Cyberbullying has become a sadly familiar headline, but it's not just child's play—more and more adults are falling victim to online abuse, too.
A 2017 PEW Survey revealed that 66 percent of adults have witnessed online harassment while 41 percent have been victims themselves. More upsetting is that 70 percent of young people (age 18-29) say they have experienced some form of digital hate.
Being teased, mocked or even bullied isn't anything new. What has changed is how the message can be spread, magnified and permanently recorded, all thanks to the internet. Being called “fat and ugly” or having one vicious troll trash your reputation can literally tear a person to shreds—perhaps not physically, but certainly emotionally.
Incivility in our country is on the rise, with 84 percent of people experiencing some type of cruelty and 69 percent blaming social media and the internet for this increase in negativity. In this same survey, Civility in America, 66 percent of Americans have actually asked their friends to be kinder to each other.
We can work towards a kinder online (and offline) world. Dr. Michele Borba, author of UnSelfie, calls this is a "human disaster, not a natural one," pointing out, "We caused it, we can turn it around. Empathy can be cultivated."
For those of us that have been wounded by cyber-bullets, know that no matter what age you are, you matter. Being cyber-shamed is not something you simply move forward from, it can take time to heal and you must allow yourself to go through that process—surround yourself with friends that love you and care about you.
5 Ways to Rebound from Online Shaming
1. Permit yourself to be angry.
It's okay and it's normal. Use these feelings to energize yourself for what you'll need to fight back. It took me nearly a decade to realize that we can't control how people act online, but we can control our own emotions. It's okay to be upset and especially mad. Taking steps to repair your virtual landscape can help you reclaim your feelings of control.
2. Take care of yourself.
When I hit rock bottom, I felt there was no one I could turn to. After all, who would understand? I was fortunate enough to have one friend that I felt completely secure with, or I don’t know how I would have survived. Having someone you can confide in without judgment is so important when you are dealing with digital shaming. Maybe that means turning to family. Or a night out with friends to bolster your confidence. Those who haven't been through this themselves may not be able to completely understand, so you may also want to seek professional help. Psychologists are only now realizing the symptoms of those who have been digitally shamed are very similar to PTSD, as Dr. Michele Borba notes in Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate.
3. Get perspective.
Just because someone hurt you doesn’t mean that you are worthless or without those who care for you. There will always be distracters that will want to bring you down, particularly if there is jealousy or other unkind motives. Sean Kosofky, director of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, insists you must remember this: “Know that you’re loved. You can be experiencing all this intense negativity. People do love you, people are being cruel because it’s just simpler for some to be mean than thoughtful. Sometimes, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Keep some perspective. The kinds of folks attacking you don’t matter. They just don’t matter.”
4. Find your voice.
When victims email me, the most common theme of what has been therapeutic for them is writing. Have you written your story yet? Whether it's on a blog or in your personal journal, expressing your feelings and sometimes sharing it, even online—the very place you were harmed—can be cathartic. You'd be surprised how many victims have found a safe space by opening a Blogger or WordPress blog and telling their story. It may take you time to do this, but when you do, you will find many people waiting to give you support.
5. Move forward with your shame.
Acceptance is one of the key steps in overcoming digital shame. Accept that this has happened to you and you will have to learn to live with it. It is not easy to hear: When I was going through this, one psychologist on a television show told me, "You just have to move on." As if it were that easy. Recognize that this electronic humiliation has happened, but it doesn’t completely define you.