I came face to face with my own worst troll – and discovered it was me.

Last June, I wrote a Facebook post following a complicated discussion with my son about sexual assault and racial privilege. I didn’t intend on discussing sex with my nine year old, much less sexual assault, but he had heard about the Brock Turner case on the news and asked several pointed questions that required an answer. Somehow I navigated through the conversation (despite my heart lodged in my throat) and I shared my experience on Facebook.
My original post that became a news story

Encouraged by a few friends, I restructured my post into an essay that was subsequently picked up by both The Scientific Parent and Salon.com. As a novice writer with few published works, I was ecstatic that national publications were interested in my little Facebook post, and amazed that my experience resonated so strongly with others. Clearly I had touched a nerve, particularly with fellow parents struggling to discuss adult issues with curious children, grateful to know they weren’t alone.

However, I also hit a nerve – a whole branch of them – among a horde of trolls who scoured Salon, attacking any author or topic in which they detected a whiff of vulnerability. They voiced their disdain for my article in the comments section – or as my friend in PR calls it, the backwash of the Internet.

Despite being warned not to read the comments… I totally read the comments. (Never. Again.)

Salon has since closed the comment thread on my article, thereby erasing its existence. While I don’t remember each comment verbatim, I do remember the gist. Not because of the profanity or hate speech (although there was plenty of that), but for a far more insidious reason.

Those trollish comments echoed my inner demons and gave voice to my secret fears, validating my destructive self-talk and using it as a weapon against me.

Inner Troll

Why would anyone care about what I write?

I’m not a good writer. I’m not a real writer.

I’m being overdramatic, and this article reeks of desperation.

Who talks about sexual assault with her nine-year-old?

For every negative thought that my mind spit out, there was a comment to back it up.

They dubbed me a crybaby liberal and a whiny SJW (“social justice warrior,” for those of you unfamiliar with alt-right hate speech). They chastised me for making it about race.

One person wrote an articulate, terrifying manifesto about the myth of rape culture and my role in perpetuating the fallacy. Another suggested calling Child Protective Services since I was obviously emotionally abusing my son.

There were epithets and four-letter words scattered throughout, adding credence to the argument that I was a terrible person.

Of course, the rational part of me knew that few, if any, of these comments were true. I was content with how I handled my son’s questions, and proud that I had shared my story so publicly. That took guts. Go me.

But the irrational part, the part that was so good at self-loathing… well, she was having a field day.

Every negative thought, every anxiety, every doubt made manifest in the comments. If someone else said it, it must be true.

And she reminded me that I did this all to myself. Look what happens when I step outside my safe comfort zone and use my voice. I get attacked. I get bullied. And I get what I deserve.

What do you do when your mind becomes your worst troll?
My inner troll

Because you can ignore an online troll, but you can only ignore your own mind for so long. Eventually, the more you avoid thinking about something, the more incessant the thought becomes.

So I stopped. Instead of trying to ignore my mind, I paid attention. Instead of taking the mental chatter at face value, I got curious and deciphered the underlying meaning.

Why would anyone care about what I write?
Translation: I’m unimportant.

I’m not a good writer. I’m not a real writer.
Translation: I’m a fraud.

I’m being overdramatic, and this article reeks of desperation.
Translation: I’m unworthy.

Who talks about sexual assault with her nine-year-old?
Translation: I’m a bad mother.

I distilled each judgment into its core message and discovered the underlying belief that connected them all: I’m not good enough.

Of course. The familiar “I’m not good enough” refrain. That one has been with me since childhood.

But why? Why do I entertain this unhelpful thought? What benefit comes from believing that I’m not good enough?

And then it hit me.

My inner troll
My “I’m not good enough” troll is loudest right before I’m about to do something bold.

Audition for the lead role in the school play? I’m not good enough.
Apply for that competitive job? I’m not good enough.
Submit an article to a national publication? I’m not good enough.
Start my own coaching business? I’m not good enough.

Whenever I’m about to make a big move that’s consistent with who I am, what I believe, or what I value, the “I’m not good enough” troll makes herself known.

So what’s really going on here? Is my troll trying to destroy me and keep me from success? Maybe. But maybe there’s more to it.

Maybe my troll is trying to help me. Maybe she thinks she’s doing me a favor. Maybe she’s trying to keep me safe.

If I don’t audition for that play, then I don’t risk not getting the part, and I won’t fail.
If I don’t apply for that job, then I don’t risk getting turned down, and I won’t fail.
If I don’t submit that article, then I don’t risk rejection, and I won’t fail.
If I don’t start my own business, then I don’t risk… failing.

The more I tell myself I’m not good enough, the less likely I am to fail, and the more likely I am to stay safe. Miserable, unhappy, and unfulfilled… but safe.
Be brave
I’m done being unhappy and safe.

I want to live big and be bold. I want to dive fearlessly into my life. And if that means facing down failure and fear, then I’m ready and willing to do it.

I’m taking control of my narrative. I’m transforming my troll from Bully to Protector, and releasing her from the burden of monitoring my every move.

I’m doing my best to live this out. Admittedly, it’s not easy, but it works. Now, when I have a new idea for my business, my first reaction is excited curiosity.

What a great idea! How can I make this work? What do I need to do?

And then my troll pokes her head up to give voice to worry and self-doubt.

It’ll never work. Someone’s probably already done it anyway. What makes you think you’re so special?

So I take a deep breath and remind her that she is no longer in charge of risk management (that role now falls to Intellect and Intuition). Instead, I channel that protective energy into making sure I have what I need to move forward.

Do you have an inner troll who keeps you from moving forward? Tell me about your troll in the comments.

And if you’d like some help in managing your troll, download my free guide, Say Goodbye to Your Inner Troll. Let me know how it works for you!