“We got our belongings unpacked in our new, temporary home. The luggage was stowed, and I was feeling confident again about my ‘skill’ in making our hotel rooms home. Even still, this day I was eager to check out of mom mode. Excited and buzzing with my own thoughts and ideas that I had bottled up through another homeschool lesson, lots of diaper changes, sticky kisses, a fight over lunch, and the other beautifully mundane mom moments that make up my days.
My jittery hands were armed with a laptop, my third coffee and my head was filled with ideas so big I couldn’t think straight. I was ready to toss the kids at my husband as soon as he cracked the door. He walked into the door to a greeting of, ‘Tag! You’re it!’ I was so happy!! ‘I can’t wait to share this,’ I told him. ‘It’s finally done. Our story, from the moment we met to traveling full-time.’
I logged on, and my little writing ‘game plan’ was to share my previous story that got published beforehand to my social media. I searched the link, found it and before I could stop myself from reading there it was, staring back at me with sharp daggers… a mean comment.
Everything that buzzed within me just moments before was suddenly sucked into the void of these words. They were like a black hole of yuck. I was sitting on the couch and Kyle could tell by my posture change and rigidness that something was up. I told him, ‘I just need a minute.’ Yet, minutes passed, and the words were still there staring up at me from my glowing screen. My face flushing with embarrassment, a ringing in my years, it was like a school yard bully was yelling these words on repeat in my brain. It started with how my story ‘did nothing for’ this person to which I thought, okay fair… it’s not for everyone. But then it went personal, ‘Grow up! The world doesn’t revolve around you.’
The super ‘controversial’ title of the piece they were commenting on? ‘A woman in Walmart made me cry.’ Ironically, I had now removed myself to the bedroom and sat in silence as another stranger made me cry… and this time they were not tears of gratitude. I stayed there, laying on my bed, crying hot tears over a comment that deflated me. And while I did nothing wrong in this situation, I really hated that I was crying over it. In our ‘forget the haters’ social media world it seems like anyone who takes something negative to heart is weak, less than, wasting their time, and just not cut out for whatever line of work they are in– especially online in the known world of trolls. I went through the motions that night, comforted by family and friends, but with a pep effectively removed from my step.
I carried this comment with me in my gut the next day, it weighed me down like a heavy rock in my intestines, my stomach churned a mix of embarrassment and bile. I was now overwhelmingly self-conscious of my next piece to submit. It was a story about our life, and after reading ‘the world doesn’t revolve around you’ I was now super self-conscious that this story revolved too much around me. Something inside finally spoke truth to the crap storm swelling inside of me and said, ‘um hello, yeah… that’s the freaking point girl…. it’s your story.’
It was at that moment I decided, when people are negative, I don’t have to change my momentum, but if their words hurt, I’m allowed to remove any facades or ‘brave faces’ to shed some tears before I pick myself up and move on.
As a mom, I spend my days teaching my kids that their words have power and they can really hurt. At night, I read non-fiction books by authors with expensive degrees and alphabets after their names also telling me (in much fancier sentences and theories) that ‘words can really hurt’. So why was I so down on myself that I couldn’t just ignore the pain I felt and be unmoved by words?
I can’t… actually no, I refuse to lose my own humanity and try to become some negativity-proofed robot that isn’t fazed by mean words. I refuse to always play the ‘put on your brave face’ game, ‘don’t be a snowflake’ and harden the soft, empathic parts of me that I love with the hopes that someone could later stab at me and I wouldn’t be able to feel it as much. How can I possibly change the mental and physical reaction I have to someone being mean? And why should I?
When we try to numb our capacity for negativity, we also begin to numb our capacity for joy too. Brene Brown taught me that, and I’m stubborn so there’s no way I’m giving someone permission to limit how much joy I can feel, or to tell me than I should just toughen up.
I know this stranger wouldn’t know that her words cut me extra deep, and she couldn’t know ‘grow up!’ was a shame-filled messaging I had playing internally in my head since I was pregnant at 18, but still she hurled them into the unknown without much care, so now the burden of what to do with them was left on me.
Maybe this is familiar for you too, but in the past when I was hurt by harsh words, I’d always puff myself up and try to act like they didn’t faze me. Negativity would enter me like air in a deflated basketball. Puff… puff… PUFF, look I’m bigger, look I’m better, look here’s my big, bad, ‘I don’t care what they say’ attitude…. even when internally I’m screaming that I really DO care.
That isn’t the kind of example I want to set for my children. When they see that they’ll learn to bury their hurt and put on a facade. How can we expect them to even want to be empathetic towards others when we send the message that having real feelings and capacity for hurt is a weakness!
I’m not empowering them to be reactive, but I also know won’t be able to communicate their feelings well if they don’t allow themselves to actually feel them…
Now, for their sake and my own, I’m trying to be different. When someone says something mean, I am trying best to not pretend that it doesn’t hurt. I admit it, cry, and in the moment, I may forget a bit of self-compassion. I may even mope around for a bit, question my sanity for continuing to move forward…. but then I rise up more empowered to spread compassion than ever before.
Do I really know the lady who wants me to grow up? Nope. Do people that ‘hate on’ you really know you either? No. We all see what’s displayed to us online and then we just fill in the blanks. We use maybe 5-10% of knowledge we can actually get from another complex human being online, and then assume the other 90-95%.
Want some more Brené Brown wisdom? Good!! In her book, Braving the Wilderness she talks about how we as humans LOVE to sort people into quick and easy categories…. except for ourselves because we believe we are way too complex to be labeled as simply as that. Ironic, right? She states, ‘the paradox is that we all love the ready-made filing system, so handy when we want to quickly characterize people, but we resent it when we’re the ones getting filed away.’ Truth. Bomb.
How does this relate to a mean comment from a stranger online? Well, there’s something wrong with the way we use the internet when a stranger can comment on a mere twenty minutes of your day and judge you or ‘file you away’ so harshly. Frankly, I’m tired of watching people trade compassion and empathy, for who can be the most shocking, sarcastic or push the free speech boundaries furthest. It’s unoriginal and when I polled my Instagram followers, I realized I’m not alone in these feelings.
Still, this isn’t a pity party for my hurt feelings or me thinking that the internet will suddenly change anytime soon. I know it won’t, so instead this is a call to YOU, my soft-hearted people with BIG stories to tell and little humans to lead.
The same ones feeling timid to share your heart, or worried you need to harden or lose the mushier parts of yourself to even lift your voice publicly and share a moment of wisdom you had in a Walmart (or likely somewhere much better ha.) The parents conflicted with putting on a brave face as not to scare your little one with your hard feelings.
It’s a plea to the ones looking around and feeling the peer pressure to puff up and give off the appearance of tough with any negative blow, while you just crumble inside. Doing those things won’t work for you, but thankfully you are not alone in your feelings.
For my mental health, the lesson for my own soft heart was to have more boundaries and honesty with myself. I’ll likely never write about a mean comment again, and I’ll try my best to never stare at the comment section either. And if I’m truly hurt by someone’s words, I’ll cry and get it out then. I won’t lie to myself and others that I’m unfazed and bottle it up so that it becomes bitterness ready to bubble out of me one day.
When the kids are around, I’ll remind myself that as a parent, when my kids see me display vulnerability, it will reach them quicker and teach so much about living life and loving other humans then I can imagine. It will empower them to acknowledge their feelings and be honest with themselves, and hopefully open the door for communication for years to come.
As a creative, when the battle is internal, I’ll remind myself that when the joy of anything I do lies within the compliments I hope that I’ll receive, I’m not on the path to real joy. I’ll remind myself to make sure to find joy in the actual process, and if I wait for joy to come in forms of flattery and praise, it may never come, or it may make the weight of critics louder, mightier, and heavier.
That comment sparked something in me again… First and worst, came my own hurt and doubt, and then came the confirmation and gratefulness for a purpose to uplift others and show vulnerability in my life. It reignited the desire to show up for my people online joyfully, to continue to encourage their passions and stories, and to cancel out any negative comments they may also have echoing around in their heads. I don’t ever want to speak too quickly, and have my words be the reason someone else hurts. Instead, I’m aiming to speak life-giving words that help them thrive.
If you are a soft-hearted, creative person on the internet reading this and you have a story to tell, I hope you take the chance and hit that submit or record button soon. Don’t bother waiting around until you think your skin is thick enough because I promise you that that time will never come. There will always be critics with their own hurt will say something outrageous, catch you off guard and momentarily steal your joy. Their words may knock you down when you put yourself out there, but in the end, you will be okay because someone in the world NEEDS your story and reaching their heart is so worth it!!
Remember these wise words from Theodore Roosevelt, ‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’
Whether you’re a mom a creative or both, get in the arena, and know that I’m rooting for you and your unapologetic journey to sharing your heart with your children and the world! You and your story are so, SO worthy! Be bold and take a chance!! Oh, and don’t forget to jump on social media spread a little kindness today, there’s enough negativity out there!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Courtney Abernathy. Follow her journey on Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories from Courtney here:
‘She’s very vocal….’ A woman in Walmart made me cry over a comment she made about my toddler. The shame crashed down all over me.’: Mom feels guilt for misjudging stranger after noticing her comment about her daughter
‘We sold our home and belongings. We were given orders to stay at home, except unlike many, home for us is a hotel room.’: Traveling family thanks hospitality workers, ‘No matter what, they take it in stride’
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