Is focusing on our haters human nature?
When the haters unleash, Cardi B definitely doesn't bite her tongue. "I will dog walk you," she tweeted at Tomi Lahren after the Fox News commentator mocked her in January. Late last month, when a Twitter user insinuated that her husband, Offset, was cheating on her, she clapped back with, “But since you wanna be funny, bro why you look like a ostrich?” and followed up with a photo of the gawky bird. The ultimate lesson here? Don't come for Bardi unless she sends for you. The thing is, her and every other powerful, talented, confident person could opt to just ignore haters, who'd probably be even riled up if brushed off.
But what makes the trolls so hard to ignore? Is it human nature to focus on our haters?
Celebrities may have the most haters, but anyone who achieves some degree of success likely has their fair share. Denise Lew, a psychologist in San Francisco, tells Mic that the tendency to focus on haters has evolutionary roots, but that the haters are more likely to get under the skin of some people than others. And as with any behavior, paying too much attention to the jealous, the bitter, and the just plain critical-for-no-reason individuals around you can be unhealthy.
“Our brains really glom onto things that are threatening or that make us feel scared,” Lew explains. “Criticism or negative vibes of any sort can bring on those feelings of danger.” We’re biologically hardwired to focus on criticism and negativity because they represent threats, and responding to threats helps us survive, she adds.
Lew believes that people who received heavy criticism from parents or others while growing up tend to devote more attention to haters. For starters, since constant criticism feels familiar to them, they’re probably more likely to gravitate to it, subconsciously surrounding themselves with haters. (For instance, they might end up choosing romantic partners who are critical of them.)
Listening to your haters does have its upsides, though. You can learn from criticism, especially if it’s constructive, Lew says, and although internal motivation driven by your own desires is preferable, using haters to fuel your motivation could lead to healthy outcomes. Maybe you begin exercising regularly, or do more to help your community, in response to their criticism. Cardi gave a shoutout to her haters for pushing her to succeed at the iHeartRadio Music Awards this March. “Y'all be saying mean things and y'all be thinking those mean things is gonna discourage me, but that just makes me go harder,” she said, per HotNewHipHop.
As you can imagine, though, focusing too much on negative feedback is can be real trap. Clapping back at every negative comment can cause anxiety and anger, which you might then take out on your partner, work colleagues, or other important people in your life. In other words, you're at risk of emanating the negative vibes you’ve absorbed. Obsessing over haters’ comments might even make you internalize them and erode your confidence, making you withdrawn and hesitant to socialize.
So how can you handle haters in the healthiest way?
Before reactively putting your hater on blast in a rage-filled tweet-storm, buy yourself some time, Lew suggests. Allow yourself to get uncomfortable and feel your feelings. Go on a hike or run. After a while, you might find some truth in the criticism that you can learn and grow from, or feel empathy for this person and what they might be going through that drove them to post such a venomous comment. Think through how you want to respond — or you may decide the comment doesn’t warrant a response, after all.
“If you buy time, you have more options, and that will give you the best chance to help your future self,” Lew says. Taking a step back can prevent you from reacting in a way that may feel good in the moment, but could damage your relationships or public persona in the long run. These strategies take practice, though, so don’t stress if implementing them doesn’t go smoothly the first time around. Focusing on haters may be in our nature, but to some extent we can choose to deal with them in a healthy way.