Online Negativity, Bullying & Hate: My Tips to Self Care

Last night I uploaded screenshots to my Insta Story of comments made about me. The comments were made on just one post, under a photo of me and my husband.  The comments included:

“She looks like a she-man”

“I actually thought they were mother and son”

“She’s so haggard”

And a whole heap of other “lovely” comments of the same tone. I’ve decided not to repost them here as they involved people’s names, and although I think they should be accountable, I’m not keen on shaming them forever. (A 24 hour insta story is enough – ha!) But don’t be mistaken, the comments weren’t “constructive feedback.”

I never usually post negative comments made about myself, because this is my little space of the internet and I don’t want to draw any negativity into it (or inflict it on others.)

But I’m happy that I did it this one time for the simple fact that multitudinous people wrote to me horrified that other adults can say such things. Cyber hate or bullying – how ever you want to define it – isn’t just for teenagers!

When I’m in a great place mentally, the negative comments just don’t stick to me.

But when I’m not in that good place and I’m already being cruel to myself inside of my own head, those negative comments can reaffirm what I’m already telling myself; that I’m unworthy, I’m useless and that I should just give up.

And I had the epiphany after posting the negative comments and receiving so many kind and supportive comments, that I could not recite one nice comment word for word but I could recite the negative ones word for word. What is that?! It’s really not healthy.

Despite intellectually knowing that negative comments are untrue or intentionally malicious, doesn’t mean they are emotionally less painful. Both can exist simultaneously.

I too have said to people what so many said to me –  “just ignore them.” But after talking to a psychologist, I’ve come to learn it really isn’t that simple.

We’ve evolved to worry deeply about threats – because we need to defend ourselves to stay alive. Yet we take compliments (non-threats) in the moment but soon forget them because they’re of no harm.

With social media still being relatively new, many of us haven’t learnt to perceive negative comments as anything other than a threat. That means, most people can’t help but read them and they also can’t help feeling affected. For some I know, they actively search them out to find them because they know they exist and emotionally it’s a protective mechanism.

What’s the solution? I believe it’s in…

Teaching ourselves internet self care

And here are my tips to achieving that self care:

  • Practicing mindfulness. Learn to sit with that initial crappy feeling and acknowledge it hurts but recognise it is of no real threat (however, if it is a real threat please report it in whatever means necessary immediately)
  • When I receive negative comment I tell myself this little affirmation : “It’s not your fault, you’re not alone, there’s help available, you’ll get through this like you’ve done before.”
  • Another helpful trick I’ve learnt is to tell myself that “emotion can’t change the truth.” That is, when I’m in a good place I know the comments are untrue. However, when I’m in a bad place I mentally perceive them as true. But truth can’t be changed! So reminding yourself when you’re feeling down that the comments are still untrue and it’s just that you’re feeling down, means you can apply some self care to try to lift your self morale (run a bubble bath, take the dogs for a walk, write down how you feel etc.)
  • Remind yourself that you shouldn’t want everyone to like you. Seriously, Nazis and awful people exist!
  • Taking time away from the internet is good! I think everyone should do it a few times a year. Not just a day – a week. You’ll be surprised how motivated you feel after it. Even if your job is online, you should be scheduling this in.
  • Interacting with friends face to face. It goes without saying, you feel more connected to people when you see them in the flesh compared to online and that connection is good for mental health. I also find that compliments made in real life stick much more easily. 
  • Unfriend, block, and report accounts that cross the line. If they don’t care about how you feel, don’t hesitate worrying about how they feel being unfriended by you.
  • If the bullying is prolonged, save screenshots as evidence because action may need to be taken down the track.
  • Have a no tolerance approach to negatively and bullying online with ourselves and those we know. If you struggle to deal with negativity personally, well don’t go and put more negativity out there for someone else to deal with. If you see your friend write something on a public page about e.g. about a woman’s appearance  – call them out!
  • Follow accounts that emphasise self worth.  My personal favourites are @i_weigh and @bodyposipanda. Also unfollow accounts that only make you feel terrible about yourself, because if you’re already feeling terrible and then you see negative comments about yourself, you’ll respond differently than if you’re self assured, confident and happy.
  • If you are really struggling please prioritise seeing a psychologist that can give you personalised coping strategies. I’ve gone back recently and it’s the best decision I’ve made in a long time. I understand that not everyone can afford it but here in Australia you can go to the GP, get a mental health plan, and get a rebate on your sessions. I pay approximately $40 for an hour after I get my money back. If your tooth was chipped, you probably pay that $40. So remember to treat mental health as health! It’s arguably one of the most important aspects of being healthy.
  • And there are helplines that you can call, look at their resources, and reach out to. Like Reach Out, Lifeline, Kids Helpline, eSafety, Headspace. (click each of those names to go to their website.)

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Image from i_weigh where people write all the facts about themselves to reassure them of who they are, not what society or individuals say about them.

I think I’ll come to regret reading through so much sh*t about myself when I’m on my death bed. And I think those writing it will come to regret on their’s how much time they spent being hateful when kindness is so much easier, productive and feels a truck load better. (Even if they don’t feel empathy, what a terrible waste of time!)

Take care out there. You aren’t alone. You’ve got this!