I’m so used to being an open book.
I’m so used to being vulnerable.
And yet… I don’t feel like I am as much anymore.
I used to feel completely safe with sharing things on the internet, ya know?
That was before.
Before I discovered that some people have so much sadness inside them that they delight in other people’s sadnesses or struggles. Some people call ’em trolls or haters. I try and think of ’em more as lost.
It’s harder for me to be vulnerable when I know that a tiny, tiny percentage of readers will not be kind with that vulnerability.
Who will tear it piece by piece in a hate forum, designed specifically to pour vicious, vicious hate on any woman who dare share her voice with the world.
Not just hate but: outright lies. Total fabrications of truth. Gossiping. Delighting in the suffering of others. Picking apart appearance, voice, marriages. Making fake accounts to be vicious on social media. Women tearing down women bloggers.
I’ve seen things written about me that have made me shake my head + gasp at the unabashed dishonesty.
Weirdly enough, it does NOT happen to men bloggers on anywhere near the same scale. Nor does this visceral hate gossiping happen from men. Hate forums + trolling are women hating women bloggers. This makes me feel deeply sad as a feminist.
It’s that age-old paradigm of dark vs light, fear vs optimism, tradition vs change.
It reminds me of the monkey experiment.
Since time began, women have been taught over + over:
Don’t share your voice.
Don’t be powerful.
And now we don’t even need men around to tell us to do this.
We will rip down any woman who does.
To remind them:
It’s not safe to do that.
You’re not allowed to do that.
I’ve been a blogger for 11 years.
And I’ve watched as other bloggers who started the same time as me – or even after – slowly pull back from vulnerability, or stop blogging all together. It’s the accumulation of hater upon hater, unthoughtful judgment after the next.
And I hate that I don’t have the answer to this. I feel like I can’t talk about it because I don’t.
I can’t be a lightbeam of truth saying:
The hate doesn’t matter.
Your truth is your truth.
Ignore the darkness, concentrate on your inner life.
Believe in yourself.
Keep sharing your story, deeply, vulnerably + honestly.
I can’t, because I still feel wounded in so many ways.
Still not fully healed from my own experiences, even though it’s been 18 months since the worst of my hater attacks. I’ve had a lot of therapy + healing work in order to start feeling at peace again.
It aches to be so deeply misunderstood, to see rage + anger + sadness spilling out of people, flung in your direction.
For a long, long while there, I was safe in my little kooky corner of the interwebs.
A decade of blissful connections, of feeling like I’d found a giant tribe of best friends online, and that this place – online – was our place where we could share our sacred truths + creations.
Just a handful of weird emails or comments that were promptly deleted in that 10 years. Pretty amazing, really.
It was when I was horrifically ill with hyperemesis pregnancy with my pregnancy with Beth, rocking back and forward in bed for nine months, that crazy shit started to go down. A hate forum started going in for the kill, mostly because I dared raise my prices.
And there, in bed, with an ipod in hand and no other way to connect with the outside world… I started reading it all.
It was vicious. It was awful. It got personal. Deeply personal. About my children. My husband. Even that I was faking my illness. (Fuck, I WISH I had had fake HG! That would have been SO MUCH easier than the real deal vomitfest!)
I discovered that if you have the audacity to fire clients for being abusive, they actually can become more abusive. They feel angry for having been told their behaviour is unacceptable. They can get even ragier. They have an axe to grind, and the truth simply doesn’t matter in these cases. It doesn’t matter what’s true or not. What matters is causing damage + pain. What matters is putting me firmly in the wrong because they can’t bear to see how their own actions have caused a need to remove them from my programs. Despite my boundaries being clearly communicated on my blog. Despite my boundaries being clearly communicated as client policies and community guidelines.
So I would read this… shit… and gasp with sadness + pain + horror + disbelief.
And run outside and vomit yet again.
I cried. And cried. And cried. I contemplated giving up the internet.
My heart felt broken.
After years of pouring my heart out on the internet. After years of creating and creating and creating stuff to try and help people. After years of trying to make it as affordable as possible.
I felt so profoundly misunderstood.
I basically lost faith in the goodness of the human race.
And I didn’t have a clear perspective. I was months into being bed-ridden. I had no contact with the outside world beyond going to the emergency department, doctors + chemist. I was profoundly depressed from the illness already.
It felt like a massive blow.
And then it wasn’t just attacks on me… it was attacks on my business.
That year, I sold my workbook on Amazon. The hate forum started a campaign to write untruthful negative comments on there to damage me, my reputation + my company. Other hate forumers would drive up each others comments. I consulted lawyers. They agreed it was unlawful behaviour, but Amazon didn’t do anything about it.
Since then, I’ve talked to a number of bloggers + discovered that this was basically standard practice for hate forums. And that other bloggers who have been published by a publishing company had been reprimanded by their publishing companies for not being able to control their haters, and have even had multi book deal publishing contracts pulled because of it.
What I started doing differently
It was after that debacle I decided I would take back my own power, and start printing + distributing workbooks through our own company. It makes a lot of sense for us for a number of reasons – we can create a better quality book and add in wall planners and to do list pads and planners and all kinds of cool shit, we can earn more profit and we can keep emails of people who purchase our books. And it was a real relief that I didn’t have to fight Amazon on publishing hateful, untrue, defamatory reviews.
I also stopped reading the hate forum at the same time. It hurt my heart so deeply to see all that awful energy being thrown around. And even though I knew it wasn’t true, even though I knew they didn’t know me personally, even though I knew I was just a scapegoat for their misery… it still affected me too much.
I added a blocking plugin to my browser so I didn’t see hate forum shit come up in search results.
They started using my Facebook page for a while there to past gross comments linking back to the hate forum to “FIND OUT THE REAL TRUTH ABOUT LEONIE DAWSON.”
I instructed my staff to screenshot everything, ban, block + report to Facebook for abusive behaviour.
I was also very, very grateful for the fact that I had a mastermind/sisterhood of other business women who had experienced similar situations. Who helped me realise it wasn’t just me. It’s just a sign of getting to a “certain level.”
If I didn’t have others around me who understood the risks + challenges of going big, who supported me + whispered kind words to me, the journey of healing would have taken a lot longer.
I can utterly understand why celebrities + teenagers alike suffer so profoundly from these kinds of attacks.
It hurts horrifically to be bullied online. You forget that the internet isn’t actually REAL LIFE. I am so very, very grateful that this all started happening to me 10 years into my blogging journey, at the prime old age of 30, with my sense of identity fully formed, with a wonderful support system of husband and friends who all reminded me:
What some people think of you is none of your business. You KNOW the shit isn’t true.
I grieve for all the people who didn’t remember that, and succumbed to suicide because of online abuse. I think of Charlotte Dawson. I think of my friend’s teenage daughter. I think of all the people who are suffering because of cruel abuse delivered via the internet.
I’ve harboured dreams of starting a new internet where only nice people can be.
I’ve ranted in my head at The Lost Ones (i.e. the trolls):
Stop wrecking all that is good + beautiful! Let our artists + our creatives + our writers + our healers be safe enough to share their work with the world.
I’ve had conversations with friends I never really thought I’d have
There’s been a number of friends who’ve accidentally tumbled across the hate forums about me.
Who feel so hurt + confused that people who didn’t know me in real life could hate me.
It’s surreal to say the least. Those friends now feel more anti-gossiping about any public figure, knowing that for every public figure out there having shit thrown their way, there is a real, live beating heart in a person. And that they are surrounded by other people who love them + know them truly.
And I mean, let’s be clear here:
I know nobody truly hates me.
They hate the vision they have of me. Who they think I am. What buttons I press in them. What stories and tapes I make them play.
They may see things in me that they wish for themselves:
Success. “Popularity.” Financial freedom. A marriage. Lifestyle freedom.
They may see where I feel powerful + in love with myself, and it may open up a gaping wound in them that says:
It is not safe to feel powerful. It is not safe to love yourself.
If they are clients that have been fired, they may think:
How dare you have boundaries! How dare you not accept my abuse. I feel angry. I feel like a victim.
And in all these things, they may not know that it’s actually okay to have all these feelings.
And that the way to move through those feelings is through healing methods that are actually effective:
Therapy. Journalling. Intuitive healing. Whatever healing modality works for you. Taking responsibility for your own feelings and buttons, and actively working on them.
That’s all the struggles of the world right there. The clashes and the pain.
Where people don’t take responsibility for their own feelings. Don’t allow themselves to feel those feelings in healthy, helpful ways. Where they act out, and rage, and throw all the pain outside out onto the world, again and again.
Peace be with you. And with you. And with all of us.
I should mention here:
Should you go read the hate forums? Find out what they are all saying?
It’s absolutely up to you. If you want your day wrecked, go for it.
I know we as humans are attracted to drama. Nothing swivels our head faster than trainwrecks – whether literal or metaphorical.
But that’s not necessarily what will make us be happier, more peaceful + more successful.
I’m a big believer that we need to be vigilant about our thoughts, what we consume, who we surround ourselves with.
I am passionate about the legal system catching up with the online world
I will advocate for that wherever possible.
Put simply: there is so much shit said online that if it was a typed, physical letter, would be regarded as illegal.
There seems to be this weird divide in our communal brains that says:
If we write something on the internet, it’s not really true. It’s not real. It’s JUST the internet.
But that is categorically untrue.
Our words hold power.
And we must be held responsible for how we wield those comments.
Everytime another person gets fired, arrested and charged for Abusive Shit They’ve Written On The Internet.
Why We Don’t Talk About It
I talk to a lot of bloggers about this.
We all have our different reasons about why we don’t talk about it.
We don’t want to put other bloggers off from blogging.
We don’t want to give attention to the trolls + the hate forums.
And I think, most of all, we’re afraid that if we talk about it, people will say:
There must be a REASON why people hate you so much.
“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.” – Brené Brown
We have shame.
I have shame.
I have pieces of shame that say:
You should be able to make everyone love you.
And yet I can’t.
And it’s been one of the most difficult spiritual lessons I’ve had to learn this life.
We’ve all heard:
What other people think of you is none of your business.
You are not an asshat whisperer.
Just ignore the haters.
Haters gonna hate.
It’s so much easier to say it than it is to truly live it.
I have so much compassion + understanding now for anyone who has gone through this.
Who’ve heard enough cruel things said about them.
And who are all at various stages of coming out the other side.
Of finding their own inner, unshakeable voice.
The one that says:
You are loved.
We know who you are.
And you are good. And you are worthy.
We know the truth.
And we kindly, gently, lovingly
ask you to keep doing this work
of sharing the truth.
Martin Luther King Jnr + Gandhi + Nelson Mandela were all truthtellers + vision-seekers + change-makers.
They also faced enormous opposition.
Their brilliance + their light did not exist without haters.
And yet they did their work anyway.
And the world is better for it.
So that’s what I do now, everyday.
As best I can, turn up. Face the fear, do what I can.
Be as vulnerable as I can.
Tell the only story I can tell: my own.
Trust that people need it.
And believe in myself.
Knowing who I am, and what I do, my own intentions + my own experience.
Knowing it may go out there, and make just one person feel less alone, less afraid, less broken.
I’m learning how to say:
This is me. All of me.
It’s okay if you love me or not.
Because I love me.
Wherever you are. However you are doing. I’m sending you love. Grace. Vulnerability.
And the truth-telling of big + hard things.