Take a Breath: How To Deal With Haters

One thing unites all who have ventured into the wild in an attempt to better themselves. Each and everyone of them finds mosquitos despicable.

The constant buzz is annoying and now and then they bite, which hurts a little. Find me a person who would be sad if mosquitos no longer existed, and I'll show you one who has never ventured and never gained.


The article is for everyone, although I hope will be most useful for either those who experience periodic trolling, or trolls themselves who might see a different angle to their views after reading.

We exist in a world where everyone has a voice even if they're not willing to put their name to it and for the outspoken, opinionated and successful the Internet can be both a blessing and a curse.

Trolling in its many forms

Haters, trolls, cyberstalkers, they come in all shapes and sizes, but as a rough definition I’m defining a ‘troll’ as anyone who causes undue hurt or upset to others (through online interaction), whether intentional or not.

The most mild form of trolling is just frustrating. Often found in the comments section of the Daily Mail, these are usually single words from people who read about something grand that took a long time to complete or achieve, and their response is simple: 'Pointless.'

Passing references to homophobia, racism, politics, class, and physical appearance also belong here. While not acceptable in any form, ignorance isn't worth spending any time on.

It's worth saying here (or not) that my adventures have been featured a couple of times in the Daily Mail and were it not for the comments beneath those articles I'd have no idea that my eyebrows were snow white.

Next up is aggressive questioning: this mostly finds a life beneath blogs and goes directly for the writer's jugular, lambasting their personal life or career choices.

The lash out: aggression without questions, possibly in response to something said or written that has opened personal wounds. Or maybe because the troll has nothing better to do than find things to be angry about.

And then there's stalking. Persistent commenting, e-mailing over multiple weeks (sometimes years). The perpetrators often feel that their actions are somehow justified; whether this be that they see their role as exposing their target or eventually marrying them.

In my research for this article I’ve been (selfishly) buoyed by how lightly my own haters have taken to me (I'm very glad not to have many, these days), in comparison to the shit other people have had to deal with. How I deal with trolling is, for the most part, consistent but how it affects me changes according to my situation: when I’m tired and mid adventure dealing with other, more important stresses; when I’m alone; when the trolling touches an exposed nerve; or during post-expedition blues.

And one question comes up time and time again: does the troll actually realise that there's a real life human on the other side of this?

The sequence of emotional events after being trolled run something like: Ouch.
Shit, they really seem to mean that. Am I the real douchebag here?
Hold on, NO.
I'm doing good stuff and working really hard.
Fuck you, troll.

It's never pleasant, receiving negative comments or emails. I'm a pretty self-confident guy, work more hours than I ever did when I was paid by someone else, and always try to do things for the right reasons. Yet I'’ constantly surprised by how sensitive I can get.

Each bout of trolling weighs on me for a while, however trivial. Some, especially related to my choice of profession, nibble away quietly for longer: these serve initially as discomfort and then healthy fuel.

The seven steps to dealing with a bit of online hate

Should you become a victim of trolling, here's my advice on how best to deal with them:

  1. Learn and listen: do they have a point that deep down you know is right? Regardless of whether you appreciate the tone of their delivery, suck it up and use it as fuel to be better. Respect is more due to the troll if they've operated under their own name.
  2. Following the point above, if the trolling has taken place anonymously, 100% ignore it. If it is in a public forum, nobody else will take it seriously, either.
  3. If you have no idea why you’re being hated, you can almost certainly put their reasons into the following categories (this might not douse the hurt, but it will reassure you)
    a) envy/jealousy
    b) they haven’t taken time to understand you
    c) revenge
    d) they’re angry and you just happen to be the focus of them lashing out
    e) they need a hug
  4. How you react to haters will determine how the situation continues and is extinguished, how both you and the troll are perceived by those watching, and whether or not you leave in the ascendency.
  5. Never overreact. Stay calm (on the outside). If you respond, be KIND. Do the RIGHT thing and maintain the upper ground.
  6. Use the hate to make you stronger. I once had a Hall of Shame on my website, where I posted trolling that upset me, and how I reacted. Not only did this act as catharsis but it usually serves as great content! It’s still there but now it’s called They Need a Hug.
  7. Don't become a hater yourself. Don’t lower yourself to anyone else’s level, however tempting it is to rant.

I've spoken to a number of people who have experienced trolling and the overwhelming advice is to act against temptation and defence, and ignore it. Unless you're dealing with a stalker, this will end the issue.

If anyone has spent a great deal of time working as hard as you then they know how tough it can be, and nobody worth their salt attacks somebody else online with confidence and justification. Nobody. Remembering this makes not listening much easier.

Please remember that your troll might be suffering with an illness, or depression. Try to imagine yourself in their shoes (even if they haven’t offered you that courtesy).

Delete, or leave online?

Should a disparaging comment about you be present in the public eye, whether on a website or in a comments section, you have a choice to make. This can be a hard decision, especially if you — the attacked! — are the mediator.

If it's personal and unrelated to the topic at hand, deletion is fine. If it does add something to the argument then allow your other readers a chance to make their own views. If it's overcooked, unfair and hurtful, others will recognise this.

Naturally, you’ll be inclined to leave a reply, but before you do give it a whole day. Calm down first, then be nothing if not polite.

A book I wrote got a one-star review the other day. It could have been worse (can't they all?!) but bothered me all the same, because it was as much about me as it was about the book — the reviewer, I felt, got me wrong and obviously hadn't read the whole book at all. I replied, offering him a refund. (Every inch of me hates having a one-star review — I mean, it's not like I spent MONTHS writing the thing! — but I also recognise that having a variety of different grades offers more balanced opinion than just a bunch of high-stars that could have been written by friends).

Get funny with it

Laughter outdoes everything.

If you have an audience, you might want to recite your hate mail out loud. These celebrities do it brilliantly. And Richard Dawkins might be the master.

Make a music video like Taylor Swift did. Shake it off, people!

Or write a song, like Passenger…

Or use Twitter like James Blunt… (No. 20 is particularly special)

Take heart

It is unlikely that you will ever experience trolling as bad as these people. Don’t take heart from their hurt, but do from the fact that online hating only happens if you’re successful and doing well.

Lindy West is a superb writer who had a fascinating troll experience. "Sure, we’ve all built up significant armour at this point, but, you know, armour is heavy." This is worth reading

Rebecca Adlington is one of the finest swimmers Britain has ever produced, and do her haters care?

Finally, Tim Ferriss shares several great principles to help understand why you might getting trolled. The full article is here:

  1. It doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it. What matters is how many people do.
  2. 10% of people will find a way to take anything personally. Expect it.
  3. “Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity.” (Colin Powell)
  4. “If you are really effective at what you do, 95% of the things said about you will be negative.” (Scott Boras)
  5. “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” (Epictetus)
  6. “Living well is the best revenge.” (George Herbert)

Should you ever want to troll me, you can do so via my website, Facebook or Twitter accounts. But feel free to email first, I reply to everyone myself.