A troll and a hashtag stroll into a twitter feed. Armed with words and a map of weak spots, they infiltrate and violate your most private of spaces – your mind. They conduct a terrorist attack which can scar for life, or even end your life. Developing depression or anxiety is commonplace amongst people who have been the targets of bullying.
Living up to the quote ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’, the anonymity available via the internet has resulted in devastating consequences – it’s become a way for people to spill out all their fear and loathing and loss and hurt, directing it away from themselves by pushing it onto other people. Acts of abuse that they would never dare commit in the ‘real world’ are enacted from the safety of the keyboard. Some 68% of high school kids now report they have been cyber-bullied.
What can you do about it?
One solution offered to counter cyber-bullying is to remove the anonymity – more details, verification and authentication to be required to set up email and social media accounts, so that people’s real identities can be tracked and the fear of having to own bad behaviour reinstated as a motivation for respecting others.
However there is great benefit to be gained from anonymity. Being anonymous allows the expression of darkness, but it doesn’t have to be directed at others. Sometimes, you need to feel safe to express shame, guilt, and talk about bad experiences without the fear of judgement that is inevitably a possibility. You need a modern confessional.
Recent psychological case studies have shown that if you want to seek help, but don’t because of shame, the cloak of technology can be a useful way to talk about what’s happened to you. The people in the study opened up more when talking over Skype, and even more so over text messages with a therapist. Shame is stuck in secrecy. Telling another person of the shameful event or actions, and having that disclosure treated with respect and continued positive interaction with you, regardless of the event, helps. It helps you to see that you are more than the sum of your worst actions and memories, which is what a bully would have you believe.
This works not just in healing for victims of bullying but increased resilience and protection from bullies in the future. Bullies often win because they find out what you don’t like about yourself and use that against you. That’s where a bully’s real power can come from: not in being horrible to you, but in finding out what you think is horrible about yourself and exposing it. It’s one reason why victims of bullying struggle to come forward – if they tell others what the bully has been saying, they will have to talk about those parts of themselves that they are embarrassed by and want to keep hidden. Without any secret fears to keep hidden, you’re a harder target for a bully. You have less to lose by exposing their bullying. And it is harder for the bully to find the right material to work with.
How does this help me?
If you feel ashamed about some aspect of yourself, your behaviour, your past, then it is affecting your confidence. No doubt about it. Feeling this way means you need to censor yourself, in case the shameful aspects emerge. This leads to anxiety about being found out, and a lack of authenticity in your communications as you struggle to hide these shameful parts.
Admitting to the ‘shameful’ parts and being accepted by another alleviates shame. The safest place to do this is in a therapeutic relationship with a trusted professional. If you can’t/ won’t bring yourself to a therapist’s rooms, then think about using telepsychology. Telepsychology (think therapy via Skype and messaging) has been shown to be just as effective as face-to-face therapy. It provides increased access to a person who can assist in alleviating shame. But it also provides increased anonymity, making it easier for you to share the source of your shame, and then experience the positive benefits of doing so.
If you experience shame when you think about some aspects of yourself, you can change this feeling. You can seek help and understanding from a trusted therapist. And if it helps, you can even do it anonymously (with certain safeguards in place) if you want. I offer telepsychology sessions to people who would like them, for whatever reason. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you think this therapy method could be useful for you or someone you know.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.