During the first week in my first Facebook group for introverts and Highly Sensitive People, I was attacked by another member in a private Facebook message. I didn’t respond. I reacted.
I’d had a mind blowing week connecting with other people and marveled at how many people were like me. I’d felt like an alien all my life, and then, suddenly, there was an entire world of people who wrote words that could’ve come out of my mouth.
It was like I’d come home to a place I hadn’t known existed. And then I got that message.
According to the writer, I didn’t belong in the group. She questioned my motives for being there: I pathologized, insulted, and demeaned members, and I was on a high-and-mighty horse as a professional mental health person.
Like many here would do, I immediately looked through my offensive interactions with the people this person mentioned. I couldn’t find anything. But I still assumed that I’d done something terribly wrong.
I was devastated. And, initially, I was reactive.
I wrote a good-bye post in the group, and then left the group. I felt really alone. It had been such a high when I opened myself in vulnerable (and unexpected) ways that ended abruptly and so painfully.
Being reactive led me to leave the group and only isolated me – and reinforced the sense of feeling like an alien. It didn’t resolve anything.
I am fortunate, though, in that there had been a wonderful admin in that group who saw my post and contacted me directly. His support helped me to start responding instead of reacting.
The result was that I re-joined the group.
I explained what happened in a post in the group without naming the other person. After a while, she acknowledged she was the writer of that message in the comments.
Some people thought I was wrong to call her out (anonymously). Some people understood that I was standing up to a bully, and that bullies only stop when their behaviors are named and brought into the light.
The whole thing was so anxiety producing!
I would not have done it without the support and encouragement of the admin in that group – I would not have started to reflect on how to best respond to a situation that was disrespectful and hurtful.
I am still incredibly grateful for the hand extended to me. Without this admin’s help, HSI would not exist.
If you’ve ever been in a Facebook group for introverts and sensitives, you’ve either come across insensitive comments or have had them directed at you.
Some comments are *just* insensitive (which are still incredibly painful), and some are from bullies and trolls who make it their mission to make others feel bad (for whatever their reasons might be).
If you haven’t had this experience, count yourself lucky! Unfortunately, though, it’s one of those dreaded interactions you’re bound to have at some point.
Many times, having a plan in your head for how to respond helps you feel like you can do something. Feeling like you can do something (even if you can’t stop it) makes it easier to feel better sooner.
Since that time, I’ve thought a lot about more positive ways of handling negative Facebook situations. I’ve also thought a lot about the nature of the technology itself.
In my experience, Facebook is engineered in such a way that it elicits intense emotions that are tied to our primal needs for acceptance, so it’s easier to be reactive rather than responsive.
Feeling shunned or ignored is a threat to our basic emotional survival needs.
At HSI, we frequently discuss the issue of insensitive comments and bullying behaviors because we believe safety is necessary for growth and change to occur.
We’re different in this way from many Facebook groups. We’re not perfect, but we constantly think about and explore how we can do better. We encourage learning the skills to respond rather than becoming reactive.
There is a difference between responding and reacting. None of us is at our best when we’re reactive.
It’s not easy to be responsive. But each time we practice it (even if it’s not perfect), we help to make our lives a little more peaceful. When we are responsive, we also contribute to making the world a better place.
I’ll leave you with a short post written by Seth Godin that I think sums up the problems of bullies and responsiveness vs. reactivity:
“He deserved it,” is usually the explanation we hear for behavior that strikes us as unproductive, inhumane or counter-productive. The bully is always happy to point a finger at the person he hurt, to cast blame for his inexcusable actions.
Retribution is a habit, usually a learned one. It’s tit for tat, the instinct to punish.
That’s a very different posture than the one the productive professional takes. She says, “I choose to take actions that are effective.” She chooses a response designed to produce the outcome she seeks, actions that work.
We can react or respond, as my friend Zig used to say. When we react to a medicine, that’s a bad thing. When we respond, it’s working.
When the world dumps something at our door, we can take the shortcut and allow ourselves to react. We can point out that whatever we do is happening because the other side deserved it. Tantrums are okay, in this analysis, because the other guy made us.
Or we can respond. With something that works. With an approach we’re proud of, proud of even after the moment has passed. It’s not easy, it’s often not fun, but it’s the professional’s choice.
And, I might add, the HSI’s choice.
Also, you might want to check out another post by Leo Babauta: Learn How To Respond, Not React that may be of interest.
Latest posts by Eva Rubin, MPH/LCSW (see all)
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