Mean People: When Your Soul Has Been Swiped by the Grinch

A hateful email hits your inbox.
A surly comment is left on your blog.
A nasty response is added to one of your Facebook posts.

 

Doug Baltz self-portrait

©Doug Baltz, Self-Portrait: Anger. Acrylic, 36 x 24 inches. Used with permission

What do you do when someone online misbehaves?

I’m not talking about negative criticism because that could be constructive. I’m talking about destructive comments by trolls.

First, let’s consider what inflames this behavior.

Why Are People Mean?

I’d guess that 98% of my followers are lovely and appreciative. But about twice a year, it seems the Grinch has furrowed his brow and poked his spindly green finger over my heart.

It’s amazing how easy it is to forget about all of the wonderful people when there’s one, big meanie trying to steal your Christmas.

Here’s what I’ve come up with as to why people are cruel.

They are having a bad day.

Everyone is entitled to a bad day. Okay, fine. And … everyone should understand that they shouldn’t whip out hotheaded comments on those days.

They are lacking in social skills.

Truly. Many people just aren’t socialized like others. They weren’t taught about manners and courtesy.

I know. It was a shock to me, too. These people get a brief pass, and then they need to go learn how to behave if they’re going to interact in the 21st century online world.

There are just mean people in the world.

They are unhappy in their own lives, so they try to bring others down to their level.
Haters gonna hate hate hate hate, and it’s hard to shake it off.

They don’t know you.

Let’s face it: many of your online friendships are far from real friendships. They’re superficial.

When people don’t know you, it’s easy for them to misunderstand your posts. Still, it’s no reason to be mean.

Lorelei Land Caricature

©Lorelei A. Land, Let’s Not Bother Her Today. Watercolor and marker on paper, 14 x 11 inches. Used with permission.

How Do You Respond to Mean People?

I have plenty of experience with this and confess that I’ve used all of the following suggestions (except perhaps #2) at one point or another.

Your response to malicious words will depend on the level of wickedness.

If there is any question of intent in the language, make sure you’re not misreading their words. It’s easy to misunderstand email, so ask for clarification if there is any doubt.

Try this -> “Hey, Rex, I’m not sure if I’m reading this correctly, so please help. Did you mean to imply that … ?”

Armed with your answer, you can move on to any of these responses.

1. Call them on the phone.

Sometimes, when emails or comments are only a little mean, I’ll pick up the phone and call that person.

You want to talk about someone freaking out?! They think they are safely hiding behind email, but I am confronting them. They answer, I announce myself, and then say, “Let’s talk about this email you sent.”

This action hastens the entire process since there are no back-and-forth emails that leave room for misunderstanding.

2. Have a little fun with it.

When you really want to make the villain feel as bad as you do …

I’m sorry you feel that way. Hey, my dog just died, my husband is in the hospital, and our basement flooded. Would you mind if we talked about this later? What’s your number so I can call you?

3. Delete.

This is most often the best response to hateful email. Delete. Delete. Delete.

There is usually nothing you can say or do to change someone’s opinion.

Wipe them from your database, remove them from people you follow, and block what they are allowed to see from you.

4. Send love and light.

My friend, Kelly, taught me a version of this.

Stand with two feet firmly planted on the ground, shoulder-width apart. (Think Mountain Pose in yoga.)

As you stand there, envision sending love and light (for me, it’s a warm, glowing orb) to the mean person. Hold the vision of the orb in your outstretched hands and slowly deliver it upward so that it floats to connect with the mean person.

I love this not only because it’s the most positive step to take, but also because it’s a little devious. Have you noticed how mean people just get meaner when you start being nice to them? They don’t know what to do with kindness.

Carol Steinberg Portrait

©2005 Carol Steinberg, Not Happy. Oil, 18 x 14 inches. Used with permission.

5. Let it stand.

My favorite thing to do with mean comments on my blog or Facebook is to leave them so that others can see them.

As long as they’re not anonymous, I want the commenters to reveal themselves in all of their Technicolor glory.

6. Cut them off.

If you’re feeling feisty, a simple “Thank you for your opinion” might do wonders. This is pretty sassy, but it also recognizes that the commenter is only one of many opinions. It should quickly end the conversation.

7. Draft your dream response.

Let it all out! Write down every single thing you’d like to say to the meanie if you weren’t so nice and had the guts to say it.

But don’t send it. Nooooo. Don’t ever send it. That’s stooping to their level. It’s best to write your response in a document rather than an email program to make extra sure it’s never sent.

Optional: Print out the document, tear it up and burn it in the center of the room. For added effect, dance around the fire naked.

Your Turn

How do you deal with mean people?

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42 comments to Mean People: When Your Soul Has Been Swiped by the Grinch

  • Great response Alyson. You really put yourself out there on a regular basis so you are bound to attract jealous people or ones who just are bitter for some reason or another. You always act with class and tact. Good on you! A great example for not only online trolls but offline trolls as well.

  • All of these are great ideas. #2 would be tough to do but would certainly make a point.

    Nasty comments in emails or on social media are like road rage, where the angry person fails to see that there is an actual real person that reads their tirades. No matter how it is handled it still hurts on some level. The trick is, like you say, letting it flow through you.

    I use to delete posts where people left unsavory comments. I took your advice from a while back and now just leave them for all to see.

    • Kim: I hope I get to the point someday where nasty comments don’t hurt. Earlier this year, I was called a “rich bitch” and “breathy blonde” (among other things) in an email. It hurt, but I was able to laugh at being called “rich”. Also, because she didn’t know me at all.

      • I hear ya. Someone recently emailed me for help on a theme. When I told them the proper way to make changes, they said “I wasn’t being very helpful”.

        If you ever get to that place where these things don’t hurt, please do tell us all how you did it. That answer will make you rich :).

  • jan

    Several months ago I dealt with anger, not only from the other party but my own toward these people (who happen to be next door neighbors). I felt betrayal and confusion at their knee jerk emotional reaction. It has taken me months to analyze why I was so angry with these people, to forgive their ego driven behavior and in the end, find compassion and send them love and light. I did this by setting an intention with the new moon. Each day until the full moon, I said out loud my intention. When the full moon arrived, I released the emotions and the intention to the Universe. Mind you…it took me several months of month cycles until I felt the release.

  • Helen Howes

    I had a death threat one time*, on a usenet group (tells you how long ago that was) – I accidentally posted it back to the Group. About 60,000 emails later, from everyone who knew me and a viral selection who just wanted to play, I got an apology. As the twonk was in Australia, I wasn’t calling in the bodyguards in a big hurry
    Exposure can be powerful..

    *For offering a free kite to a child, via his rather unpleasantly self-righteous parent

    HH

  • These responses should be in every teacher handbook. It is always the negative we have left when dealing with parents regardless of all the positive input. XO

  • Barbara Mah

    Alyson, you have some wonderful suggestions. (I love the dancing naked around the fire bit!)
    If I truly had someone mean and nasty in my life, and nothing (like trying to get where they are coming from, being nice, etc) hadn’t worked, get them OUT of your life! Ignore communication, just have nothing more to do with them.
    Such people can really make you feel small, even make you sick.
    Thanks for a really good post!

  • Thanks for using my painting!
    I’m not that well known to really have ever had to deal with this on the internet or even email. I’ve heard it is a sign of success. The closest it has come is once, when I put up a photo of a painting displayed prominently in a client’s bedroom, someone (a “friend” of a “friend”?) felt the need to comment on the “bad feng sui”–I started to respond, then remembered it was possible to delete. I didn’t care, but I really didn’t want the client to see it (even though he certainly had better things to do than hang out on FB.) Dealing with mean people at my job–I’ve hired a forgiveness coach! But that reminds me, one of my favorite comments ever by a student: “You’re kinda mean….I like it!”

  • Nina

    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that most of the time its best to just ignore them. Whether they got angry because they are having a bad day, or because they mis-read my tone/words, or because they just have no social skills…I’ve given up putting time and energy toward trying to make everyone happy and giving them any power over me and my feelings. The other day one of my son’s friends (my son is 8 and his friend 9) sent a rude text to my phone and asked me to pass it along. I said no, this doesn’t seem friendly (that was the full extent of my response). His mom then blew up my phone with crazier and crazier texts, how rude I was etc etc…I was soooo bugged. I’ve been very kind to this family, given them clothes, taken them places, etc. and then I sat down my son and showed him the texts and said “I’m sorry but these don’t seem like people we want in our lives.” I had thought well I could try to convince her how wrong she was (which will never work) or how her son’s text came across (again would never work) or how her son had acted in the past (inappropriately) or how she was clearly teaching her son poor behavior…my mind ran through tons of scenarios and finally I decided, this is not worth it. yes, we’re sad but I think its impt to show my son “we don’t have people in our life who treat us poorly and we don’t waste our time or energy on trying to make people like us or to act differently than they are.” I’ve extended that in my work life as well and its very nice.

    • Yeah, you handled that right. People like that always want to escalate stupidity to the next level, and who needs it? You were right to hit the delete button and keep it moving.

    • What a great lesson for your kid, Nina. And a hard one. I think you’re right – you would have gotten nowhere with them. They seem like peas in a pod.

  • My husband dealt with an online “hater” the other day. I read the guy’s message and it sounded like he needed a hug and a spiritual foundation- I mean, just spiteful and mean stuff. All my husband did was post and promote a t-shirt design and it happens that this guy is in the same business. Smelled a lot like insecurity to me…but you know what Hubby did? Sent nothing but kind words and blessings his way. Ended his message with “Peace”.
    NEXT!!!!!

  • I have personally used example number one and boy does it work!
    It was more of a personal situation but, you are sure right about them thinking they are safe hiding behind email. Nope!
    Thanks Alyson. I think you covered all of it.

  • Good article. Thank you, Alison. I especially like your advise to ask for clarification before concluding that someone is acting from meanness. I had one recent experience where I asked for something politely and constructively, and received an awkward response. For situations that you describe, when the other party crosses the line of good taste, I have a couple more reasons to add to your list. One is that there are people struggling with some form of mental illness or disorder and that situation is the most difficult to deal with – if one chooses to deal with it. Another thing I noticed is that the other person may be back-lashing because of something that happened to them previously. I worked in a Customer Service job for a few years and remember people who’d transfer their emotions after a bad call to a number of unlucky customers that followed. The way I deal with difficult people is to first examine everything I did and said, to be crystal clear with myself that I didn’t do anything wrong. Once I am at peace with myself, I decide if this is someone into whom I want to invest effort and make friends, or not. Sometimes the answer is yes. It’s never easy. Difficult people are – well, difficult. We all have to deal with this at some point.

  • Alison, I like all of your response ideas, but especially #2. As someone who can take life too seriously, it’s good to be reminded that I just don’t need to! Usually my own response is to delete and move on, which works as long as it’s my blog, Facebook page or email that gets the mean response. But when something of mine is re-posted on Facebook and I don’t have control over whether the comment stays up or not, it might feel like more is called for. Once an province-wide artist’s organization with 1000 followers re-posted something of mine and it got a really trollish response from one guy. So I posted too, saying “Hey [insert name here], this is the first time ever that I’ve had a pointlessly negative response to a Facebook post! Thanks for the new experience :-)” He actually apologized and later took his comment down. I was happy!

  • Hi Alyson, this post was very timely. I have some “family” that got into my mom’s email. I have a newsletter for my art. They unsubscribed my mom and wrote a complaint to my newsletter provider that “the emails are spam and should be reported”. This all happened last night!

    Its really upsetting I got no sleep last night (as well as not good health at the moment) and I was upset about it being reported to my newsletter provider. And I was thinking of all different ways to retaliate. This was a “family” member. Cant believe it.

  • As I am compiling and editing phrases of words of wisdom to send out in my Christmas cards this year, I came across these phrases: Underneath all the external power mechanisms is just a need for love. Underneath anger, addictions—is a need for love.

    (but sometimes you really need to just let somebody have it. Then give them the love afterwards. Yes, that works best)

  • Great article Alyson! Unfortunately there are bitter an jealous people that try to make others around them miserable. But also when it comes to email/text…things can be taken out of context without the voice inflection or body language as verbal/visual cues. In the case where it could be mistaken I do try to clarify. However, when someone calls another “rich bitch” and so forth I don’t think there is much room for misinterpretation. WOW! I think I would hit delete and block…

    • Rebecca: The rest of her email was so rich with insults that I actually kept it in a “special file” for naughty followers. As my husband says, “Why do people spend their time that way?”

  • Thanks for this timely post Alyson! I have been putting myself “out there” more on social media to promote my art, and was surprised to have two slightly snarky comments on my art facebook page. It hurt. However I am realizing it must come with the territory, and there are so many reasons why they have made these comments. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I act with grace that I can feel good about, without sacrificing myself. Like you said, others will see there post. And the fun part is my other followers stood up for me – so sweet! And deleting is appropriate for the truly nasty. Happy holidays, always love your posts! xo kellie

  • I usually just leave it alone or get a bit sarcastic. Sometimes I will delete and block, and on some occasions correct those who don’t have their facts straight. If they’re just being nasty, it usually involves cursing and thinking before I respond 🙂

  • The other day I decided to use Periscope for a demo, and someone wrote “Dont quit your day job”. Now, THAT made me laugh because loads of people like my art, lol

  • I used to get tied in knots by the words and actions of mean people. Then someone once asked me do you really want the good opinion of that kind of person? Now I just ignore mean people. I don’t give them any power.

  • Oh my this is really needed nowdays.
    I post my art on reddit sometimes. Reddit has a voting system; upvotes to positive contributions and downvotes for something that is not contributing to the conversation. People use these as a like and dislike button and I get so discouraged when I post a picture and it gets downvotes immediately. Everyone is not going to like my art but it saddens me to see someone would ‘dislike’ it without any constructive criticism.
    Meanwhile I posted to the wedding subreddit last year and someone said I looked like ‘ a beige blob’. I reported the person but I actually engaged with them a little; next time number 6 will be enough to tell them to go away!

  • I definitely delete / block and immediately move onto another task so I forget it. Responding in some way is an opportunity cost spent on some worthless loser.

  • The timing on this post is amazing…I had a bad experience with an angry mean customer on the phone from my full time day job. Their words were upsetting and the yelling really shook me up. As a health care professional I could not respond in any way to get this person to talk sensibly. Mean people are out there. It’s hard to deal with. I am thankful to have my art to help me escape from my stressful day job. Someday I plan to leave the stressful job and create art full time. Thanks Alyson for your great ideas and inspiration. Always enjoy your posts!

  • Alyson, I read this article and all the comments with interest. Sometime in my past (and it took way too long) I learned not to let other peoples bad days/attitudes ruin mine. Just realizing that negativity is coming out of them and is not, or does not have to be, connected to me was a great relief. But it does still sting some times. Great ideas for responses or lack of responses.

    But what I really wanted to say was I enjoyed the illustrations- the portraits you included in this post.