by Rachel Thompson
Peopling is hard.
I don’t want to people today.
I’ve reached my peopling quotient for the day.
I’m pretty sure this is how my cats go through life, once their humans have fed, watered, and pet them.
Like the other day, when I shared some tips on how to make blogging easier and someone told me I was being ‘ableist’ because my tips didn’t take into account their personal inability to market books due to pain (which granted, totally sucks). I feel bad for them and shared that I have chronic pain issues also and don’t give as much attention to this blog as I want to.
Or when I explained what exactly #MondayBlogs is all about and a lady told me that by not sharing her repeated quotes about the wonders of Trump, I’m discriminating against her (never mind that the hashtag is for blog posts, not quotes — lady, it’s right there IN the hashtag — and as I spell out right on the @MondayBlogs bio, pinned tweet, blog post right in the bio, various visuals, and throughout the day each week).
Or when a darling survivor friend of mine finally shared in a post that she is a survivor and some guy trashes her immediately about one aspect of the piece he disagreed with. In fact, she was ready to pull the piece, even though it’s beautiful, honest, and wonderfully insightful, all because his #NotAllMen ego doesn’t like her perspective. (A bunch of us talked her out of that, thank goodness.)
The good news about peopling online is that you can shut off all that mental noise and walk away, open up a program and write a blog post about how annoying people are.
We like being able to turn off interactions and it’s healthy to do so. You can calm down, breathe, remove yourself from that virtual world and get back to your real one.
But what about those people who can’t? Who stay on and argue online for hours and hours? Who can’t differentiate their online world from their real one? Who believe their online world IS their real world? What if the only company people have is online (a real issue for many people)?
Newsflash: not everyone needs to know your opinion about everything. Is it necessary to criticize others because their beliefs are different than yours? Are you enjoying how sanctimoniously judging others makes you feel simply because someone wrote something you don’t like or agree with online?
This is how social media works: we, as owners of our social media handles and channels, curate our own streams and timelines and feeds however we want to, and don’t need anyone’s permission to share what resonates with us. If you don’t like it, move along. Unfollow.
An interesting study shows how our brains react differently to real-life interactions versus online interactions. While we may think we are emotionally invested in these online connections, the areas in our brain that control emotion shows otherwise.
“Interaction with human partners requires more emotional involvement, and thus more cognitive effort, than interacting with a computer. (Rilling, Sanfey, Aronson, Nystrom, & Cohen, 2004). The study also shows a difference in activation strength between our reactions to human beings and computers. This is because when we interact with another human being, we cannot control our emotional involvement invested in the interaction process. The activation of specific brain areas is automatic once our mental radar detects another person.” (Source: Psychology Today 2014)
What’s Missing When Peopling Online
This begs the question my friend asked and what many of us experience with online interactions that go south: why are people often so mean online?
- Pretty basic: non-verbal communication.
When we interact in real life, our brains interpret non-verbal clues (unless one is autistic). For example, if the #NotAllMen dude saw my friend’s distress in response to his brutally mean commentary, how would he feel? Would he have been as likely to say those things to her face? No way. Perhaps he would have asked her about her motivations, experiences, and why she felt the way she did (totally hypothetical and idealistic on my part), opening a dialogue to understanding.
Without those non-verbal clues, online communication fails to meet these emotional needs and is ripe to become tit for tat, back and forth, and mean-spirited. People can become whoever they want to be, projecting an image (often toxic).
“Hence, it is easier to hide our emotions behind an email, a Facebook post or a tweet. These platforms help people project any image they want; they can be whoever and whatever they want to be. Without the ability to receive nonverbal cues, their audiences are none the wiser.”
The emotions we feel during these interactions feel quite real, and can negatively affect our mental health, self-esteem, and overall well-being.
- The other phenomenon that takes place online which freaks us out is the lack of control.
Humans have a need for control – this is built into our evolutionary psyche. We need to know what’s going to happen next. We’re planners. Online communications provide constant surprises – we have no idea what someone we are communicating with is going to say, when they’re going to say it, or how they’re going to say it (if at all).
Plus, the communication is unsynchronized (people respond whenever they want), whereas real-life comms are synchronized (you speak, then I speak, etc). There’s a flow.
Positive Online Peopling
Not all communications online are negative, clearly. I’ve met some of my best friends in real life online. I even met my guy that way!
Online groups and chats are incredible ways to form meaningful, helpful relationships that can benefit all kinds of folks. As a writer and businessperson, I can attest to this – social media is a crucial part of any author’s platform. Support groups are often the only thing keeping many people alive and can be incredibly validating, particularly for survivors.
Virtual comms can be a relationship surrogate for many people, full of satisfaction and enjoyment and for some, that may be enough.
I’ll share a little story with you: at one point, back before I published my Broken books, a writing mentor suggested I join her online critique group, so of course, I jumped at the chance! I greatly admired her and figured this would improve my craft. After a few sessions, however, I felt so defeated by her feedback and also critical attacks by other members of her group, I not only quit, I fell into a deep depression.
Was my writing that bad? Would nobody read it, as she said? Was I really “not ready for publication?”
After wallowing in their hurtful comments for a few weeks, I sent my manuscript off to my former screenwriting brother-in-law who gave it to a screenwriter friend who had done some script-doctoring for Spielberg. Yea, I know. She read through Broken Pieces and emailed me, “Honey, this is the real deal. You even made me cry and I never fucking cry. Publish it.”
Which I did.
Peopling Is What You Make It
As I always say with social media, blogging, and any other online media, it’s what you make it. To grow your social, you must interact and build relationships. However, you don’t need to engage with trolls or negative people unless you feel it’s somehow helpful or necessary to your well-being.
Ask yourself this question before you begin to madly respond to someone:
Is talking with this person good for you? If the answer is yes, do it. If the answer is no, don’t. Simple.
Besides, how else could you be spending that time?
Part of my own personal growth is to choose a yearly watchword (or focus word, as some people call it). This year my word is Power. The power to enforce my boundaries is a big one for me. Do I need to respond to people simply because they engage me online? I do not.
I’ll be writing my next post all about how to go about using your watchword, so please check back in a few weeks for that in case it’s something you’re also interested in.
For now, what I want to express to you is that while peopling can be hard for some of us online, we wouldn’t have social media without each other. Make it work for you. And if it isn’t working, take a break. Take a break anyway – we spend too much time online, don’t we?
Be the people you are. Be you, wonderful, messy, you. Write, read, kiss your lover, play with your kids, get crafty, sing, dance, cook (well, not me because you know, I burn everything), pet your cats, dogs or stroke a furry wall, watch a movie, sleep (oh, how I love to sleep), exercise…be the you that you want to see in the world.
Non-verbal that shit.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rachel Thompson is the author of the award-winning, bestselling Broken Places (one of IndieReader’s “Best of 2015” top books and 2015 Honorable Mention Winner in both the Los Angeles and the San Francisco Book Festivals), and the bestselling, multi-award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. She recently released her first business book, the BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge, to stellar reviews. She is thrilled to be included in Feminine Collective’s two anthologies, Love Notes From Humanity: The Lust, Love & Loss Collection andRaw and Unfiltered Vol 1: Selected Essays and Poems on Relationships with Self and Others.
She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, Feminine Collective, IndieReader.com, The Verbs on Medium, Vocal Media, Mogul.com, and several other publications. Connect with Rachel at RachelintheOC.com or BadRedheadMedia.com.
Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs and the live weekly Twitter chats, #SexAbuseChat, co-hosted with certified therapist/survivor, Bobbi Parish (Tuesdays, 6 pm PST/9pm EST), and #BookMarketingChat, co-hosted with author assistant Melissa Flickinger (Wednesdays, 6 pm PST/9pm EST). She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.
Read more about Rachel’s experiences in the award-winning book, Broken Pieces.
She goes into more detail about living with PTSD and realizing the effects of how being a survivor affected her life in
Broken Places, available now on Amazon.