This week on my social media wasn’t my favorite if I’m being honest. I made what was supposed to be a funny post but ended up embarrassing myself (more on that in a moment). I posted a blog that didn’t sit well with everyone and needed to listen to some valid feedback about it. And somehow, an old post of mine that really upset the men started circulating again, and I’ve had angry, fragile men in my comment section, blowing up my notifications. On top of being sick all week and having no voice, it just ended up being more discomfort than I was strictly prepared for.
Before I go further, I should acknowledge that in the midst of every difficult experience I have online, I am always surrounded with love by my friends and followers who support me. Like a cool pond in a hot desert, the kindness of my community always refreshes me and keeps my head up. So, to all of you, thank you. I never take your kindness for granted!
So, as far as my uncomfortable week goes, here’s a synopsis of the posts I made and why they didn’t go so well:
Embarrassing myself in the most ironic way
I made a video this week poking fun at my husband for “mansplaining” to me how to count. It was a funny, lighthearted video about my husband and I waking up in the middle of the night, me on NyQuil and him pretty doped up on his prescription sleep aid, and having an argument about how counting works. I explained how he got the counting wrong, while adamantly telling me that I was wrong. Hours after posting the video, I checked the comments and realized everyone was having a (good-natured) laugh at me because, as I told the story, I was also wrong with my counting and didn’t realize it.
My well-intended post that didn’t sit well with everyone
In the midst of what’s going on in Palestine and Israel, I have learned that I am far more ignorant about the affairs of the Middle East than I thought I was. I wanted to be outspoken about the conflict that unfolded this week, but as I continued to listen to people more informed than I am, I realized how ill-equipped I am to speak about what’s happening over there. I wrote a blog encouraging those of us in the west to hold off on making broad claims about who we support and why until we’ve taken time to reallyeducate ourselves. We can do real, tangible harm by speaking from a place of ignorance, and we are not getting the full story over here in the western media. Because our words carry weight and influence, we need to be responsible with what we choose to say right now. I wanted to share that with my followers and encourage them to listen, not lead.
But my post missed the mark with a lot of Palestinian and Israeli people who felt that refusing to speak made me complicit in the harms that were being done. They were unhappy that I haven’t already educated myself, and both sides felt that the answer was obvious and uncomplicated. Everyone was kind and fair in their criticism, but it was hard to hear nonetheless.
A post that landed with the wrong audience
Several months ago, I made a video being critical of a trend I was seeing of moms teaching their sons how to cook “so they won’t be impressed with your dusty daughter’s Stouffer’s lasagna.” My video was short and tongue-in-cheek, drawing attention to the fact that teaching our sons how to cook just so they can be snobs about their spouse’s cooking one day is wrong on many fronts. That video went viral when I posted it, but it had mercifully cooled down. For some reason, this week, it picked back up. It started getting passed around in “alpha male” circles and brought angry, fragile men to my comment section in droves. They’ve been busy telling me I look like a man (because I have a short pixie haircut), insulting my intelligence, and telling me I will die alone with no man who would ever want me (I’m happily married).
The discomfort of it all
Perhaps if all three of these things hadn’t unfolded in the same week, none of them would have bothered me. But with all three happening at once (one being lighthearted and silly, one being very serious, and one simply aggravating), it was a lot to take. My impulse was to just take all three posts down — delete them from the public record.
I decided to sit with that feeling for a while. Why did I want to take these posts down? What was I trying to escape?
As I reflected on my feelings, I realized that I wanted to remove the posts because I believed that every ounce of criticism was true and warranted, and most importantly, they made me a bad and unlovable person. I wanted to remove the posts because I felt that being publicly criticized — whether that criticism was deserved (the Israel/Palestine post) or completely unfair (the lasagna post) — meant that I am an unworthy person who deserves to be ashamed. Even the mild embarrassment of being woefully wrong about my own math while dunking on my husband for not knowing how to count made me feel stupid and small.
Choosing to sit with the discomfort
It is human nature to feel embarrassed or ashamed when we receive criticism. Nobody likes to be teased, reproached, or publicly scrutinized. And I will always support people taking down posts that they realize are offensive, misguided, or harmful. I will also always support people taking down posts that are bringing them hate, harassment, or bullying. Everyone should look out for the mental health and dignity of other people, and everyone should protect their own mental health, too.
But I started thinking about whether there was utility in just sitting in the discomfort. I decided to leave the posts up. In the same way that exposure therapy helps people get over phobias by gradually exposing them to the scary stimulus until they are no longer afraid, perhaps sitting with the discomfort I was feeling about my posts could help me become stronger, more resilient. I don’t want to be a fragile person, unable to receive criticism without falling apart. I want to be able to receive deserved critical feedback with grace, showing that I can listen without fangs and teeth. Not only that, but I also want to be able to let unwarranted criticism — the mean and unnecessary commentary from unhealed people on the internet — roll right off my back. The only way I will learn either of those two lessons is to sit in the discomfort.
So, I did. Whenever I got comments that hurt, that humiliated, that stung, I told myself, “My worth stays with me, no matter what anyone says or thinks. I can be wrong and still be worthy. Nothing changes my worth.” I worked on responding to fair criticism with compassion and grace. I also forced myself to ignore vile comments from fragile men instead of getting in the mud with them. And through it all, I realized that words can’t hurt me nearly as much as I thought. I can handle public criticism without having to run away from it. I can be criticized — both fairly and unfairly — and that doesn’t change my worth or value in my eyes or in the eyes of others.
I think we must learn the delicate balance between protecting our peace and stepping out of our comfort zones. It’s important to take care of our mental health, and occasionally that means stepping away from conversations that are too heavy or difficult. But every conversation we walk away from also robs us of the opportunity to learn something, or to practice resilience. Choosing to sit in discomfort can show us that we are stronger than we think. It also shows others that we are gracious people who are willing to listen.
We all have something we are fragile or sensitive about. It sucks to say that. No one wants to think of themselves as fragile. But we all have that thing. That unhealed wound, that chink in our armor. I think if we would all let ourselves sit with that discomfort instead of constantly coddling it, maybe it would finally heal.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.