10 November 2007

Good Reading, Safe Havens

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Having recently discovered Narcissists Suck and What Makes Narcissists Tick, I've also had the privilege of discovering Brisbane Christian Fellowship [ great site ~ thank you, Jordie!], Web of Narcissism and Cosmicwalk.

There are people in the US, Australia, South Africa, all addressing the same issues, all seeing the same patterns, all standing up in protest. The sun literally never sets on this world of recovery!

But along with awareness come risks; when you leave the shadows, sometimes the shadows try to follow. Predators don't want to lose their prey, and the psychological predator seems to find a special 'thrill' in preying upon those who think they've escaped.

A page from the Cosmicwalk site gives very wise advice. I hope the WebMaster won't mind my posting the "money quote" here, along with this link:
" ...I found various groups and forums that helped me a lot, often just by the very fact that they were there and I knew I was not alone. However, some were merely playgrounds where narcissists hung out. They projected as victims but were there for sport, to attack real victims, sometimes in the most vicious and destructive ways. I was on the receiving end of some of these in the very early days and they set me back terribly, making me question myself and second-guess everything all over again. It caused me tremendous agony.

My point is please be careful. Don't expose yourself to a forum until you are sure that it is in fact a safe place. Don't use just one resource for your information or rely on just one site or author. This includes this site as well.

Read widely and read a lot. Test the theories, check the facts and reach your own, personal conclusions. ..."
It's incredibly validating and helpful to run across sites and blogs that 'speak to your condition', as Quakers so beautifully put it. But it can be even more helpful and validating to actually connect directly with others who are working their way towards the same light. Being ambushed while on such a quest can be terribly retraumatizing, and is an experience to be avoided if at all possible.

Here are a few observations that may help you avoid harm in chat rooms / forums / discussion groups ~ or recognize its approach early enough to get out quickly.

1. Look for a group with attentive and involved moderators, ideally multiple moderators. Moderators who appear and disappear, or find their responsibility overwhelming because they have no backup ~~ with the best will in the world, are not going to know what's really happening in the neighborhood; they can't; they won't have time. They may cease to care, or give up out of a sense of frustration and powerlessness.

At best, they may show up far too late in a conflict, after significant emotional damage has already been done; at worst, they not only might show up late, but could jump to conclusions based on incomplete information or a desire to 'just get it over with'. If that should happen, it risks rewarding an abuser[s] at the expense of the target[s], because, online or offline, abusers set things up to make it easier to join the abuse than to oppose it. Anyone who opts for the easy way out, in this situation, is likely to play right into that, even if totally unwittingly. If you have childhood memories of Mom or Dad punishing you, when your sibling was the provocateur, welcome to Family Scapegoat ~~ Instant Replay. Even when it's the most innocent error in the world, which it sadly may be, you don't need to relive it.

2. Look for a group with rational standards of conduct, and check to see that these standards are applied 'without fear or favor'. Standards of conduct should be articulated ~ and easy to find. If it's obvious that the moderator has a pet, you might learn a lot about enabling and favoritism, but lurking is going to feel like the safest option. Power corrupts, and people in favored positions often become abusive merely because they can. Likewise, if stronger members of the group are left on their own to defend themselves as best they can when cornered, simply because they're perceived as strong, while members perceived as less emotionally competent are assisted and protected, then - inadvertently or not - some group members are being punished for being healthy, or at least for looking that way.

Limited progress is likely in an environment where those perceived as stronger or healthier feel left to protect themselves.

3. Look for a group in which Private Messaging has been disabled, or can be disabled by the user. This may seem odd, but there's good reason for it.

In realspace therapy groups, 'subgrouping' is actively discouraged since it leads to the formation of cliques, internal politics, etc. and is almost always destructive to group cohesion. In cyberspace recovery groups, the same problems can occur. Unhealthy members can create havoc in Web forums by using PMs.

I have seen people use sockpuppets [second screen names or anonymous tags] to abuse targets in open forums, while pretending to commiserate with the targets behind the scenes, via PM, under their usual screen name. [Back in the pre-Internet days, people would sometimes send anonymous 'poison pen letters' to a target, while pretending to support them in public. Plus ça change, plus ç'est la même chose!].

PMs can be misused by cyberbullies to recruit gang members, or by cybercheaters seeking emotional affairs. What better place to find people longing to belong, thus ripe for gangs, or lonely hearts, vulnerable to emotional affairs, than a chat room full of emotional abuse survivors?

I've found two other downsides to PMs:

First: troublemakers, even in the open forum, do lie about things said to them via PM. It's a waste of time and energy proving them to be lies, but usually the target will feel that it must be done, because otherwise they're endorsing the behavior.

Second, a group member may receive many PMs requesting advice or support; but when they need support in return, none may be forthcoming. [This is another way in which a group may, inadvertently, punish its healthier members.] It's good to be useful, not at all good to be - or feel -used. Reciprocity, in fact, is central to spiritual health as well as emotional health: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

I stress, again, that these things are rare in healthy environments ~ but it's often the case that you'll only discover an environment is unhealthy when things like this take place there. And a healthy environment can feel unhealthy very quickly if even one member does these things.

So PMs, in my opinion, are best avoided. If PMs aren't disabled on a site you visit, consider blocking them in your own account. If you don't, you may eventually wish you had.

4. Look for a group with clearly designated 'trigger zones' = safe places to vent.Those who have suffered certain kinds of abuse need to be able to talk about it. Openly. With others who've 'been there'. Without being shamed. Others may find such discussions triggering. Therefore, a recovery site should have clearly delineated 'zones' where people can discuss this potentially triggering material ~ and ideally, these 'zones' should be second-password protected, to keep out voyeurs. A second-password requirement also may prevent troublemakers from visiting these areas, then claiming to be injured and offended by what they find there. Sadly, it appears that such things happen.

5. Look for groups without 'taboos'; watch for groupthink and other forms of 'stinkin' thinkin'. If people can't openly express a concern that there might be predators among them, without all hell breaking loose, then there's some real risk that there are indeed predators among them, simply because that risk can't even be discussed. If people can't discuss the fact that their parent was an abusive borderline or narcissist without being flamed, you can be reasonably certain that some of the flamers have things on their parental consciences that they don't want anyone guessing are there. [Sadly, these things might turn out to be well-intentioned errors, relatively easily amended, if they were ever brought out into the light.] If everyone is loudly and nervously and constantly assuring each other that they are all 100% wonderful people, and the baddies are all Out There, you're up to your neck in Groupthink, not to mention denial. Rational, detached self-scrutiny isn't going to be on the agenda, and it's an essential component of healing.

6. Look for groups where message boards or chat rooms are password protected. This protects against voyeurs, spammers, and other trolls, not to mention the occasional abuser looking to 'nail' his or her child, spouse, etc. in cyberspace. Few things are as frightening as seeing an emotionally battered woman cornered by her abuser on a site where she thought she was safe.

7. Remember ~ safety isn't subjective; but comfort is. You may be perfectly at ease in an environment you know is not entirely safe; you may be uncomfortable in an environment that seems utterly secure. I personally don't recommend prolonged stays in venues where you feel unsafe, because of a threefold risk: if you advocate for safety and oppose unhealthy behavior in the group setting, you are guaranteed to be abused, because you're 'rocking the boat'; even if you keep a low profile, you may be retraumatized as a witness when others are abused, or, worst of all, you may become a 'boiled frog' ~~ gradually, imperceptibly desensitized to others' suffering, thus tolerant of abuse ~~ as long as it's happening to someone else.

A password-protected site with multiple message boards for different types of issues, clear structure, well defined standards of conduct, and involved, aware moderators will be the safest place to heal.

There are such places. If you seek them, may you find them, and may your healing ~ in true community ~ last lifelong.

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Anonymous jordie said...

Nicely put. This is very useful for those of us who find the internet to be their best source of help because of the gift of anonymity. There are still dangers as you have pointed out, even in the most apparently harmless places.

I joined a forum on spiritual abuse, but recognised quickly that this was a group who protected its own, and there were particular personalities whose pronouncements were considered 'untouchable' regardless of how crass and deliberately offensive they were. I found myself going into 'groupthink' mode very quickly, and (I think this was a post on Narcissts-Suck) joining in the fawning and fake compliments towards those who were considered forum 'saints'. I left after a new member started to diagnose everybody they spoke to with their pet psychological disorder. I just found the presumption to be too confronting. Added to the fact that they were obviously out for a good time, and ravaging the more naieve members of the forum (the ones who welcomed everybody with open arms). I just couldn't put up with any more abuse from anyone.

Lesson learned.

11 November, 2007 20:29  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Thanks Jordie... I'm sorry you went through that, but I'm glad you left before you became one of the primary targets there [my inference. Correct me if I'm wrong.] You would have been targeted eventually.

There are sometimes very fine lines between groups and cliques, cliques and gangs, gangs and mobs. The 'group intention', I think, is what makes the difference. I am working on a post about this, but it's probably going to be a multi-parter. There's a lot of ground to cover.

One red flag to watch for in a recovery group - realspace or cyberspace - is any sign of 'competition for dominance'.

The 'stated mission' of these groups is to work together towards understanding and healing from abuse, and in that mission people's particular talents and skills should naturally unfold, cooperatively and co-creatively, with mutual support and encouragement. People will come in bewildered and naive, learn from the older members, become older members themselves, share what they have learned, and many then leave to use their new knowledge in realspace. This process takes months to years, but it's a process.

But the competitive types bring in a hidden agenda: they try to co-opt the venue as a personality cult around themselves/their 'gang', use newer, more dependent, naive members for narcissistic supply, and drive off anyone who is psychologically literate enough to recognize what's going on. Growth, learning, and eventual 'graduation' are not on the agenda. They're constructing a Temple of the Id, and they plan to move in and stay there.

"Playgrounds where narcissists hung out" indeed!

In cyberspace groups, good, aware moderators can shut this process down PDQ. To be fair, one good moderator working alone can do much to prevent 'politics' from taking over a site - but they're going to burn out. It's just too much for one person, if they also have to feed themselves in realspace.

Lurk. Be wary of any longer-term member who is not a moderator or 'docent' [i.e., a 'guest teacher'], and wallpapers the site indiscriminately [posts and posts and posts and posts and posts - especially if they always seem to have to 'get the last word in', or start a new thread every time they comment about anything]. Overenthusiastic newbies may do these things, but they usually subside pretty quickly. In long-term members, saturating the site with posts is a dominance ploy.

Look for patterns of scapegoating - which often shows up as obliviousness to abusive behavior within the group, when it comes from the 'wallpaper' posters, or when it's directed at certain people.

That 'fawning and fake compliments' response you describe - I too seem to remember that Anna blogged about that - is definitely part of this. One must placate the tyrant to avoid his or her implacable wrath. It amazes me that people don't recognize this when it's going on. The forced and insincere quality is obvious! Or perhaps it's just that we don't recognize how unhealthy it is. After all, it feels like home.

See what the moderators do when they intervene. Do they address the real, underlying problem, or do they intensify it? Have they taken enough time to find out what the actual problem is? Or are they reacting from their own emotions?

Look for people apologizing when they hurt others - nondefensive responses to confrontation. A willingness to reflect and self-assess. A willingess to set defensiveness aside and actually make another person's feelings equally important to one's own. Actual discussion of what happened. Resolution. New understanding. Not just window dressing and feel-good generalizations...

Haughtiness, cruelty, excessive concern for protecting one's 'image', etc. don't belong in recovery groups. Nor do they belong in support groups. They are the prime attributes of those who injured us in the first place, and although they are sometimes partly internalized as part of our own defensive adaptations, this should be something we are willing to see, admit, and struggle honestly against. Anyone who is still clinging to these things, consciously, in such a venue, is someone to avoid, and any venue that doesn't provide some form of encouragement to see this and deal with it is probably going to do you more harm than good, in the long run.

12 November, 2007 10:34  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Back again... thanks Jordie for a thought provoking comment!

I searched both Narcissists-Suck and What Makes Narcissists Tick? for information on fawning, and didn't find what I was looking for. I suspect it was discussed in a comment.

Meanwhile, though, the original article is here; the author is Pete Walker, M.A., M.F.T, and his analysis is brilliant.

He's added missing dimensions to the flight-or-fight response, and makes sense of much that seems otherwise inexplicable [such as: why do people flatter and enable bullies the way they do, when they're grown adults and have other options?]

12 November, 2007 11:26  
Anonymous jordie said...

That's a great website. Thanks for the link. I read the article, and then other ones. I especially liked the article on self-pity.

It reminds me of a situation at the cult I was in when my father had died, and a week later my husband had gone to church without me, an elder had asked him where I was. My husband told him I was with my family and the elder told him to make sure I wasn't 'just feeling sorry for myself'. Apparently you weren't allowed to even grieve the death of a parent at this church. All emotions belonged to them. His agenda was that I should be availing myself of all the wonderful 'compassion' to be found through my spiritual fathers. What crap!

The article was a much needed read.

12 November, 2007 16:28  
Anonymous CZBZ said...

Thanks for mentioning the Web of Narcissism as one of the many 'safe havens' on the Web!

Because participation on a support forum kept me focused on healing for the long-term, I am always trying to understand how to improve and manage online forums.

There are numerous 'unhealthy' forums on the web, too. Unfortunately, most of us have no idea what to look for when we first join a group. The sad thing is that vulnerable people cannot afford a second victimization by the group; and yet, it happens frequently enough.

Most anyone creating a forum has NO IDEA how much work it will be. Not only maintenance behind-the-scenes, but also learning how to facilitate connection and communication!

(I make enough mistakes to keep me humble but since my goal is not my ego, I keep trying.)

I've been working on an article about Online Support after five years of active forum management. It's been a learning process, that's for sure. One thing about a woman who lived with a Narcissist for thirty years though---I've got Stamina!

Thanks for the plug and the validation. I've enjoyed your blog for sometime now, but never posted a reply. Please keep writing!



p.s. Our private website is active but it's not on search engines. The public site linked to your post is the only way search engines can find us. Hardly anyone posts on the public forum when they have the option for total privacy. That's completely understandable!!

14 November, 2007 00:59  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Thanks CZBZ - your site is truly impressive!

It's possible that the link from GW to WON might be a mixed blessing. I intend to add you and Cosmicwalk to the sidebar links too [Jordie's site is there now - check it out!]

If you notice increased troll activity after the links are up, let me know... I hope you don't, I hope if anything you get more readers and members, ditto everyone else linked here. I've been surprised to discover that GW does show up in search engines now; I hope that does some good.

Please, when you finish your article about online support ping me, I visit your site pretty often now but don't want to miss it. My post gives the perspective of a site participant, but the view from the site designer/moderator seat is one I know people would like to read more about... I agree with you 1000% about the importance of moderators serving as facilitators. I think that may be the key to having a site that really works to facilitate recovery.

Thanks for commenting... I'm glad to know you're here and reading. And please keep your site going, it's beautiful.

14 November, 2007 09:23  
Anonymous CZBZ said...

"It's possible that the link from GW to WON might be a mixed blessing."

Ummm...ditto, my friend. Anyone who has tried to "learn and heal" at the same time they are building safe refuge for others, will have detractors and critics. Usually those critics play it SAFE though and never attempt to create a Safe Haven. We have so much to learn about Online Support; we will make numerous mistakes in the process.

I have wonderful support in my face-to-face relationships (for which I am very grateful!) This only encouraged me to help the many people who are not so fortunate. Talking about the Narcissist often alienates us from other people which increases our need for validation and camaraderie. Online community is a valuable resource for people who need 'connection' with others as the first step towards personal healing.

I have participated in several forums and learned my lessons the hard way.

But even someone as 'pollyanna' as myself, is no dummy when it comes to Predators and Prey. (though it's taken a few chunks out of my arse to fully understand that not everyone in our world is trustworthy-----nor of good intentions and Sound Mind!)

One thing that might bear mentioning is that Online Support can be long-term if a group becomes a 'community'. Many of the people I met online have become personal friends (even face-to-face). Having a core group of people with solid recovery under their belts, is essential. I've known many members of WoN for five years now as each of us rebuilds healthy relationships online as well as face-to-face.

I have listed GW on my BlogLink but plan on posting a message on WoN today. So if YOU get a few of those Nasty TroubleMakers visiting your site, please accept my apology in advance.

Management of online support groups is not for the faint of heart. ha! (and definitely not for Big Egos)


14 November, 2007 11:24  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Five years in community online -- I envy you, except that I can well imagine how much time and energy you invested [with your community members] in bringing that about, and invest each day in maintaining it.

Not for the faint of heart, indeed. And from what I've seen of realspace 'intentional communities' - something I've been looking very closely into, this last year - you are absolutely right. Commitment to community is the best preventative for Ego that was ever invented!

My hat's off to you, ma'am. As you continue in your endeavor, may you never lack strength, or courage, or time.

Or community. :-)

14 November, 2007 21:19  
Blogger Stormchild said...

See Kathy Krajco's blog post "Cyberpaths' for a discussion of this same topic. She addresses the suicide of Megan Meier, instigated by a malicious "adult" woman cyberbully. [Who also happened to be a mother herself - but clearly, only in the biological sense of the word.]

Kathy's thoughts on public-access posting venues as playgrounds for cyberpaths are very much to the point.

24 November, 2007 09:54  
Blogger Douglas said...

I'd like to thank you for writing this. We are experiencing some growing pains in a forum I moderate and posted a link to this as a reality check. I can copy/paste the article and not link directly, if you would like

dqbiggerfam, moderator for farpointforums.net

18 February, 2008 17:49  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Thank you Douglas - I'm glad you find it helpful.

I don't mind at all if you link to the post; feel free to do that, or to copy/paste, as need be.

Wishing you - and your forum - success!

all the best,


18 February, 2008 21:05  

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