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May 8, 2017

Fighting Stigma on Social Media


Over on that platform hellbent on permeating every waking hour of our lives with fake news and food porn I belong to some great groups. They’re all mental health related, each with a focus on super fun stuff like suicide, PTSD and depression. In one way these interest groups are the polar opposite of what normally transpires on social media. You know the typical newsfeed: streams of cute pets and happy couples, of glam selfies and vapid complaints. My mental health awareness feed is flooded with isolation, anguish and swirling confusion. Social media support groups discuss the conditions most everyone must deal with at some point, regardless of their extra-sunny profiles.


Having wallowed in anguish and confusion for decades I feel quite at home at that end of the pool. Yet even in online support group land I learned that social media is as antisocial as ever. And I fell right into its trap.


Browsing a PTSD related forum, I learned about a woman’s concern that her husband felt as if he wasn’t bonding with their young son. The man was detached and suffering feelings of rejection due to his own history of enduring childhood sexual abuse. She wanted to know what could be done.


Her comment hit home because I’ve lived that same exact situation as a parent and a survivor with PTSD. I know that feeling. It’s like being a stranger in your own home. I said for someone with PTSD it’s pretty normal, detachment coming and going at different stages of the child’s development. Big triggers can occur when a child reaches an age at which his parent got abused. I added that a proactive approach to detachment through therapy should make the husband more relaxed, and in turn, allow the young son feel safer in his presence. Not a breakthrough moment of awakening but supportive nonetheless, a B+ comment.


Another user commented next saying, don’t blast me but there are situations where the child feels uncomfortable when something inappropriate is going on and because he was once a victim of sexual abuse this woman should watch her husband like a hawk.


I replied to the post with this link to numerous studies refuting the ugly stereotype that abused boys grow up to be perpetrators. Yes, some perps will retreat from culpability with the excuse that they were abused as boys. However, there is no statistical correlation between surviving sexual abuse and becoming an abuser. Again, this hit home for me because I've battled that fear for decades as well.


I should’ve left it there, with that link to the information refuting the fear-mongering implication in the comment. But the phrase “don’t blast me” got under my skin. It was the moral equivalent of a racist saying, don’t blast me but black people are criminal and that’s why so many end up in prison. Or the misogynist repeating, don’t blast me but women aren’t as smart as men so it’s only natural they should make less money.


“Don’t blast me,” infuriated me more than the ugly stigma in the comment itself. Don’t blast me? I had to call bullshit on this person for making inflammatory comments and adding a cop-out disclaimer. Who lobs a grenade and then refuses to be responsible for provoking a reaction? Don’t blast me but people who spread misinformation and then hide from the truth are real turds.


I dissected the comment and pointed out that when people start a post with, "don't blast me" they know what they’re about to say is dubious.


I pointed out the hypocrisy of realizing a statement isn’t really true and yet pushing it out anyway.


I unpacked the cowardice of a disclaimer that wants to abandon the responsibility for spreading an ugly stereotype. I thought I’d crafted an A- reply.


I now realize that my response earns me a solid F.


I’d made myself into the discussion thread's JOHN WAYNE, the small town sheriff on his high horse. My language surged with righteousness and moral indignation. I called this person a real piece of work. I’d been caught in the trap. Don’t blast me is code for I cannot deviate from my uninformed opinion, regardless of how many facts are presented. Don’t blast me is shorthand for I refuse to ever be wrong. Don’t blast me means there will be no dialog, only me tirelessly defending the half-baked ideas I’ve confused for the truth. I said, you’re wrong and you totally know it so why don’t you just go away now? The response was, Never!


Unfortunately, this is the modus operandi of all social media. We follow people we agree with. We carve out a niche of like minded folks and unfollow anyone who violates our sensibilities. We create our own echo chambers. That’s what I wanted in my discussion of PTSD and child rearing and that’s what the other user wanted: to keep that echo chamber in tact. I had articles and studies and a respected advocacy organization in my chamber.


It didn't matter, some people will cling tighter and tighter to their beliefs despite having no evidence to support that belief. The user I’d butted heads with continued to defend long after I’d stopped reading the replies. Don’t blast me means if I get the last word then I won and I’m right. For my own sanity I dropped out of that particular group.


It’s a real pitfall challlenging the existing narrative and correcting the misconceptions within the subject of mental health.


First, we have to overcome the lies and distortions we tell ourselves. Then we have to face the lies and distortions that are told about us by society at large. When faced with other people’s lies and distortions it’s tempting to retreat into the fortress of indignation, that echo chamber of righteousness. But it’s a trap and doing so helps nothing. At best it only frustrates. It’s impossible to be an effective advocate for change shouting from a top a high horse. I know that feeling. I’ve lived that, too.

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