Letter to Jesy Nelson; A LITTLE MIXed up? Not really.

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Dear Jesy

First of all, congratulations on your film ‘Odd One Out’ winning the award for the best Factual Entertainment programme at the recent National TV Awards. Subtitled ‘Taking on the trolls’, I hope you feel you’ve really achieved something. It was great at illustrating the horrible things people say to each other on social media and how difficult these things can be to deal with. How on earth can people feel it is OK to be so vicious?

Secondly, I am writing to remind you what we would have talked about if we’d met. It’s all things you know, but stuff most of us too easily forget.

One big problem is that our culture encourages us to believe our feelings are simply caused by things that happen to us. This is especially true of how we talk about our distress and mental health. The problem with this is it ignores the fact that we’re first and foremost THINKERS. When anything happens, we naturally think about it; the bigger the event the more we think about it. But what matters most of all is how we do this. If we want to understand how we feel we need not only to consider what has happened, but more importantly how we have thought about it.

Thinking is more complicated and far more interesting than we usually recognise. If you want to remind yourself of how it works you could do worse than read through the THINKING TOOLS on my website, thinkingasaction.com. There you  will find the following examples;

Two People on a Plane shows how our feelings depend on the programme of thoughts we are running at the time – and not on the plane

The Speeding Car shows how feeling anxious only happens when we predict something and at the same time don’t want it to happen

The Decorated Room shows how much choosing we are doing when we think. We choose to focus on something, how to judge it, and how much it matters. We are not aware of most of this choosing; what we notice is the feelings it leads to. The example shows how dynamic thinking is and how our thoughts can escalate very quickly

From all of this we know trolling (like planes, speeding cars and decorated rooms) can’t directly make us unhappy. It is how we think about the vicious comments that matters. However, we’re social creatures and what other people think matters to some extent. This is true if you’ve always liked to entertain, especially if you’re a celebrity. But we need to be careful whose opinion we’re going to make matter and how much we’re going to make it matter? We can’t please all the people all the time.  

It is also useful to understand trolling. Being nasty about others has always been a part of social life.  We might not want to recognise this but there aren’t many groups of friends who don’t enjoy having a bitch about people they know. This usually happens in private. Having a moan about someone among friends is one thing. Unfortunately, the Internet allows it to be done anonymously and some people seem to think it’s OK to say outrageous things.

Why do some people want to bitch and be so nasty? One reason is jealousy and resentment. In your case, Jesy, you could see it as a back-handed compliment because of your success.

It is also worth pointing out that people actually find it funny to be nasty; groups of friends will laugh and snigger at the things they say about others. If you don’t think people find it funny watch some comedy or political satire. Being nasty about other people has become part of our entertainment culture. It’s in journalism as well. Katie Hopkins, who came to public attention on The Apprentice, has made a career out of it. The media thrives on the drama and controversy that these characters generate. So much of culture thrives on criticism and nastiness. Given we can’t change it, we have to find ways of accepting this, especially if we’re in the public eye.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference.”  (Rheinhold Niebuhr)

But are there things we can change? Well, the old playground saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”  reminds us, a comment only hurts when we take it seriously; when we believe it or think no one could or should have said it. Our feelings depend on how we hear the comments and our hopes and expectations of what we want people to say.

This is not easy, especially when it happens when you have had a great success and are least expecting criticism.

“In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to expect it.”  (Abraham Lincoln 1862)

Another important point we would have discussed is how we should think about a time in the past when we have felt particularly bad. You say in your programme that you don’t want to ‘go back there’. This is very understandable and something that many people worry about if they’ve had a difficult time in the past. They often change all sorts of things in their life in the hope of not ‘going back there’. They start avoiding things whether its relationships, places, activities etc.

This concern is very common. It happens because we blame feeling bad on what has happened. But you know from what I have already said it’s more complicated than that. The way we react to events and the detail of how we think is a big part of how we feel bad. If we can see the thinking we got drawn into, we stop simply blaming the events and situations and can shift our focus onto finding different ways of reacting; in your situation this would mean not taking any notice of the trolls. Understanding why they are doing it can help us to simply not mind. How can you tell if you really don’t mind? Well, that would mean not being angry and not wishing that it wasn’t happening. If you can do this, you can’t be drawn back into those old dark days.

It’s easy for any of us to get into a psychological muddle sometimes. If this happens, we should try to understand how it happened, forgive ourselves and move on.

Lastly you said in passing on The Odd One Out that you recognise you might contribute to the social pressure girls feel to always look their best. Being in a girl band this is inevitable. You have to dress up and look your best. But you could treat this like a performance. Don’t buy into it totally otherwise you are putting pressure on yourself. Enjoy doing your make-up and dressing up at times but at others be yourself. Don’t feel you have to get out of bed to do your make up before your boyfriend wakes up. Listen to your Mum. Look again at those old photos and be OK with yourself. 

Best wishes