever really about us, because as you said, most of the commenters don't even know us. As hard as it is to give our own inner voice the final say, I'm so glad for the great example here of why it's so important. This piece is a great reminder for me today, especially. Thank you for that.


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