Grace for the Haters

Jul 17, 2012

Meanness surprises me.

Sometimes I stumble onto blog comments (not here, thank you) laced with enough vitriol to make my eyeballs burst into flames. Even Facebook can become, at times, a harsh, venting free-for-all excused as “authenticity.” And, as much as I wish it weren’t true, I know of a few people do NOT think I hung the moon and make sure I know it.

(My husband reassures me everyone has a couple of these, yes?)

Overall, people are kind and well-intentioned. I’m surrounded by a positive, affirming group of friends and co-workers, both online and in person. But occasionally I read a malicious blog comment or post, or personally endure a rebuke or icy cold rebuff. When that happens, I stand gape-mouthed and wide-eyed. Did he really say that?!

Why, yes. Yes, he did. I revisit it again, try to wrap my mind around it. Then I recoil in shock and mutter, indignant: Who gave him the right? What’s his problem? Where in the world is his MOTHER?!

The more I write and speak, the more public my life becomes and the more I’m tempted to shrink into some private, guarded corner. I have no desire to be the bloody carcass of someone’s bad day. I am not tough. I’m a sensitive, people-pleasing pile of fragile goo.

I was taught to play nice. Respect topped the list of character traits drilled into my mouthy skull. And although I’ve blurted words for which I later had to apologize, this concept of kindness and respect remains a core message of what I believe is good and right and, hopefully, who I amโ€”or, at least, who I am becoming.ย 

So what are we to do with the haters? Shrink and cower, in an attempt to avoid all persecution? Tempting, trust me.

Lately, rather than raging or running away, I feel my axis tilting in, leaning ever so slightly, because of another core belief:

Even haters need grace. Not excuses, not a human-flesh punching bag. But solid boundaries lined with generous space to be their imperfect, in-progress selves. Meanness doesn’t have to be endured or tolerated. But I can buffer myself and my heart with an ample cushion of grace. After all, the transformation of a mean heart can only happen at the hand of a merciful God.

This place of billowy grace is not so much for them as me. I need room to keep the cruelty from disrupting God’s rebuilding. I could choose an impenetrable, bitter wall, which would provide ample distance but leave me in isolation. A cloak of grace wears better. It provides just enough distance and cushion to protect, but not petrify.

If you’ve received a hurtful email, cruel review, or harsh rebuke you just can’t shake, here are the truths that walk me out of the guarded corner (Note: It works best when spoken out loud):

  • I give [NAME] permission to dislike me (or my work).
  • I give myself permission to be hurt, but not consumed, by [NAME].
  • I am not responsible for altering her opinion.
  • Her response tells me something about her, not me.
  • How I respond, however, says something about me.
  • If I choose grudge over grace, it’s only a matter of time before I become [NAME].

How do you deal with an unkindness?

 

50 Comments

  1. Marlee

    Michele! This rocks my socks off. I love your affirmations stated here. So true, so honest, and so healing. I’ve never expressed handling unkindness as you have here, but I internalize this process in a nearly identical fashion. Now…I see it in words. I’ll be printing that out and using it in the future, because I’m working towards something that I believe is worthwhile, and anything worth working towards will always have push-back. It will always attract haters. But I’ll be prepared to loving extend them grace. Great stuff!

    Reply
    • Michele

      Thanks, Marlee. I’m learning my own sense of security deepens when I allow others to be imperfect. Wish I would’ve learned this sooner!

      Reply
  2. Bret Wortman

    Someone once told me to always remember that the greatest amount of vitriol always comes from those who are venting “their own stuff”. It never really has anything to do with me, so I try hard to remember not to react to it at the time.

    Later, I might reflect back, see if there’s something there that I should be learning from, if there was a nugget of truth in the midst of the liquid hot magma spewed at me, from which I can glean some insight or other. But by and large, I try to remember that phrase, “This is about them, not me. This is their stuff, not mine.”

    A variation of that works equally well when I find myself taking praise too seriously too — “This is about Him, not me.”

    Reply
    • Michele

      Great point, Bret. We can take too much praise as well. Grace (the knowledge of how much we’ve received) helps to curb that, too.

      Reply
  3. Lore Ferguson (@loreferguson)

    So good. Thank you. I was just about to get my panties in a twist about a tweet someone sent out knocking some people who are dear to my heart. This was perfect timing for me. That’s grace.

    Reply
    • Michele

      I was there yesterday, Lore. Thus the post. It’s my therapy. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  4. David Wells

    Blogs a cesspools of negativity. The best way to deal with haters is to pray for them. To label some group as “those people” turns you into a self-righteous person. Remember that you are as broken as they are, and we all have our own evil to deal with. Meet them with grace.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Absolutely, I am just as broken. I’ve lost count of how many times I needed another’s grace. Blogs can be negative, and I’ve certainly read/written some of those (to my deep regret). But more often I find bloggers to be a source of inspiration and insight. I love learning from them!

      Reply
  5. katfrench

    Wow, what a timely post. Between the election, the heat, and the economy, I think the level of vitriol out there is sort of mind-boggling. And yes, from another sensitive pile of goo, it’s tempting to retreat behind those walls. Tempting, but not right and as you say, probably not even the kindest thing you could do for yourself.

    Thanks for this.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Nice to meet another friend with a gooey center. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for not retreating today, for venturing out and commenting here. Grateful.

      Reply
  6. Amy von Borstel

    Thank you for so eloquently writing the truth. It truly blessed me!

    Reply
    • Michele

      Thanks, Amy. So glad to hear it!

      Reply
  7. Chris Jeub

    I just read that Rotten Tomatoes (what website encourages comments — good or bad — more?) removed comments from Dark Knight movie reviews. First time they ever had to do that. According to the Editor in Chief, “It just got to be too much hate based on reactions to reviews of movies that people hadn’t even seen.” Here’s a link to the AP article on it:
    http://ow.ly/ckgFX

    Reply
    • Michele

      Interesting! Thanks for sharing the link, Chris.

      Reply
  8. Melissa Jenna Godsey

    This was refreshing. Thank you for not advising us to “suck it up.” Iโ€™ve been told that โ€œas a writer, you need a thicker skin.โ€ Iโ€™m not so sure about that. Iโ€™ll keep my sensitivity, but double-up on grace.

    Reply
    • Michele

      So funny that you mention “thick skin,” Melissa. I actually had a paragraph about that in my rough copy, but edited it out. I’ve been told again and again that I need thick skin. But, honestly, that’s not who I want to be. It’s the sensitive, feeling person that writes and imagines and experience the fullness of this textured life. Thick skin would blunt the experience. Grace, however, softens it, deepens it.

      Reply
  9. Robbie Iobst

    Truth is refreshing. Reading this makes me smile and learn and remember who God wants me to be. Thank you Michele for blessing me AGAIN! :0)

    Reply
    • Michele

      I have learned much about grace from YOU. Thanks for being a steadfast (and grace-filled) friend, Robbie.

      Reply
  10. Kay Day

    How do I deal with unkindness? You really want to know?
    Your ideas are much better. I love the truths you posted. And they can be used for everything from a verbal attack to a perceived insult.
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Michele

      They are what I strive for, but don’t always execute well. ๐Ÿ™‚ You make a great point, Kay. Sometimes a meanness is simply perceived, not actual. Taking a grace approach prevents me from overreacting unnecessarily.

      Reply
  11. Danica

    Love this!! I’ve been dwelling in the same space lately… I’m really discouraged by all the negativity around me, and you reminded me of the absolute necessity of finding a positive way of dealing with it.

    Reply
    • Michele

      You have a beautiful heart, Danica. Persevere!

      Reply
  12. tonya

    Great post, Michele. Gives me food for thought. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
    • Michele

      I’m still chewing on it myself!

      Reply
  13. Ken Shaddox

    Obviously hit the nail on the head in this post. Thanks for the wisdom and level headedness you’ve expressed in your blog. My framework is that of being a pastor of a church. Most people I have encountered are gracious, patient, and forgiving. I have come to realize that I will not please everyone but strive, as you have mentioned, to demonstrate grace and stay on the high road of life when shots of criticism come my way. May the Lord bless you and continue to use you to speak into the lives of people that read your blog. Keep shining!

    Reply
    • Michele

      Has anyone ever told you that you have the gift of encouragement? ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for your insight, Ken. Your experience as a pastor provides wisdom we all can learn from!

      Reply
  14. Jan Parrish

    How I handle people like that depends what else is going on in my life. I’m usually able to brush them off emotionally unless I’ve had a particularly hard day. But, inevitably, that’s when the ‘haters’ strike; and that’s when I meet a positive, affirming friend for coffee.

    Reply
    • Michele

      So true, Jan. My current life scenario (including whether or not I slept the night before and ate breakfast!) impacts how I handle criticism and negativity. Sometimes I can let it go, no problem. Other times it haunts me for days. Meeting a friend for coffee sounds perfect. When should we schedule that? ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  15. Annette

    This is a great post and very wise.
    How do I deal with an unkindness?
    1. Weigh the conversation. It could be the person has had a no good very bad day. It could be they are in pain over the death of a loved one or a dream, etc. It could be me. Have I said something that was wrong. Maybe I’m in the wrong.
    2. Don’t make the other person’s problem become my own.
    3. Most of the time to remain quiet is the best option. (Although I’m famous for my raised left eyebrow look.)
    4. When it is necessary to speak, say as little as possible, with as much tact as possible, and to the point.
    5. Cover the entire situation with prayer.
    I’ve taken care of my parents (now just my dad) most of my adult life. I’ve learned so much about people and so much about myself. It’s been an education in many things.
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Ha! I’d love to see that raised left eyebrowโ€”as long as it’s not directed at me. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Being a caretaker IS an education. A stretching, difficult, beautiful education. Bless you for that.

      Reply
  16. Judy

    Thank you, You just expressed feelings in to nice words. Well articulated.

    Reply
  17. Niki Nowell

    Where I’m at emotionally often determines how well I handle unkindness. I’m still WAY too mouthy, but I’m working on responding (or not) from a healthy place rather than out of my own woundedness.

    “The transformation of a mean heart can only happen at the hand of a merciful God.” Wise words from a wise woman. Thanks for the reminder. So glad you’re my friend. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
    • Michele

      Me, too. If I’m tired, drained, I don’t handle kindness well at all. Often I end up hurting someone else in the process. Thanks for sharing here, Niki. So grateful for YOU!

      Reply
  18. Lucille Zimmerman

    Wow, we both must have had the same day Monday or Tuessday! Did you read my post about how someone was so mean to me I had to pull away from people all together that day. It was just some parenting thread, and a picture of a father deeply shaming his child. As a counselor and therapist I know there are a whole lot of better options that might not cause the child to grow up hating his father, and I suggested it. Well, this guy let me have it. He told me where I could put all my psychology books. Ouch. I’m guessing that 99.5 of us writers are sensitive and may we never change. That’s our gift. But it is tricky isn’t it.

    Reply
    • Lucille Zimmerman

      I didn’t mean to say couselor and therapist (same thing twice). What I meant to say was ” as somone who has read the research on what works in punishing a child” and “as a counselor”

      Reply
    • Michele

      Yes, tricky. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m so sorry for your rough day. I often have to pull away for a spell when that happens. This post didn’t birth from a particular scenario, but rather a string of occurrences over several months and a growing awareness of my role. I’m learning to take more responsibility for how I both receive and respond to harsh criticism, and I’m determined to stop riding the rollercoaster of public opinion. You’re one of the people I’ve learned from, so thank you!

      Reply
  19. Lucille Zimmerman

    Oh, and I pulled out of that coversation, but I could tell by several other people’s comments on FB that they had stayed in it an regretted it. They said thinks, like, “You just can’t have a discussion with some people.” Truly, that one commenter ened up revealing so much about himself and his need for grace. (All our need for grace).

    Reply
  20. Stacy Voss

    You have no idea how timely this post is for me. The wonderful Robbie Iobst was just over to console me after someone attacked me on the most personal level. In addition to speaking truth into my life (I had to call friends and ask for truth because I know that these barbs were so fierce that I couldn’t remove them on my own), she told me to read this post. So glad she did. Am I’m so grateful to have such wonderful friends including you, Michele. Thank you! And now I’ll rephrase your words and reaffirm that I don’t need to be consumed by it. So freeing.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Oh, Stacy. I’m sorry! Personal attack can be devastating, so difficult to recover from. I’m glad you had a couple 9-1-1 friends to call and come over. You need to hear the words of truth from others as well as yourself. You are chosen, you are loved, you wear the garment of Christ and have His name on your head. No person or word can snatch that from you. Stand firm!

      Reply
  21. Loretta Oakes

    Yeah, Robbie told me too!

    Very glad she did. I like your list. Very true. I need to remember that what someone else says does reflect them and not me, but that how I respond does reflect me. I love it!

    Thanks, Friend!

    Reply
    • Michele

      It’s the “How I respond reflects me” part that gets me. In progress, baby … I’m in progress. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Reply
  22. Dave

    Michelle, beautiful and articulate in how you handle “haters” with the grace we all need. I’m great at helping others realize “maybe they are just having a horrible day…” or “they may have a sick family member.” But hate on me, and I’m running snarky conversation #27 in my mind to “put them in their place.” But their place is my place….needing love and kindness. Your final bullet points are a great check-list on how to process unkindness that I really need.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Ha! Yes, I’m pretty good at snarky internal conversations, too. That’s usually when I know I’m obsessing and need to let go. Easier said than done at times.

      Reply
  23. Joshua M. Hood

    Great post, Michele! You hit this one out of the park.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Thank you, Joshua.

      Reply
  24. Grace Bower

    WOW – what great wisdom and discernment in this timely blog. God’s timeline is very evident as your community goes through the pain, sorrowing and suffering they thought would never happen again. I don’t always read comments but this was like a visit with my Denver writer friends! Big hugs and prayers to you all. And thank you once agin for your practical help Michele.

    Reply
  25. Change Volunteer

    Wow, I was lead onto your blog from Michael’s blog. This blog is so personal. I really liked it. I can’t wait to explore more posts. This post is straight from the heart, something that everyone can relate to. I tend to assure myself by saying “This too shall pass.” And it works. I resort to forgiveness at times when I shut down from the world for being rude. Keep writing and I will keep reading.

    Reply
  26. Dan Erickson

    I learned of your blog through Michael Hyatt’s. As a creative writer I like your emphasis on storytelling. Haters can be hard to love, but you’re right. We need to love them. I have a unique story as I was a child victim in a cult. I have since learned to forgive my enemies (love the haters) and have written a book about my journey. “A Train Called Forgiveness” is a book worth reading for anyone who has dealt with abuse and needs to forgive. It’s also a captivating page-turner. You can learn more about the book at http://www.danerickson.net. I will be back to read more on your blog. Thank you for sharing your stories.

    Reply
  27. Rina

    I am really grateful that I came upon this blog post. I recently received some pretty nasty criticism publicly on Facebook about a new logo for my business. It wasn’t so much the criticism but the delivery and it wasn’t from a stranger but a friend. It brought me to tears and I too thought how can someone be mean. I responded with a Thank You for your feedback. I told her I was listening and placed a smiley face emoticon. I secretly cried about it over the phone with a friend. Because I’m building a business that requires a public presence I try and say thank you and respond with grace and tact. It’s more important to keep my communication positive. It’s true haters are often jealous. Anyone that knows how hard it is to put themselves out there creatively would only be supportive and know how to deliver criticism (privately) with tact. In these situations I don’t know what drives people to be so hurtful but whatever it is its way worse than receiving a mean comment. Send them love.

    Reply

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