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How to Get Over a Bad Comment

Sometimes you write a post, and someone stops by — maybe they’re even a friend who normally says the right thing — and they leave a somewhat hurtful comment.  Or maybe they’re not a friend at all, and their comment’s purpose was clearly meant to upset you.  Regardless, you read the comment and your stomach twists uncomfortably as if it has begun to tread water, cramping with the movement.  You wonder how close that comment gets to the truth: whether you are bitchy, you are untalented, you are boring, you are stupid, you are a bad friend.

You shake it off for a moment because you know that one person’s opinion is just one person’s opinion.

But negative comments on blogs, just like hurtful words spoken between two people, crack foundations.  After that moment of self-reassurance, you start wondering if there are things people aren’t telling you.  Are they just humouring you?  Do they also secretly think you’re bitchy/untalented/boring/stupid/and a bad friend?

And then you remind yourself that this is paranoid thinking.  Of course your friends are honest with you (are they?).  Of course your other readers would tell you the same thing if it were true (is it?).

You remain in some version of this circular, whirlpool-like thinking until enough time passes.  Until you’ve written enough blog posts and received enough comments to squelch down that one negative one, even though you return to look at it from time to time, just because you can’t help yourself.  But yes, over time it doesn’t sting in quite the same way it did in those first few hours after you read it, back when it affected your whole mood because whether they’re cruel words or just thoughtless words, they are both a form of rejection.  Because a single act of rejection — rejection of our ideas or our words or our selves — has more power for some reason than 20 positive reminders of acceptance.

But there is a way to get to this point faster.  It’s not immediate, and you still need to go through that initial stinging period.  In fact, it only works if you’ve gotten through that initial period, since other people’s words can’t be brushed off of our psyche like an annoying fly.  Other people’s words serve a point — even the hurtful ones — and our brains won’t let them go until they’re good and ready.

But when you feel yourself calming down a few hours later, go pick up the latest issue of People magazine.  Yes, it specifically needs to be People magazine because People magazine goes for what is popular.  With what resonates with the general population.  You know — you and me.

While it’s difficult to say whether being reviewed in a mainstream magazine helps sale rankings or whether People magazine is good at knowing what will resonate with the public, it’s safe to say that whatever they’ve chosen as their “critic’s pick” will also be performing well on Amazon.  For the purpose of this example, the starred review went to Gone Girl in the issue I picked up, and as of writing this, it’s the 4th best selling book on Amazon.

People magazine calls it: “An irresistible summer thriller with a twisting plot worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. Burrowing deep into the murkiest corners of the human psyche, this delectable summer read will give you the creeps and keep you on edge until the last page.”

Sounds like a fairly fantastic book if you like crime fiction: great reviews from the mainstream media, high sales rank, award-winning author.  By all accounts, she should be happy.  Her book is a success and has clearly resonated with people.  There are well over 20 positive examples of acceptance here.  A great pick for this exercise.

Then I scroll down to the reader reviews, and I see that while she has received 259 5-star reviews, she has also received 58 1-star reviews.  That’s a lot of people who hate this book enough that they take the time to write a terrible review.  Writing a review takes time.  I usually pause to write the good ones because I know how helpful they are to authors, but to write a bad one, a person must really really really hate that book.

But surely most are doing so to save you from a similar fate.  Or they’re literally that upset with the book that they need to write out their thoughts in order to get them out of their system.  Taking the time to write a 1-star review means the person didn’t do something else they wanted to do with that time.  That person could have read a different book, completed her grocery shopping for the week, painted her nails, taken a walk, eaten a bowl of ice cream.  But no, it was literally that horrible that the person forewent all enjoyable or productive activities to warn others not to follow a similar fate.

And moreover, that person took that time even though she wasn’t asked her opinion by the author.  It’s not as if the author sent her a survey and she filled it out honestly.  By her own volition, without any reminder, our hypothetical reviewer went onto Amazon, wrote up a horrible review, and posted it knowing full well that her words would directly reach the author.  That’s how important it was to say what they needed to say.

And then you click on the 1-star reviews, and you realize that they are (at least for the books deemed successful by People magazine) pretty much worthless.  They’re useless criticism that the author can’t use in any future works to perfect her writing such as telling her where she was successful before telling her that she may want to work on her use of cliches.  A review such as: “Not worth the hype. Unrealistic. Very disappointing read. The beginning kept me going, but the ending was a downer. Save your money” is not useful to anyone.  It doesn’t tell the reader problems with the storytelling so they can judge whether or not they want to invest their own time with the book, nor does it tell the author things she can do differently next time.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t room in this world for 1-star reviews; in fact, 1-star reviews have saved me from a lot of bad purchases.  I’m grateful to the people who take the time to thoughtfully unfold the problems they had with a book.  But those 1-star reviews are few and far between.  Usually they are more along the one written by Mockingjayforever: “this book was so boring zzzzzzzzzzzz nap time how could this book beat the freaking hunger games series i mean really people this and the fifty shades of gray beat the hunger games.”

See, not very helpful.

And not necessary to write unless the purpose is to crap on another person.  Or to be thoughtless.

The point is that even the 4th best selling book on Amazon which has received strong reviews from various mainstream media publications still gets what amounts to hateful comments.  Hurtful comments.  I’m not happy that this is happening to Gillian Flynn, but in this case, this greyish schadenfreude (or would this be an example of the inverted freudenschade) serves as a reminder that even the most successful books, the most successful posts, the most successful bloggers, the most successful friendships have haters.  Have people who either unconsciously or purposefully tear them down.

Once I see that reminder, it reframes the way I view my comment, especially once I consider that the person took the time to tell me something hurtful instead of going on a walk or eating a bowl of ice cream or doing anything enjoyable for themselves.  That says more about them than it does about me.

And that’s how I get over a bad comment.

(even the ones you may write on this post)


1 Esperanza { 07.16.12 at 11:32 am }

I think the only difference is when it is a friend, a good friend who is supposed to know and love you and uses your own words to tear you down. That is a different kind of bad comment that not only cracks your own personal foundation but the foundation of what was once a great friendship.

But for the comments by random people, I think this is a great approach to put things in a different perspective. Thanks for sharing.

2 a { 07.16.12 at 11:55 am }

Hmm – well, not everyone likes everything. I guess it’s hard to keep that in mind. The ultimate example is still Sally Field’s Oscar speech. Everyone has that bit of self-doubt and a negative comment magnifies it. Perspective is often hard to attain.

3 Io { 07.16.12 at 12:10 pm }

Gah! One of the things that freezes me up on blog commenting sometimes is my worry that I am the bad commenter. Sometimes (fairly often) I don’t know what to say so I write something and then sit there looking at it because I worry that it sounds lame or flippant or what they are reading on the page is completely different from what I am hearing in my head. So, some bad comments may possible be me being a complete failure at communicating. Which is why I assume even when a comment seems a little…off, that it is probably somebody like me who has commenting issues.

4 Mel { 07.16.12 at 12:24 pm }

Io — I think most people wonder if the comment they’re about to post sucks. Or is great. Or will possibly do more harm than good. There are plenty of times when I don’t write anything at all because I’m not sure how my comment will be taken. Or times when I know my comment isn’t helpful and therefore doesn’t need to be posted.

But with most comments, you can usually guess the person’s intention. There are some that are outright rude and others where you know it’s essentially an “I told you so.” Those are the ones that sting for me more than the ones where the person’s heart was in the right place but they happened to inadvertently choose the worst thing to say in that moment.

5 Her Royal Fabulousness { 07.16.12 at 3:37 pm }

As usual Mel, this is well timed for me. Last week I got my first anonymous, mean comment on a post that I wrote while particularly raw. This person made me feel even worse about decisions and stress I am currently dealing with. I think I have been living in a bubble with my blog – I’ve never gotten an anon, hurtful comment since I started the blog. But, there’s a first for everything. Thanks for sharing this today. I needed it.

6 Cristy { 07.16.12 at 4:11 pm }

I think there’s a troll on the IF forum, because I *believe* I was attacked by the same anonymous commenter that left a mean comment on HRF’s blog. Even though I initially got a good laugh out of it, as this past week went south, I’ve been thinking about that comment more and more.

This post is also timely, as I’m dealing with student evaluations. Usually it’s easy to figure out who’s who based on their handwriting and tone, so my institution gives them another level an anonymity by having a staff member type them up if requested. Every typed evaluation I’ve received (only 3 to date out of 50+) has been worthless regarding addressing areas for improvement and has simply been meant to create stress and make me feel worse about myself. You’re point that we should take a step back from the words and look at the spirit in which they’ve been delivered is very true. I still wish there was a way to confront the trolls, though.

7 Queenie { 07.16.12 at 6:53 pm }

It really is all about the power we allow negative comments to have over us, isn’t it? Because the world just has some people who suck, and it’s hard to avoid them entirely, either IRL or online.

I do worry like IO does (and hey, isn’t it great to have her back?!), that my comments will be misinterpreted. So for the record, I’ve never left you a comment I’ve meant to be mean or negative, because I think you rock.

Also, I never leave negative book reviews, because taste is variable with books. I do leave positive ones. But I do leave negative product, hotel, restaurant, etc reviews, but mostly only if someone has pissed me off. Because customer service (or lack thereof), while still a matter of taste, still has general norms as miminum standards, and I think examples are useful to people.

8 persnickety { 07.16.12 at 7:34 pm }

I do look at the reviews on Amazon, and often at the other reviews the person has posted (gives a better understanding of the place they are in), especially if they are a 1 or 5 star. Sometimes seeing what books a 1 star reviewer loves helps place them in perspective. Best one so far was the (bad)review for a book I loved- when I clicked through, the reviewer had given a 5 star review to a hokey (in my opinion) self help book, a 3 star to some computer doohickey and a 5 star review for a vibrator. moving right along.

Sometimes people do say the wrong thing, and the non-immediate timeframe of comment and response, plus text only makes it very hard to respond, or to see the intentions. Flat out malicious or cruel comments are different, but no one has invented decent troll repellant yet.

9 Daryl { 07.16.12 at 8:56 pm }

I also received my first negative comment recently–not on a fertility-related post, thank goodness, or I probably would have broken into a million pieces. I think you’re right that it’s easy to see the commenter’s intention, whether it really is malicious, or just a poor choice of words. And it’s the intention–if it’s hurtful–that can cut you.

10 Mali { 07.16.12 at 9:40 pm }

I’ve always been thin-skinned. But when I was teaching marketing courses to a company, I found I wasn’t as thin-skinned as I thought. I was getting on average 92% positive comments. The rest were neutral or negative (mostly from people who didn’t want to be there). And it actually didn’t bother me. If the comments were constructive, then that was fine. If they weren’t, I knew I was doing good work because of the other 92%. That’s your point I know – that we have to look at all the positives, and believe that what we are doing is right/good.

I’ve only had one really negative comment on my blog. It was about adoption, and was a troll going through the no-kids members of the ALI community, saying effectively “just adopt.” I wrote a long response she probably never saw, and then ignored her. I also got a lot of negative comments on my Huff Po piece, but then discovered that I didn’t really care. I was buoyed by the positive ones, and ignored the negatives. Because I saw comments there as less personal than comments from readers I knew on my blog. And so I can understand feeling more sensitive to comments from people we actually know in real life too.

I think though it can be useful putting comments in perspective. I talked about that here. http://aseparatelife.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/thin-skin/ And I was surprised at the degree I could shrug off the comments like this one.

“Of course, she’s infertile. She’s old.
Can’t have your cake and eat it too, sweetheart.”

(Doesn’t it just take the cake?)

11 geochick { 07.16.12 at 11:50 pm }

An apropos post. I struggle with getting out of the “cycle of doom” as I’ve just decided to mint it. I had a troll once on my blog and I didn’t respond much, other than to tell them to fuck off. Funny, haven’t had any crappy comments since. I think the trolls just want to see that you care what they think. Now, when real friends leave a crappy comment (anywhere), I think it’s a different story. Those cut deep and many are not repairable.

12 Foxy { 07.16.12 at 11:58 pm }

Well timed post Mel. In the same way that a loving comment can boost my spirits for weeks, a negative comment can really hit me where it hurts. In fact I had a really mean, intentionally mean, anonymous comment on my last post. And while I know that it was nothing more than a mean comment, it is hard to just let it go. really hard. and it sucks that there are mean people out there, just looking to say mean things, to people who are already struggling.

thanks for the reminder to keep it in perspective.

13 Bea { 07.17.12 at 9:53 am }

I have never really understood the motivation for a negative comment that basically amounts to “dislike”. I know there have been suggestions that FB add such a button (I think it’s often from people who want to commiserate with a fb friend by hitting “dislike” as opposed to “like the fact you’re having a crappy day!” which is slightly different) but just reflecting on this post it’s probably better not.


14 m. { 07.17.12 at 10:43 am }

I love this:

“even the most successful books, the most successful posts, the most successful bloggers, the most successful friendships have haters. ”

Thanks so much for this reminder. No trolls on my blog (knock of wood) but I’ve encountered some haters in my work-world lately that threw me at first, and then I decided it was kind of flattering. But it took a nice long stinging while to get there.

15 Lori Lavender Luz { 07.17.12 at 12:09 pm }

You bring up one of the difficult by-products of a bad comment — the incessant second-guessing, of not knowing your place in your own sphere for a time. It’s like experiencing an earthquake and not being sure you can trust the earth again.

16 Mud Hut Mama { 07.17.12 at 3:00 pm }

I’m still new to blogging and haven’t received that first hurtful comment yet but I’m sure it will be there sooner or later. I guess it’s part of putting yourself out there – you can’t expect that everyone will agree, but it’s the effort that I don’t understand. If I read something that I disagree with it’s so easy to click away – it takes much more effort to leave a comment and if I did feel strongly enough to comment a constructive comment showing another point of view would make much more sense than a bitter comment. I wonder what motivates people to be intentionally hurtful to someone who they’ve never met. As far as the unintentional lame comments – I love what Io posted because I often feel the same way and spend way too long wondering if my comment is worth posting or not.

17 Battynurse { 07.18.12 at 2:25 am }

Well said and a very good point.

18 Shelby { 07.19.12 at 1:17 am }

I have never received a snarky or hurtful comment on my blog precisely for the opposite reason why that author (and you) have. It is because you are so popular with readers that A. Haters love taking down others with perceived status and well, with your number of readers, the odds are that you’re bound to get a bad egg in the bunch eventually (jeez, how did I manage to slip an IF pun in there?) But all in all, ours is a pretty hater-free community and for that I am grateful!

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