“What other people think of me is none of my business” is a mantra I adopted a couple of years ago.
I’d been lucky that, in my career of writing a blog and newspaper column, the negativity aimed towards me had been kept to a minimum, but for some reason, as I began being more vocal about my journey out of the doldrums to happiness, the trolls became more vocal, too.
The trolling from people online and a select few in real life really left me reeling for, well, as long as it was happening. And still does each and every time it happens. I just couldn’t – can’t – cogitate the fact that me living my life in a way that hurts no-one – on the contrary, me living my life in a way that involved me trying to have a positive and influence on the world in the small way I knew how – could prompt people to be so Regina George.
You can repeat the old tropes as much as you like, “what other people think of me is none of my business” (my favourite) and “sticks and stones my break my bones but words will never hurt me”, but it makes no difference. If you are a person with even a modicum of feeling or empathy, finding out that other people don’t like you and feel strongly about that go out out of their way to tell you – it really doesn’t feel nice.
And that’s something I really didn’t, something I honestly still don’t understand.
What Other People Think Of Me Is None Of My Business
Online trolling, bullying, meanness, whatever it is you want to call it, is a total law unto itself.
The world (both on- and off-line) should be a safe space for us all, but in a survey carried out in 2017 for Refinery29, 47% of respondents reported experiencing online harassment or abuse. That figure rose to 65% for 18-29 year olds. SIXTY-FIVE PERCENT.
As a result, 41% of women report censoring themselves online: and I am one of these.
“There’s a fine line between judgement and opinion – if your opinion makes another woman feel shit you should probably keep it to yourself” – Kate Dyson, founder of The Motherload
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that constructive criticism isn’t a good thing. Particularly in this brave new online world where so many of us are trying to forge careers, the feedback and information we receive can be vitally important. But it’s when the constructive part of the equation is removed, and the communication is reduced to negativity for the sake of making someone feel small, that these communications become problematic.
As my lovely friend Kate (founder of parenting group The Motherload) recently said when I interviewed her for my Podcast, “there’s a fine line between judgement and opinion – if your opinion makes another woman feel shit you should probably keep it to yourself”.
This online trolling, it comes in many forms. In the last three months I’ve received anonymous DMs, anonymous emails, anonymous comments on my platforms; some even telling me what a horrendous mother I am, how I don’t deserve to have my children because of the mental effect my parenting will be having on them. Which is obviously totally and entirely untrue: I have my moments – don’t we all? – but my children are well-rounded and happy little people who are loved and cherished. And trying to tell me otherwise out of malice is just mean.
“I’m not sure these internet trolls know how hurtful their actions are. We, the people they target, are real people with real feelings.”
I have had my email address signed up for reams of strange mailing lists that have been a real pain to unsubscribe from, have been discussed on poisonous internet forums that exist solely to bitch and tear down those with prominent online presences, and have had attempts to find personal information like my address and my children’s schools.
And it’s not just me this is happening to. An online friend who also has a sizeable Instagram following has had sensitive information about her husband’s business and the home they recently bought unearthed and posted, leaving her fearing for her family’s safety. Another colleague has been dragged through the ringer on a forum, leaving her mental health extremely fragile. My editor at The Telegraph used to warn me about this, she’d tell me not to read the comments because of how vicious people could be, which used to make my head spin: how about we teach said commenters not to be online arseholes, instead?
The thing is, I’m not sure these internet trolls know how hurtful their actions are. We, the people they target, are real people with real feelings. Feelings that are hurt when our parenting, relationships or life decisions are unnecessarily called into question, we are people who cry when our appearances, families and careers are torn apart.
Only yesterday, in response to a photograph of myself looking happy on Instagram Stories someone sent me the message “Oh for god’s sake ???”.
OK, so it’s not the most caustic of responses I’ve ever received, but the fact my happiness moved someone enough to negatively and anonymously DM me really upset me. What is so offensive about my smiling face, exactly? Why not just cruise on by if you don’t enjoy my happiness?
I follow my friend Alison’s 3-step advice when it comes to online unkindness. I remind myself that it says more about them than it does me, I don’t go out seeking the horrible things people say (and block and ignore those who find it necessary to send it directly to me), and I put value in those whose opinion I treasure.
It’s true that, no matter how kind you are, there will have been a point in your life when you were unnecessarily cruel or mean about someone. We all do it, whether as a response to hurt or jealousy or just to join in with others. But if there’s one thing being a target for online trolls has told me it’s to be kind, always.
Kindness costs you nothing but may make the day of the person you’re giving it to, whereas negativity only breeds sourness and poison. Imagine all those online trolls: if they spent as much energy heaping goodness into the world as they did negativity, the difference they could make to the people around them would be breathtaking.
But until then, my mantra will stand: what other people think about me is none of my business