About a month ago, I wrote an article for MindBodyGreen that received a LOT of backlash. Like a lot. Like as in people called me a “spineless asshole,” and said “Megan Bruneau must have Herpes” on the Facebook Page (which has 2 million followers…). I had this weird, surreal throwback to being in Grade 11 when there was a rumor I had sex with Snoop Dogg.
Seriously. There was actually a rumor in my high school that I had sex with Snoop Dogg (I’d ended up on his bus after his concert, but that’s another story.)
Anyhow, given I really haven’t experienced much verbal abuse (to my face–or, er, online persona) since then, getting thoroughly bashed in writing was a very distressful experience! Maybe Dre was too big to pay attention to the rumors, but I, my friends, am not. I found myself feeling a whole mix of things–confusion, frustration, hurt, shame, foolishness. People think I’m heartless! Evil! Cowardly! Where was my PR person in all of this?? Wait. Should I have a PR person? I can’t afford a PR person! And the Herpes! I don’t have Herpes! Or maybe I do and don’t know it, according to this study. But still! That’s libel!
- When We’re Told We’re Bad (or Tell Ourselves We’re Bad) We start to Believe We Really Are Bad:
Being subject to an emotionally abusive environment can lead to depression. Think about how unhealthy relationships in your life might contribute to your feelings of worthlessness: Have a critical parent, partner, or boss? Someone always telling you you’ve fucked up or are an idiot? No? How about an internal critic? Got one of those? Whether or not the negative feedback is external or internal, endure it long enough and you’re going to start believing you’re bad. On the other end of the spectrum, confidence in oneself can come from internal and external encouragement, support, and unconditional loving. Lesson? Encourgagment and self-compassion foster confidence and self-esteem. Abuse and self-criticism do not. Surround yourself by (and get into relationships with) people who make you feel good about yourself.
- When We Believe We’re Bad, We Think Bad Things Should Happen To Us, and When Bad Things Happen To Us, We Believe We Deserved Them:
As I rode my bike home from work, I was convinced I’d get hit by a car to punish me for my wrongdoings. But to my surprise, a car stopped for me at a crosswalk and signalled to another driver to stop. And later that evening I dropped my AMEX on the sidewalk as I was fumbling through my purse at a light, and a lady picked it up for me. And that night I won a prize at a fundraiser I attended. I felt undeserving for all of those good fortunes. Did you know you just did a good deed for the most hated woman in North America? Don’t help me! I deserve punishment!
There’s something called the Just World Hypothesis. Basically, it assumes that good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. It mitigates the dissonance we feel if bad things happen to good people, because when bad things happen to good people the hair on the back of our neck raises and we get all hot and freaked out because it suggests we don’t have control over our mortality (Psst! We don’t have control over our mortality). Lesson? Bad things do happen to good people and good things do happen to… less good people. This is distressful for us to make sense of as neurotic humans who like to feel in control, so make space for the anxiety that arises from it.
- Where’s Jenny McCarthy At? Misery Loves Equally Ostracized Company:
One of my first thoughts was, “Must find someone else whom the world also hates!” Rob Ford! Where are you?! Jenny? Tiger? Miley? Juan Pablo? Any other ridiculed and/or controversial celebs out there who wanna hang? We can smoke crack and hashtag our instagrams #novaccines? Watch sports with our tongues out? Remember, shame thrives in secrecy. If you’re feeling ashamed about something, look to others who can related to your experience. way, the lesson in this one is that sometimes, looking to others who’ve been in a similar situation can be validating and comforting (think hearing stories of others’ heartbreaks, depression, etc). Lesson? Seek support of others in the same boat. Look to support groups or online forums, or ask others who’ve been through something similar to share their story with you. And be nicer to famous people.
- Personally, I Prefer to Float on a Noodle, But Hey, Different Strokes…
It’s probably not earth-shattering information, but people have different opinions. This is OK. Usually, we can coexist relatively peacefully alongside those opinions (with the exception of war, oppression, and fourth-year PoliSci classes). Experiencing the hate was a good reminder that not everyone has the same opinion as I do, and that’s OK. If everyone thought the same way, dating would be super boring, the labour market would crumble, and there’d be either way too much or not enough cilantro in the world. And NOBODY wants a world with too much or too little cilantro. Lesson? Trust that differing opinions in an environment of openness fosters societal growth, diversity, entertainment, and salsa.
- Sometimes, You’ve Just Gotta Cover Your Eyes During The Scary Part.
Sometimes, avoidance is a good thing. I could only do damage control on the comments on the Facebook post on the MBG Facebook page link for so long. Finally, after the umpteenth person said I was a coward, and after another person said “Grow some balls and be a man” I realized many of the commenters hadn’t even read the article, and were simply commenting based on other people’s comments. I had this vision of being tried at a witch trial or being sent to the guillotine for “treason.” Good thing this isn’t the 1600s.
Anyhow, I realized I wasn’t being heard, and I wasn’t going to be able to track down Bob and co individually to
shake themsit them down and ask that they hear me out. I threw my metaphorical hands in the air, and decided to exit the page. The feedback was no longer serving me. Lesson? Sometimes avoiding the things that don’t serve you is a healthy strategy. Sometimes removing yourself from the situation is the best thing for you. Sometimes avoiding your ex’s Facebook, choosing not to attend the event that you know will be challenging not to drink at, or temporarily distracting yourself from (insert negative feeling here) is a positive strategy.
But don’t just believe me! Check out this handy coping pyramid from Alice Boyes. See? There’s a place for avoidance.
- If you Build it, They Will Judge:
Judgment is a part of life, especially if you want to invite people to consider a different way than what they’re used to. If you’re going to put yourself out there for judgment, you’re going to experience “feedback.” It’s inevitable. We’re judging beings. That’s just what we do (although in the future utopia I’m confident we’ll reach, there will be NO JUDGMENT toward each other). I knew what I was putting out there would be controversial. It was messy. Nobody likes pieces that go against the clean, romantic beliefs we hold in our society that people will be happy forever and will always treat other with compassion and respect. It shatters their worldview and creates uncertainty.
Now, I don’t think I was quite prepared enough for the rapid-fire criticism that erupted, but my proverbial shield was able to deflect some of it before breaking down. But similar to feeling anxious, guilty, depressed, and angry, feeling judged, criticized and ashamed are natural experiences in society. Don’t let fear of them prevent you from being you. If you’re feeling judged, empathize with your experience and your feelings, and acknowledge the courage it took to put yourself out there. You could hide in your home for the rest of your life, but that’s probably not going to make for a meaningful life. Check out this deadly motivational video from our good friend, Arnold (except you should still sleep. He’s maybe a little extreme <–my opinion! Not an objective truth!). Lesson? If you wanna change the world (or people’s opinions), be prepared for backlash.
- It’s Not (all) Personal:
As I said before, I wish I could just “[not] take it personally.” like Dre (although I’m sure Dre’s felt hurt before, too), but I’m sensitive and have insecurities and want to be liked and care what people think. Anyhow, in this case, something that was more helpful than “don’t take it personally” was acknowledging that the attacks were geared toward my ideas, not my character. And those who were insulting my character were doing so based on one article of less than 1000 words. I noticed how when I focused on the comments criticizing my character (e.g. “Megan Bruneau is evil”), I felt far worse than when I focused on the comments about my behaviour (e.g. “This article is shit”).
Now, if I was getting feedback frequently that I was heartless or cowardly in response to my behaviours, that might be different. Then it might be time for some therapy with an emphasis on character change. But in the event of situations where emember that one behaviour does not define you. One feeling does not define you. Lesson? Don’t judge yourself (or others) based on one (or a few) action(s). It’s not a character trait until you start getting that feedback on the reg.
- Know Your Triggers:
I hadn’t anticipated just how triggering this topic would be for some people. It was as if I posted “There is no God” or “Cilantro is delicious.” (Sidebar: I’m on the fence about both those topics, and don’t anticipate resolution anytime soon). I didn’t consider how beliefs around relationships are deeply tied to values, personal experience, religion, etc. Anyhow, this was a good reminder for me to bring into awareness my triggers. A few of mine? Slut-shaming, racism, homophobia, fat-talk, the myth of a culture of steady happiness and perfection.
How do I know I’m triggered? My blood heats up and I want to lash out. I feel an urge to get on my soapbox and preach. But that’s not always conducive to a positive situation. I once snapped at a boyfriend’s friend’s mom because she made a homophobic slur. He later took me aside and told me it was inappropriate. “But silence is consensus!” the revolutionist in me screamed. I’ve since realized that there are, in fact, times where it can be more helpful to sit with that trigger, practise non-reactivity, and decide where to go from there.Lesson? Learn what triggers you. Learn what emotions come up when you feel triggered, and learn to step back and watch those emotions before acting.
- Try to See The Green Lawn Underneath the Dandelions
We tend to hyperfocus on negatives, bad memories, and deficits in life. This is known as the negativity bias. We look at how far we have to go, what we screwed up, what we haven’t done or achieved. It’s evolutionary to a certain extent. We’re programmed to see the predator in the serene landscape. But it’s not evolutionary in this situation, as illustrated by my favourite controversial comic, The Oatmeal:
See? We’re seriously drawn to the negatives. Or at least those of us with tendencies to be self-critical and/or perfectionistic at times (cough everyone) are.
Think about when you look at yourself in the mirror or photos and only see your tummy or ears or some other feature you don’t appreciate. Think about when you make a mistake at work, and the whole day is ruined. I work with a lot of nursing students, and they’ll do a 12 hour shift where they were a rockstar for 11 hours and 57 minutes, and made a small error at 3pm, and all they can think of is that error. I mean it’s good to think of the error, but think of the error within the whole picture. Lesson? Step back and see the whole lawn. Unless there’s actually a predator. Then f&#$ing run, and thank the negativity bias. But if the negative is dandelions, respond to those with compassion (then weed ’em if that’s your steez). Either way, celebrate the positive while mindfully and empathically acknowledging the negative.
- Haters Gon’ Hate Something Else Tomorrow, and That Stuff They Say About Time Has Some Merit:
I know, this isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s a good reminder. People are generally too caught up being concerned about themselves to fixate on whatever wrongdoing you’ve committed for very long. And if they don’t seem to be getting over it, well that’s something going on with them. And remember that time really does help with accepting realities. Think about something that felt like a really big deal a week, month, or year ago. Said or did something you regret, ate too much ice cream, didn’t get into the program you wanted to get into, broke up with your significant other… remember how it felt then? There might still be residual pain/shame/regret, but not like the fresh stuff that consumes us.
So try to keep this in mind during your next catastrophe. And get some sleep. Sleep is important for emotional tolerance (although if you’ve experienced a traumatic event, research suggests sleeping too soon can exacerbate PTSD symptoms). Lesson? Remember impermanence. Feelings, thoughts, memories…they fade. Trust that this will not be as big of a deal later on. And get some sleep. Unless you think you might be at risk for PTSD…and get some professional help.
So There Y’are, folks! A summary of lessons learned from feeling like a villain for a day! Thanks for reading 🙂