The Comments That Can Tear Your Soul Apart

January 2012

This isn’t the picture I refer to in the post, but gives you the idea of me 100lbs heavier and with shorter hair.

Happy Monday everyone! As I mentioned on Friday, Lisa was off all weekend so it was a run-free (and sleep-heavy) weekend … which was great since last week was a blur coming back from vacation and seeming to have so much going on between work and home and the kids …

I managed to get in 47.5 miles last week running pretty much my ‘standard summer’ routes for 5 days. This morning it struck me how the thought of running 10 miles at one time was inconceivable just a couple of years ago … and now it is pretty close to my nominal daily run distance all summer. Perspective? Not me!

Having a Safe Place in Your Life

Today’s post is about comments that can hurt you deeply, but I am really only talking about stuff in the context of blogging. This weekend I saw a post – a happy one about an old friend getting remarried – that brought back a memory of someone from the same friend circle who went through a very difficult time a few years back, and due to sharing friends with the person on the other side of her difficulties, had her situation spread and become more difficult on Facebook. It led her to completely pull back and delete her account and email addresses. I hope that provided her some distance from the hurt, but it is a reminder that we all need to feel safe.

One thing about being married for 22 years and together for 25 is that Lisa and I are connected at a level that is impossible to put into words. As we were driving home from vacation something came up and it was one of those times where we finished the sentence together … but unlike most ‘finish your sentence’ things it contained references three levels deep!

But that connection also means knowing how to push someone’s buttons – we can see each other’s weaknesses and trigger points like they were massive bulls-eyes. I attribute much of our strength and happiness to the fact that rather than poking and jabbing at those weaknesses, we tend to protect them and throw ourselves in front of them if someone else tries to poke them. We are not perfect, no one is … but we fundamentally trust each other to always have each other’s back.

Thing is – we ALL have those weak spots. And some people poke them – intentionally or not.

The other day Suz alluded to a comment that really got to her in multiple ways, and then she addressed it more directly.

It got to her because:
– It attacked her as being eating disordered – which given everything she deals with is incredibly hurtful.
– It created a very negative feeling in what Suz is trying to have as a positive space, especially for people like her struggling in many ways.

Then Hollie posted about getting some seriously negative feedback on a web forum (I will actually deal with that one separately another day). What she saw was people questioning her writing (grammar, spelling, etc) and even asking based on that assessment how she graduated college. Myself and many other commenters complimented her for handling it in such a mature manner as opposed to unleashing the rage cannons on them.

Each of these women has set up their blogs not only as a way of sharing their own story, but also building a community, and rightly feel that people visiting should feel safe and encouraged to share positive messages.

Things That Perhaps SHOULD Bug Me But Don’t

Given my history of obesity and struggles to feel like a ‘real’ runner … you might think that an easy trigger would be to call me fat, say I’ve gained weight, or tell me I’m a slow old man.

Nah – I AM slow, I HAVE been fat, and I’m 48 … not exactly OLD, but the same age my Dad was when I graduated college.

None of that stuff bugs me in the least. In fact, while I have talked much about trolls and poor treatment of others using the anonymity of the internet, it is really nothing that has bugged me much. In fact, now that Hollie talked about it directly, I can say that her specific case is one that bugged me and that I alluded to indirectly … multiple times.

You might also think that insulting my family would be something that would bother me – and to be clear, a real-life encounter involving my family is one of my fundamental triggers – but I have also been around the internet long enough to know that there is no picture of any person that would not be potentially met with what comes down to the ‘2/10 would not bang’ treatment. So some person online making comments about the physical appearance and/or sexual preferences of my wife and/or children? Um, ultimately more about the person making the comment.

That leads to one thing – stuff said in real life is much more likely to impact me than stuff said online. I am not impervious online, but it would be much more difficult to make me feel personally insulted.

A Couple of Interesting Stories

Another interesting story – way back in the 80s, Lisa picked up the expression ‘thank you very large’, and since I was probably about 350 pounds when I met her I took some offense, but since she was so nice otherwise I was left confused and assuming I was being over-sensitive. Fast forward to when we met up again in Boston and I was under 200lbs (i.e. NOT large), and she used the same expression – and soon enough I was telling her about my feelings from a few years before and it made for a great early ’emotion sharing’ moment. Funny stuff.

One other story … let me be blunt: when people knew you as fat and then see you thin they really don’t know what to do or say and sometimes say the most hilarious and/or bizarre things! So people who I went to college with who saw me later had an interesting array of reactions – and they were generally bizarre things like my head looking too big for my body and so on.

And people who don’t recognize you are even more fun – I had one guy who was the year behind me in the fraternity who didn’t recognize me in April at the reunion … and it was great seeing his face when the recognition washed over him! It was great because it remained something that blew his mind all weekend!

Really it comes back to things I have talked about before – sometimes people who really don’t know what to say still feel the need to say SOMETHING. And generally when they speak up it isn’t either appropriate or sensitive … so we depend on knowing what they MEAN to get past what they SAY.

How I Discovered My Current Weak Spot

Just about a year and a half ago I was getting ready to start on a new project at work that would have me in Kentucky each week for several months. But there were some needs for transitioning and helping out on my existing project – and that included meeting new people who needed to capture things I had been doing to document and integrate with the processes we were moving towards.

So while dealing with one of the people – someone who I quickly became friends with and have stayed in contact with ever since – after a number of meetings we ended up meeting in my office, and on the wall was a picture from a team building meeting during the very early days of the project. At that point I weighed about 250lbs, and my overall look was definitely not one of my best: haircut emphasized roundness of my face, outfit was snug, and so on.

But at that moment the woman said something that stopped me in my tracks and hasn’t ever resolved in my head:

I think you look better there than you do now.

OK … WHAT?!?!

First off, telling someone … ANYONE … that they look better at another time than now is not a particularly classy move. Also, when weight is involved, the correct approach is questions ‘you look like you lost weight?’ and so on. Figure out the right thing to say – it really isn’t hard, especially for someone who is in a communications profession.

But WHY does this stick with me?

Because the insinuation is that I looked better fat.

While I have moved so far along in so many ways, it is pretty fundamental to me that I look pretty darn good now, and that being fit and thin is a great look for me, better than when I was heavy. In fact, I think I look pretty much better than at any other time in my life, and younger than I did 15 years ago.

But am I fooling myself? While I am 99% certain I am NOT, it is amazing how a small off-hand comment in February 2013 can stick with me and sabotage my self-image.

And really, I KNOW it is BS. How? Well, I will elaborate more in an upcoming post, but when I first lost weight when I was young I saw the way some people treated me change almost instantly and suddenly had women hitting on me in the airports and at companies I was working with. It was drastic and dramatic change. So I KNOW that stuff, but since when has THAT helped?

It is a reminder of how regardless of our strength and self-image, that pretty much everyone has a weak point, something that will shake your self-esteem.

What is Your Weak Spot and How Do YOU Deal With Those Who Push Your Buttons?