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How to react to haters online … without becoming one yourself

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Zyta Rudzka - published on 03/03/18

For a healthy life online, you need to be rooted in real life.

Cyberbullying takes place in a virtual space, but the pain is real.When people attack us with hateful comments or posts, we feel helpless, powerless, and hurt, and we can also experience fear and lower self-esteem. We might also feel anger and frustration — and as a consequence, aggressiveness. If we, as victims, give in to the impulse to take revenge, we can become haters ourselves, sometimes without even realizing that we have become what we are reacting against. Rather, we perceive what we are doing as necessary self-defense — we won’t let ourselves be hurt, made fun of, badmouthed, or victimized. Nonetheless, reactive aggression remains aggression, just as cyberbullying remains bullying.

It is often easier for us to become aggressive online than it would be in a real-world face-to-face situation. Anonymity often loosens social norms, so the ability to use an alias instead of our real name makes it easy to set empathy aside. In an anonymous environment, people easily reach for hateful speech that they would never use in a face-to-face conversation.

The aggressor is always responsible

It doesn’t matter who started it, or if it was provoked. We are not responsible for what someone else writes, but we are in control of and responsible for our own reaction.

A hater wants to hurt someone, but we can decide whether we feel the pain. Reading responses to hateful comments online, we often can conclude that many people have problems not so much with haters as with themselves; they are often overreacting, possibly as the result of poor self-image.

Practically all of us fall into this trap sometimes. We worry when people reject or criticize us, even if they don’t know us and we neither know them personally nor know what they represent. Why? Because we think we are supposed to be liked, and suddenly someone doesn’t like us.

We always want to be liked and accepted. We were raised to fulfill the expectations of our parents, and we learn to behave the same way with our friends, our husband or wife, and/or our boss.As a result, we have a hard time dealing with the fact that someone rejects us, perhaps especially when they do it “just like that,” because they want to. Maybe they just enjoy being nasty in their free time. We think we need to do something about it, to have the power on our side, and not give in to the hater or let him have the last word.

Of course, unfounded criticism, being made fun of, and insults always hurt. They hurt the first time we read them, and the third time too, but it’s not healthy if we continue to suffer for weeks, and we can’t set those feelings aside. That is a sign of oversensitivity and a serious lack of perspective, and maybe poor self-esteem or an overly delicate ego. For such people, constructive criticism can be just as difficult as the comments of internet trolls.

The problem starts with us

We can have a blog or social media account and report on our everyday life, without really knowing who we are. We might boast and tell ourselves we’re better than everyone else, and at the same time have low self-esteem. Perhaps our self-love grows when people post likes and positive comments, but this feeling of self-esteem is unstable and fragile. If we have little self-knowledge and have difficulty with balanced self-judgment, then using the internet could be self-destructive. The opinion and favor of people on social media is fickle, as is that of any crowd, and the hidden workings of the internet platforms, which select and order what we see and what we don’t, and in what order, make internet fame that much more fragile — hardly a solid foundation for self-esteem and a sense of identity. In this case, we are unlikely to be able to react properly to internet trolls.

If, on the contrary, we live for ourselves and not to show off or get approval from people on the internet, and we are secure in our efforts and goals, then we can deal with unjust social media attacks calmly and without losing our cool. It’s good to keep a healthy emotional and mental distance from what people write. We don’t have to participate and reply to aggression with more aggression; often, we don’t really need to reply at all (except perhaps by clicking the “block and report” button when appropriate, and by taking proper action to deal with certain kinds of relatively rare online attacks which should be criminally investigated and prosecuted). We can step back and remember we live on the bright side of the non-virtual world.

We will often have a healthier reaction to hate if we have an attitude rooted in real life. If we are only on the internet, and we don’t participate in life offline, we lose a healthy distance. We get caught in the web, and we don’t feel solid ground under our feet. Our reaction to hate is frequently exaggerated. Once we realize that, we can work on changing it. We can learn to react honestly, carefully, and charitably, respecting our own emotions, and keeping in mind everything the hater has a problem with, which is mostly not actually us.

Real personal contact is vital

It is possible to create virtual support groups, but it’s good to talk to someone face to face, too. Tell them what you feel when you read these things, and how you experience it. You’ll feel better!

If you feel safe and you have real and stable relationships, primarily face-to-face but also online, then you certainly will survive any attack from online haters and trolls. You may have many virtual enemies, but remember that you also likely have real-world friends. If you don’t, that’s also meaningful; take care of your relationships! One hateful comment on the web can be stronger than a thousand likes, but it’s weaker than a close relationship in the real world.

We can’t win the war on cyberbullying by fighting it only online. After all, the lack of empathy online is fueled by lack of sensitivity in reality.

Some people react more strongly to provocative, rude and crude opinions of anonymous people online than to the words of their loved ones in the physical world. Sometimes we even become addicted to reading and reacting to online comments, but we don’t hear what our wife, husband or child has been telling us for months.

We might feel the online hate because we are sensitive about ourselves, and yet we forget that someone in the house, apartment, or room next door might have wanted to talk to us for weeks; finally, they feel so helpless that they go online and start to write hateful comments. Maybe even on your page … (anonymously, of course).

We must live in the real physical world first and have healthy relationships there; the more we do to make the real world a worthwhile place to live in, the more we can be a positive influence in the virtual one. Reacting to hate with hate is the worst thing we can do. We need to see online critics (and fans) for what they are, and remember that there is always a real person on the other side of the screen, who perhaps needs our forgiveness, love, and compassion, more than our vengeful vitriol.




Read more:
Trolls-Be-Gone! Francis Wants an Internet Like a “Home or a Family”

This article was originally published in the Polish edition of Aleteia and has been translated and adapted here for English-speaking readers.

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