Feeling upset by something that has happened on Facebook?

If you use Facebook a lot, chances are fairly good that something has happened on Facebook which hasn’t been good. It might have been minor – perhaps you were slightly embarrassed by a photo, felt somewhat left out whilst friends were Facebook chatting, or a bit worried about something said or posted. Or it might have been pretty major – perhaps you felt completely humiliated, rejected, devastated or hurt by comments, photos or the way someone interacted with you.

Some of the common incidents students in particular report to me that have happened to them or someone they know are:

  • Being tagged in a photo in which you (think you) look ugly
  • Having someone add a comment to a photo you posted of yourself which is embarrassing
  • Having friends online but not responding to you in Facebook chat
  • Someone saying something hurtful to you in Facebook chat
  • Being blocked or not accepted as a friend
  • Having someone write something negative on your wall
  • Having someone write something negative about you on someone else’s wall
  • ....the options are endless really.

If you have felt this way, it is important to know that you are not alone. Approximately 40% of students I have surveyed have felt the same way. I haven’t surveyed any adults about this issue, but I bet many adults have had similar experiences.

The first thing to remember when someone says something on Facebook (or on email or text for that matter) is that we are only getting a small part of the message that has been sent. It’s like listening to sound on television without the screen on. Whilst we are getting the right sound, without the visual image we will often miss crucial bits of info, or misinterpret some important points. The same happens for comments on Facebook, Facebook chat, invites/rejections/acceptances on Facebook and so on.  When we don’t see the body language (tentative, crying, smiling, worried look on their face) of the sender, when we don’t hear  their tone of voice (joking, sarcastic, caring, angry) nor see the context in which a message was written (ie someone has just been yelled at by their mum, or they have five seconds before they rush out the door to basketball so they haven’t thought about their message, they are studying for a test and not concentrating) then we are only getting a part of the message. We really are missing the whole picture so to speak.

In other words, when something happens on Facebook that is hurtful, we should keep in mind that it is quite possible that we have misinterpreted, or over-reacted to the message because of the lack of important information or context. Unfortunately if we have been hurt or embarrassed, the emotion centres in our brain have now become overactive, which then interferes with our ability to actually think this through. Double whammy. 

Having said this, unfortunately at times people do intentionally attempt to either discomfort, embarrass, hurt or exclude people using Facebook.   When this happens, it can be helpful to keep a few things in mind.

  1. The reasons you have been hurt/excluded/embarrassed/worried are often nothing to do with you as a person. Often they are more to do with people trying to make themselves feel good (e.g powerful in the eyes of others) or better (e.g less anxious or less powerless).
  2. Being hurt, excluded, embarrassed or rejected happens to most people (either via Facebook or face to face) at some point - including people who seem to be liked by all, people who radiate confidence,  popular people and those who are smart. Many people who are witness to your hurt will know exactly how you feel. They survived it.
  3. Try to keep in mind that in our social world, things change fast.   On Facebook for example, so many comments get posted, that like the news – what happens yesterday is quickly forgotten.

Hopefully you can take heart from some of these points. In the meantime, here are some other ideas:

FIVE SPECIFIC STEPS TO TAKE when you feel hurt by something that happened on Facebook. 

To help remind you of specific steps to take if you feel upset after a Facebook interaction, you might like to remember the anagram: STAMP. Let’s look at what each letter stands for.

S is for Stop the cycle. 

This means not reacting to the person who has hurt you – especially via Facebook, email, text or any other cyber communication methods. In other words, it is usually best, once we have felt upset by a comment or photo, that we don’t add any other comments to walls or photos.  We can’t always ignore what has been said – our brains don’t turn off that easily unfortunately – but we can act as if we have ignored it.

There are a few reasons I suggest this.

First, ignoring a comment or post (or at least acting as if you are ignoring it) is often the best form of revenge.   For someone who is posting or saying something in order to make themselves feel more powerful, there is nothing more annoying than seeing it be ignored.

Second, given that there is a possibility as discussed above, that we may have misinterpreted the message, or over-reacted to it given we don’t know the context, then it is better to pause before reacting. This gives us time to find out the context, the other parts of the message we may have missed, it gives the rational part of our brain a chance to restart after the emotional centres have quietened down and makes sure we don’t regret what we say.

Third, commenting on a post or photo for example, often encourages some people to continue the cycle and say additional hurtful things. Think of it like playing tennis. Once you hit the ball back to your opposition player they have the opportunity to slam you with it again. You’re often safer just allowing the ball to pass you by.

Having said this, I know it is hard to do. It is our instinct to want to fight back, to defend ourselves, to find out what somebody really thinks, and to get more information from people. The idea of “letting things go” is often completely against what we really, really feel like doing. So, help yourself do this by taking yourself away from the screen, and going on to the next step which is:

T is for Talk to someone about what is happening

Another instinct we have as humans at times is to stop talking in times of pain. For lots of people, when things are okay, they talk to people about anything and everything. Yet when they have been hurt, they shut down and stop communicating. There are lots of reasons we do this – including it being an attempt to protect ourselves from further hurt, a belief that no-one can do anything to help, a feeling that we will be humiliated further by sharing amongst other reasons.

These instincts are very common, but they are unfortunate. Because in actual fact, there are some really powerful advantages of talking about our struggles. Here are just a few potential benefits:

  1. Sometimes people have some great ideas about what to say and do, especially people who have been through similar situations
  2. Talking about something – getting words out of your head and into “space” seems to change our own perspective at times. Often it makes our fears and sadness easier to deal with.
  3. Sometimes other people have things they can do for us which make us feel better – sometimes these things are directly related to our difficulties, and sometimes they aren’t related at all but just soothe us in some ways
  4. When people know we are struggling with something, it helps them understand our behaviour in a different way. Sometimes we need extra allowances that this understanding can bring
  5. Talking to somebody else about our struggles seems to give this “unspoken” permission for them to do the same with us one day. It often deepens and strengthens relationships.

Talking to others about our struggles is a really important step in helping us get through hard times. Try these phrases: “hey, if this happened to you, what would you do?”, “do you mind if I just tell you about this foul thing that happened to me on Facebook last night?”, “have you ever had the situation where this happened”, “I’m feeling kind of upset/worried/hurt by this thing, can I tell you about it”. If you really cant bring yourself to say these words out loud, then you might like to try another form of communication – email, text, even Facebook chat if you feel most comfortable with that.  As to who you talk to – it might be a range of people – school counsellors, parents, siblings, older friends, relatives, neighbours, your GP, a psychologist, lifeline telephone counsellors – almost anyone is better than no-one.  Keep in mind however, that friends who know everyone who is involved, can have an agenda and talking to them can make things trickier in some situations. If possible, it is preferable to talk to someone a bit further removed.

However you do it, and whatever you say – talk to someone, and do it sooner rather than later.

A is for Act Alright and Approach (with Care)

Without knowing the specifics of each situation, as a general rule “act alright” and “approach” are often helpful guidelines in conflict situations. “Acting alright” means trying not to show too much anger, hurt or anxiety towards the person that hurt you. This doesn’t mean that you don’t show anyone how you really feel – it just means avoiding the person that hurt you see an excessive amount of these feelings. There are similar reasons for this to the ones we covered before under “S is for Stop the Cycle”. A lack of reaction in person is as important as a lack of reaction on Facebook. If the offender gets no response from you and you seem to be “alright” then sometimes this can stop the harassment mid-cycle. “Act alright” might mean not referring to the incident, it might mean casually saying hi when you next see the person face to face, it might mean smiling as you walk past, it might mean simply going on to do things in public as normal, with a generally casual attitude and expression. 

The second A is “Approach” with care. On some occasions, conflict via Facebook can be cleared up quickly and simply by approaching the person, one on one and either asking them about what happened or telling them how you feel. Exactly how you do this, and whether you do this will depend very much on the situation and I would strongly suggest you talk to someone about advice on this before you do it.  

M is for Moving On Activities

Our brains are designed to problem solve and analyse. That’s what brains do and generally they keep on analysing, thinking and problem solving until something is fixed. Unfortunately, not all problems respond to ongoing analysing and problem solving. When it comes to maths questions, if you keep thinking and analysing the information chances are you are going to solve a problem eventually. But social problems aren’t like that. We can think, problem solve and analyse something repeatedly and instead of coming up with an answer, all we are doing is actually creating a higher level of distress for ourselves. Sometimes when we give ourselves a break from thinking about it, the situation changes. At the very least, we have had a rest from the analysing. Of course this is hard to do. Keep in mind that the brain is terrible at subtraction, but it is pretty good at addition. In other words, it is really hard to keep distressing memories, words and ideas OUT of our head, but we can put OTHER things in to distract us from that distress. This is where “moving on” activities are vital. What this means is finding activities which have a high requirement for concentration, or a high potential for enjoyment (either is fine) which will give our brains something else to do instead of just thinking about the things that have hurt us.

When we feel upset, hurt, embarrassed or rejected, it is time to actively plan and engage in moving on activities such as: watching television, talking to friends about neutral topics, planning a holiday, playing sport, going on another website, reading a book, doing homework, ringing a friend from interstate, doing some cooking, making something, drawing, playing an instrument – and so on. You get the idea.   I understand that this is the last thing you feel like doing. Your brain is telling you to analyse, go over and problem solve the issue. But at some level you know this – it isn’t helping. If you have to, break it down into small steps. Do some moving on activities just for ten minutes – and then go back to thinking about it. Then go back and do some more moving on activities for twenty minutes and so on. However you do it, work really hard at giving your brain something else to focus on for a while, before you make any decisions.

P is for protect yourself

On some occasions, with some kinds of conflict, it is really important to protect yourself from further hurt. It’s certainly not always easy to do this, especially if you work with or go to school with someone, or have lots of mutual friends, but there are some steps you can take in some situations. Here are some “protecting yourself” options to consider:

  • Remember that you can always block people that you don’t accessing your site
  • You can print out any harassing or threatening messages
  • You can report comments to Facebook administrators simply by clicking on “report” button within Facebook itself
  • Avoid places at school or in your area that you think harrassers are likely to be
  • Don’t talk about topics you know cause problems with friends
  •  Avoid Facebook at the times of day you know problematic people are more likely to be there
  • Have “Facebook and mobile phone free” times each day when you will not check what is being said
  • If you are being threatened or harassed via email, contact your service provider and they can sometimes block people from sending messages to you
  • Alternatively, set up a rule in your email program which automatically deletes or assigns as spam messages from any particular email addresses
  • It is illegal to threaten or harass people on Facebook. You can contact the police to discuss what they can do to keep you safe from threats

There are many other options in protecting yourself. You are the best person to know how to protect yourself. Stop to think about what you can change about your environment so that you are less likely to be in contact with or at risk of being hurt. Thinking about how you might protect yourself doesn’t mean in any way that it is your fault, or your responsibility to stop the harassment. It just makes sense to find ways of getting out of the fire.

I hope these ideas have been helpful. Please feel free to email me anytime with any questions or comments.