Over the weekend, I’ve been observing a long-standing website implode with inner squabbling, and in reading along I’ve identified what a friend once dubbed “the emotional regression of people online.” Her feeling was that, because of anonymity, people tend to regress emotionally online to the age of about 14 or 15, especially when there is conflict.
The ability to respond literally at the touch of a button with the first thing that pops into your mind is often the catalyst for online behavior that in real life would make many people cringe. People say things online that they would NEVER say to a person’s face. Twitter has allowed people to become accustomed to posting their every waking thought without thinking. How many of you have read Twitter Wars where for the most part, mature intelligent people abandon meaningful communication and resort to name calling and cheap shots? The popularity of blogging established a new medium, where a person could create a space on the internet where they could memorialize their ideas and feelings for all the world to see. Some of these same people would then log onto other people’s spaces and forget that it isn’t their own. Used to expressing their ideas and opinions without censor and doing so quickly, people come into a medium like an online forum or community and forget simple rules of etiquette and respect. The results are often disastrous. I am continually appalled and amazed at how often people regress emotionally and resort to using abusive behaviors to get their ideas/feelings across.
In a group setting online, when conversations are brought up that are triggering to others, we often see the most popular coping mechanisms. The idea is to derail/divert the topic of the conversation so that it can’t be spoken about.
Rationalizing (here is the good reason why . . .)
Intellectualizing (in actuality, this is what is really going on . . .)
Minimizing (it’s really not that bad . . .)
Withdrawing (I’m not really feeling well enough to talk about this now . . .) **Why come to a post or thread and announce that you don’t want to talk about it?
Joking/Laughing (Ha, ha, this reminds me of . . .)
Changing the Subject (That reminds me, did you hear about . . .)
Generalizing (Well it’s like that all over the world, in fact in ’75 Europeans were. . . )
While these behaviors frustrate attempts at open, honest dialogue, they are not in and of themselves abusive. A person segues into abusive behavior when they start to employ these tactics:
Defiance (I am NOT going to talk about this now and you shouldn’t either!)
Blaming (You’re the reason why . . .)
Comparing (Well, you do it, too . . .)
Justifying (If you were in my/their position, you’d do it too . . .)
Projecting (I’m not the . . . . that you are)
Arguing/Explaining (I have always been/found/experienced . . . that’s your opinion – who’s to say . . .)
These behaviors are abusive because they almost always attempt to invalidate what another person is saying with the goal of, in short, silencing them. When a conversation begins (online, in real time; doesn’t matter) and a person responds in this way to an idea which differs from their own, what they are doing is behaving with intolerance. Intolerance is abusive.
Intolerance is defined as:
in·tol·er·ance n. The quality or condition of being intolerant; lack of tolerance.
So to fully grasp its meaning, we must look to the definition of tolerance:
tol·er·ance n. The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others.
By definition, intolerance is the inability to practice a recognition or respect for the beliefs or practices of others. Listen, there are times when it is appropriate to be intolerant of the practices and beliefs of others. Racism comes to mind. However, there are also times when intolerance is unwarranted. Only we can personally decide whether we are being intolerant when we are expressing opinions or whether another person is being intolerant to us when we are on the receiving end of the opinions that they are expressing. Hopefully we are mature enough and honest enough to do so. Often, especially online, I find that is not the case. Have you ever been triggered online, regressed emotionally and found yourself behaving with abusive intolerance? Have you ever been on the receiving end of that type of behavior?
Having a difference of opinion in and of itself is no crime. However, it is the reaction to a stated opinion, the name-calling, the attempt to denigrate and demean and the intense need to silence through acts of hostility, whether covert or overt, that triggers my own personal red flag.
As a victim of child abuse I know that abuse runs a spectrum. A person can be plenty emotionally abusive at work and not at all at home, where they feel powerless or visa versa. A person can be verbally abusive but not physically and only to some people and not all. A person can be withholding, where they withdraw their favor, their presence and time from a person to punish them for something they feel that they’ve done wrong. Negative, “othering” behavior done consistently and over time is abusive. The message being sent by abusive behavior is ALWAYS: You behave (say, do and think the way I want you to) and then I’ll be your “friend” again.
Some people become abusive online. They reserve all of their venom and angst for their online dialogues. It is as if online communication has come to serve as a sort of venting/dumping ground for their lives. Online they become verbal bullies with no regard for the feelings of others because the “others” are just a name and an avatar on a computer screen, an object, depersonalized and objectified.
The surefire way to know that you are dealing with an abusive online personality is to ask the person who has behaved in the ways that I’ve described above to stop what they are doing. A person behaving abusively will not only NOT stop, they’ll do it more, just to prove that you were wrong to ask them to stop in the first place. Do you have an abusive online persona? Have you seen it online as well? If you observed it, did the people in charge DO anything about it?
The website that I’ve watched coming apart at the seams didn’t bother to address their abusive personas. When I see that this kind of behavior is roaming unchecked in any space, real time or online, and it is not being addressed or stopped, I RUN the other way. It’s just too dangerous for my peace of mind and too triggering for me to participate in a space where abusive personalities are allowed to run rampant. When I see that the people in authority are quick to respond, citing rules for behavior, enforcing them and exerting consequences for those who won’t follow them, I let out a deep sigh of relief. I know that I’m in a safe place.