On the healing journey it’s important to get feedback and different perspectives. When we’re in pain, it’s easy to get tunnel vision, and miss the larger picture it takes detachment to see. But we can go too far in that direction, as well, where we not only look to other people’s views, but give them greater value over our own.
It’s comforting and natural to look to those who have experience, either personal or through training, especially when you’re in a crisis. When you’re in pain, it can be scary. A lot of times you feel confused, disoriented, even paralyzed. This is particularly common among those who have suffered covert abuse.
It’s literally life-saving to receive encouragement from someone you sees you, who validates your experience, who makes you realize you’re not alone…or crazy, and gives you the assurance you’re going to be all right.
An online support group can do that.
Unfortunately, I’ve also seen some on-line support groups become the background for some pretty abusive dynamics themselves. Most of the time, abusive dynamics can flare up between individuals, and are usually resolved either by them or a moderator. It’s not about being perfect, but communicating and creatively resolving conflicts when they do occur.
But I have, also, seen some support groups develop a kind of lynch mob mentality, usually led by the owner or long standing moderator(s) of a forum. Members who inadvertently cross one line or another, say the wrong thing or are perceived as attacking the leader(s) of the forum (and sometimes all you have to do is disagree with the prevailing opinion of the forum to be perceived as an attack) can find themselves on the receiving end of the same kind of emotional, psychological and verbal abuse they came to the forum to heal in the first place.
Remember, people are at various stages in their healing. While it is, without a doubt, powerful to bond with others who have similar experiences, don’t think just because they were abused, they’d never abuse you, or that just because they desire healthier ways of relating to others they are actually capable of doing it. This can happen in support groups in the real world, as well. It’s just that online support groups are more numerous, easier to find, and for the most part, easy to join.
You’re also inclined to share more. While the perceived anonymity of the internet makes abusers more brash and aggressive in their abuse, it can also make vulnerable people feel like, perhaps, they’re safer than they actually are. It’s heartbreaking to feel that the trust you’ve placed in others is betrayed yet again.
It’s inevitable that some misunderstanding is going to occur. Through any written communication, it’s easy for people to misinterpret what others are saying. There’s no facial or body language to read, no tone of voice to hear. But this is further intensified in a community where there are a lot of buttons that can be pushed and a lot of triggers for different individuals.
An online support group can be a real blessing. I have yet to find anything that has inspired me in my belief in humankind more than the incredibly courageous and vulnerable postings I have come across in various online communities — both those asking for help and those offering it.
But we would be wise to be mindful of the inherent limitations…and potential pitfalls of online support groups. I suggest exercising a little bit of caution when joining any type of on-line support group. In as much as possible let the community earn your trust. Take your time before sharing or only share a basic introduction if requested. Get a feel for the community. Then when you are ready, be mindful of what you share and how much.
I’m certainly sharing quite a bit on my Miyasan’s Daughter blog, but realize that I have been on my healing journey since 1987, and I’ve made allusions to my past in my music and other general writings for years now. That blog is the first time I’m sharing intimate details to the extent that I am. And you better believe, there’s so much more I’m not sharing nor ever will. This is out of respect for me and the ones I love.
If you are part of a support group and things get nasty or uncomfortable for you, don’t be afraid to leave. And don’t let that stop you from reaching out to other people or seeking help. Just use discretion.
There are many good people out there. Your paths will cross.