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It occurred to me today that when I opened my inbox, I had a subtle bodily reaction of fear. A mild fight or flight response. I think I was bracing for something bad, but why?

Some part of me dreads opening my inbox because there might be something bad lurking among my unread messages. In my mindful state of awareness, I asked:

What was I so afraid of?

Well, I could think of a few things.

  • Rude or bitter comments on one of my blog posts where I shared way too much about my life
  • Someone who was offended by what I wrote or made
  • Cranky customer support, refund requests, etc
  • An unhappy customer or client who still isn’t pleased with the work I’ve done
  • Requests of my time/work that I just don’t have time or interest in
  • Someone who disapproves of me, my style, my approach, or my ethics
  • An email that I’m the worst person of all time and I am to blame for everything wrong in this world

It seems like they all carry a certain undertone of disapproval. I’ll get to that later.

Why was I triggered?

Truth is, I have received some nasty emails in my day. I remember the moment I got that letter from my favorite band in 2007 telling me I was “everything that was wrong with the music industry” after finding some offensive work in my company’s portfolio. Talk about a heartbreaking moment – I nearly had an existential crisis after that and wanted to quit everything.

The reality of my inbox is far less threatening. Most of the emails I receive are actually quite pleasant. I don’t get much spam these days thanks to good spam filters. I do sign up for my share of newsletters that I’m interested in, although I don’t have time to read all of them. But for the most part they are nice emails.

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I don’t get a ton of comments on the articles I write, but the comments I do receive are almost always positive. And not just “good job dude” positive. But thoughtful replies from real people sharing their stories. Or emails from folks who enjoy my work and just want to say thank you. Or honest requests to hire me or pay me for my skills, those are always good! And even those from people telling me that what I wrote changed their life in some way. It doesn’t get better than that, right?

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Somehow my brain likes to ignore nice emails and likes focus on the hurtful ones. Does this sound familiar?

In almost 20 years of emailing, there have probably been just a handful of traumatic email exchanges. Comments so critical or offensive that it ruined my day. After reading the first few lines, all the blood would drain from my face and I’d feel sick to my stomach. I’d spend the rest of the day in my bed trying to sleep away the pain. And this isn’t even talking about critical or shameful comments from Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

Those few emails created some form of post traumatic stress disorder. It’s crazy how comments from a few years ago ago still have an affect on me. It’s so deep in my subconscious that I don’t even realize it. It manifests as a subtle dread and instinct to recoil and brace for an oncoming assault when there’s no actual threat to be defending myself against. That’s how insidious it can be.

What does it all mean?

After feeling into this, the reactionary fight or flight response is being triggered by some unresolved shame or insecurity within me. It comes back to my tendency to people please and be nice.

The thing about being nice is that it’s not actually very good for me. I’ve done so many things I didn’t feel like doing because I was being nice and thought that’s what you’re supposed to do. I’d ignore my own desires just to make other people happy. As I do my inner work and healing these days, I realize how out of balance this is. How tragically out of alignment it is with my natural state. I realize there was a healthy amount of self-loathing stewing inside me where I didn’t feel good enough to be who I was. That’s changing.

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The Problem with Being Nice

When you have a reputation of being nice and accommodating, you establish relationships based upon it. When you start standing up for yourself and feeling more empowered, those who relied on your compliance will be upset. This naturally creates conflict! As someone who fears conflict this is scary shit. The thing is, being nice and accommodating doesn’t actually make people happy. It makes people dependent on you for their needs. They get addicted to your compliance and when you aren’t available, they blame you for their discomfort. The classic codependent relationship.

I guess where I’m going with all this is that email had begun to feel more like customer support and people pleasing than genuine connection. As someone who historically worked hard to be liked, followed, and admired – emails with a negative tone were terrifying. Just a few years ago I would have written long emails back to try to win over anyone who disagreed with me. I’d relinquish my position to please the critic so I could retain my following and not “lose” my position in the rat race. It was all based on fear and low self worth.

Sheesh, how tiring.

The first step is to get off the hamster wheel. There is no race to begin with. It’s all an illusion anyway. If I can self-source my worth, I won’t be so affected by other people’s opinions. Email won’t trigger me anymore. But for now, being aware of how it does is the first step to overcoming this block on the path to being more authentically me.

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Tips for Anyone with Email Dread

  1. The next step after awareness is to feel the pain fully. To not run to your vices and addictions to numb. To witness the fight or flight energy coursing through your veins and stand strong within it. Notice that it’s just a trigger. The more discomfort you feel, the more power you can reclaim here. This is a perfect opportunity to fiercely love and care for yourself. Listen to what the pain is trying to teach you. Your inner child is scared of not being approved of or loved. This is your chance to care for yourself like nobody ever has. Behind every fear there is freedom.
  2. Examine what thoughts and beliefs are causing you this pain? Now is your turn to flip the script and come up with new beliefs that empower you. It’s OK to be just as you are, without having to work hard to fit in or be liked. Realize this isn’t a problem to be fixed. It’s simply a window to open up to your truth and practice self-love and compassion.
  3. It’s your responsibility to use email in a way that makes you feel good. One way is to simply be proactive in sending genuine emails to other people. When I do this, I’ll get replies and and email feels fun again.
  4. Unsubscribe from mail that brings you down. If you get a lot of junk and it’s a pain to sort through, do something about it!
  5. It’s OK to ignore an email or not reply. You don’t HAVE to write everyone back. Not every request for your time is something you need to take on.
  6. Look at your discomfort as a reminder to STOP, be present, and practice self love. Are you outsourcing your worth?

What about you? What kind of reactions do you have with your email?

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Mikki
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Mikki

Sometimes I dread on those too. I don’t really get nonfriendly emails but I work in retail. I get a lot of nice customers but I also have my own share of very rude unpleasant customers. I tend to remember the unpleasant ones who turns my work days upside down. So I defiantly do relate in some ways when you mention being triggered by negative outcomes vs positive outcomes. I guess in my case I just remind myself that ultimately we’ll always have people who either approve or disapprove our actions and intents. So I try my best to erase… Read more »

Jeff Finley
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Great reply Mikki, thanks for sharing. I think you’re onto something about recognizing how negative emails actually serve you and empower you rather than bring you down.