Recently, a well-known colleague of mine who does terrific work in trying to make the world a better place and who has a popular and very active online presence asked me, “Any advice on how not to let all the crazy comments online bother you?”
Great question! He’s not alone. Trolls, online bullies, and mean-spirited people seem to spend a lot of time online and appear to love to express their toxic views and insults with abandon. Even when people write or talk about things that are hard to argue with (e.g., desire for world peace, treating others with compassion and respect) some folks will take great offense, angrily reply, and, as the saying goes, become the “turd in the punch bowl!”
The problem has gotten so bad that many news outlets and public figures disable the ability to make online comments after their articles and comments are published. They have also made it harder to find their email addresses as well.
So, if you have suffered from angry, hostile, and mean spirited responses to your online or published comments what should you do? Here is a 5 step plan that I suggested to my colleague.
1. Don’t take it personally. While negative comments may feel very personal, they really aren’t at all. People with this type of behavior pattern (and often personality psychopathology) project their issues and problems onto others and most especially like to do so with public figures and those who are often perceived as being successful and appealing people. They often enjoy tearing someone else down which somehow makes them feel better about themselves. Their behavior really isn’t about you…it is about them.
2. Don’t indulge them. When people respond to me in a civil and respectful manner I will answer them and engage their questions, comments, and issues and respond accordingly. When they lash out and behave in an uncivil and disrespectful manner I make liberal use of the delete button on the computer or voice mail! As soon as comments or the discussion turns towards a toxic, disrespectful, and aggressive direction as you read or listen to their remarks I’d suggest hitting that delete button…fast! You don’t need to absorb the toxicity of others. They certainly may have a right to say what they wish but you have a right not to read it, listen to it, or absorb it. Embrace your right to reject their hostility and don’t even bother to read or listen to it. Thus, don’t take the bait and don’t engage their pathology. Mute, delete, block, and repeat as needed.
3. Don’t focus only on the negative reviews. We tend to attend to negative comments and reviews and not the positive ones. Research clearly shows that we do this. You may have 100 positive responses to every negative one but those negative ones capture your attention and perhaps keep you up at night. Sure, you likely want to listen to polite, civil, and constructive corrective feedback from others but you don’t need to attend to those who lash out in an angry, uncivil, disrespectful, and often dehumanizing manner. Pay attention to and embrace positive responses.
4. Don’t forget to breathe. Be sure to engage in adequate self-care that might include emotional support from those who have your back. And research tells us that other self-care efforts such as regular aerobic exercise, prayer and meditation, getting adequate rest and sleep, and so forth will help too.
5. Cocktails anyone? I half-jokingly suggested to my colleague that sometimes a well-made cocktail helps (make mine a Manhattan…with two Luxardo cherries please)! Having some relaxing down time, perhaps with friends or family, can help you develop perspective when people treat you poorly.
My colleague seemed to like these suggestions and I believe that the delete/mute button has become his new best friend. And I hope that he’s enjoying the Luxardo cherries too.
So, how about you? How do you manage toxic negativity online …and offline?
Copyright 2018, Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP