Trolls Can Be Teachers, Too

July 25, 2022 § 25 Comments

By Candace Cahill

I scrolled. 

Past the title, the social media share icons, and the “listen to this article now” button. I slipped by the newsletter sign-up prompt, a “Read More Like This” section, advertisements for Covid Vaccinations, and a notice for a Van Gogh exhibit in Anchorage. 

And there, just beyond the sponsored content and the “Popular in the Community” segment, I came to my destination: the conversation. 

More commonly known as the comments. 

I’d been warned. Chat rooms, writer’s circles, Facebook groups, and Twitter feeds offered clear instructions: if you have an essay published, do not read the comments. But this wasn’t just any essay; this was my first essay in a top-tier publication.

In the days following publication, I received numerous emails and direct messages. I responded personally to each one: I owed it to those who reached out from a place of vulnerability to honor their bravery and willingness to engage. 

But the comments section of the online magazine was different. 

The morning the essay came out, my partner suggested I not read the comments. He wanted to protect me, which I understand and appreciate. However, I’d already read a few: I couldn’t stop myself. But when I came across the first statement to call me out – to label me an abandoner – I broke out in a cold sweat and stopped. I’d written about a topic that elicits a range of emotions depending upon the reader’s frame of reference: adoption relinquishment. 

I never intended to reply to the remarks or add “thumbs up” or “thumbs down,” but I knew that reading the comments, no matter how “hard,” would be a unique opportunity to sit with my reaction without having to respond. Although I’ve spent most of my life avoiding confrontation and pushing away uncomfortable feelings, I’ve finally learned that what I resist persists, and what I feel I can heal.  Emotions are temporary if I can create space for them. The capability – and capacity – to process what my reactions would be to any inappropriate or unpleasant comments is a valuable tool I was unwilling to forgo using.

My spouse continued to dissuade me as the days passed, so I agreed to wait until the sting of exposure eased.

And after a week, I scrolled down to the comments.

There were posts with the clear intent of inflicting pain, like being charged with using my dead son as a money-making tool. Initially, that felt like a punch in the gut, but after sitting with the discomfort, I could reflect on my true purpose in sharing this story. My goal is to encourage dialogue—I believe that is my role in this convoluted, painful life experience called relinquishment, and to do so without feeling the need to explain my circumstances. I want to acknowledge the myriad ways each person in the adoption constellation is hurt while recognizing that there also can be joy and beauty. One does not negate the other – both can, and are, true.

The built-in anonymity of the comments section frees commentators up to speak their minds without engaging further but this also provides space for reflection on my part, and the opportunity to respond, if desired, with intention.

I think some people labeled trolls are merely responding from their own place of pain and vulnerability. I remember a time I, too, reacted in knee-jerk ways to comments and suggestions, especially regarding my status as a birth mother. 

By reading the comments, I allow myself the time I need to find the equilibrium to respond with kindness and compassion. That’s who I want to be – the person who listens and acknowledges other perspectives and feelings.

No matter what, I want to see that they are not trolls but complex human beings.

*

Candace Cahill’s memoir Goodbye Again, about losing her son twice, is scheduled for release in November ’22 from Legacy Book Press. You can find out more about her work at candacecahill.com or follow her on Twitter @candace_cahill_. The Newsweek article referenced in this essay can be found here.

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§ 25 Responses to Trolls Can Be Teachers, Too

  • Gary says:

    Honest and authentic will trump the trolls any day of the week, Regardless what others think, say or believe, you speak your truth and your integrity is priceless, If you get to this comment, thank you!

    • candacecahill says:

      Thanks, Gary; I strive for authenticity and honesty, even if some don’t appreciate the truth.

  • “That’s who I want to be – the person who listens and acknowledges other perspectives and feelings.” I always hope I can be helpful, that I can find a way to add my story without negating theirs, that my kindness will open a path for us both. It is my hope, and sometimes when that is what happens, I think we are both opened in the way beauty surprises every time.

  • Diana says:

    Thank you, Candace, for your blog post and your honesty. Although, I have never had your experience of losing a child, not once but twice, I felt your pain and joy in my heart. Good luck with your book. I look forward to it. I believe it is much needed in the world.

  • Deborah Sosin says:

    Beautifully written post and article! Thanks for sharing your tender story, Candace. I see many lovely, empathic comments on the Newsweek site. I hope you feel some comfort from those.

    • candacecahill says:

      I absolutely do! And I am honored by the many people who have commented with compassion and reached out to me personally.
      And thank you for connecting, Deborah.

  • juliemcgue says:

    Thanks for sharing this story. As an adoptee, I am part of the adoption relinquishment equation. Because I am in reunion with my birth mother, I am cognizant of the pain adoption loss birthparents feel. Kudos to you for you sharing your vulnerability. It is through conversation that we open the eyes of outsiders to the pains and joys of adoption

    • candacecahill says:

      This is a beautiful sentiment, Julie, and I thank you for your willingness to engage with me. In my experience, the adoptee’s voice needs the most amplification – we need to hear and honor your lived experiences, whatever they may be.

  • anncb says:

    Thanks for this, Candace. Your brave memoir is needed—and your willingness to rise above the initial sting of inevitable trolls is a helpful reminder for all memoir writers.

  • lgood67334 says:

    Wonderfully honest post. As your read comments, consider the source. What’s going on in his/her life and how does it color his/her comments? Just wondering. http://www.writeradvice.com

  • Thank you, Candace, for sharing your thoughtful, heartfelt perspectives on relinquishment in the Newsweek piece and on the sometimes unexpected blessings of feedback. I am an adoptive mom, currently writing about my experience of the “adoption constellation” you described, with all its hurt, joy and beauty. I will save both of your pieces to revisit for perspective and inspiration as I continue this part of my writing journey. All best to you as you prepare to share your memoir.

    • candacecahill says:

      Thank you, Sarah, and good luck with your writing. I learned a lot about myself as I wrote, and I am grateful for the privilege that allowed me to write my memoir.

      • I love how you said that, Candace—writing memoir is a privilege and a huge learning experience. My first memoir (on a completely different topic) led me to a place of forgiveness I had never expected to reach.

        Take care.

  • Candace, thank you for this honest and vulnerable piece and for offering a thoughtful approach to the dreaded comment section. Public exposure has been the scariest and most unsettling part of my own writing journey. It’s like a freezing cold pool I am slowly wading into, hoping to acclimate as I go. I admire you for facing it head-on and appreciate your coming at it from a place of empathy and compassion (and a lot of courage). Looking forward to reading your book this fall.

    • candacecahill says:

      Thanks, Abby, and I appreciate your kind words and accolades! It has certainly taken some time to find my way through the mire.

  • It is bizarre to me how people unleash in the comments sections…and I agree that it’s related to the anonymity. But it seems to me that you hit a nerve and this seems like a good sign for your book. I applaud your attitude of compassion in this.

    • candacecahill says:

      Thank you, Jocelyn, and I agree about hitting a nerve. I hope my memoir becomes a springboard for conversations everywhere!

  • felixojadi70 says:

    When God speaks, oftentimes His voice will call for an act of courage on our part

  • What a powerful piece, especially the last line. And what you must have come through to see it that way. None of us is an angel. We all make mistakes and re-examine our difficult decisions. Bravo for your original essay, bravo for this one. I’m sharing on Twitter.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. Although I haven’t had your experience, I’ve learned from this blog and your essay.

    • candacecahill says:

      Hi Ellen! I love the advice, inspiration, and perspective I glean from BrevityBlog, too. Thank you for commenting.

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