Shaming: The Adult Version of Bullying
We’ve all done it, and we’ve all had it done to us; outloud, or in our minds. Whether it’s about your parenting style, your political preference, or even on what you choose to eat on a daily basis, social media has created a 24/7 watchful eye on everyone, everywhere. In a time where everything is shared with your 300+ closest friends with the click of a button, you’ll get likes, you’ll get unfriended, or even a few supportive or caddy comments from those people you call “friends”. Whether you like to admit it or not, you let these likes and comments define a portion of who you are, your idea of self-worth, and how you feel about certain subjects.
Imagine being in a room with, well, basically everyone you went to high school with, previous coworkers, and your entire family. This is your “Facebook family” if you will. Now, your Facebook family has pleeeeeenty to say online, but there are plenty of big, bad bullies on the internet, that would be entirely too timid to tell you in person that you’re a “bad mom for buying your kid a happy meal from McDonald’s”. What’s even more interesting, is not only would your Facebook family speak up less often if we were all face-to-face, but you probably wouldn’t allow them to speak down to you in front of your true friends and family. So why in world do we let people get away with this kind of behavior online?
The argument I hear most often from online shamers is that they simply want to share ‘wisdom’ or ‘offer their professional opinions’, and when you decide to sign up for social media, you have to understand that you open yourself up to a certain amount of feedback from others. What I want to make very clear, is that who you choose to associate with, and what you choose to post is completely up to you.
A few years ago, I was laying in bed doing my nightly scroll of Instagram, when I came across a rather edgy picture of someone I knew from high school posing for some racy photos (obviously a boudoir session). ‘Wow. I would NEVER put these kind of photos of myself out there’ I thought to myself, and I decide to do a little creeping. Before I know it, I’m 16 clicks deep into the original person’s, sister’s dog-walker’s, best friend’s, boyfriend’s, bootycall’s feed, and I’m judging HARD. I eventually say something outloud, and it was years ago so I truly can’t remember what, but Nik responds with a quick “why are you even looking at that person’s profile?”. I was embarrassed. And I didn’t really understand why at the time, but I now know that I was deep in someone’s life (who I didn’t even personally know) and I was judging them for my own personal gain. I defended whatever crap story I came up with back then in response to Nik calling me out, and forgot about it.
A few months later, I was in a group chat with some close friends, and we were all going back and forth, talking about someone else we all knew from high school. We were criticizing everything from outfits to their profession and partner choices. I was relaying some of this ‘hot gossip’ to Nik, when he finally said something to the affect of “I don’t really care, and neither should you. What they’re doing does even affect you. You’re just following them to judge them”. Well, he hit that nail on the head, yet again. I realized at that particular moment that judging this person, who was well off and seemed to be living their best life, made me feel superior.
It’s not like I needed the self-esteem boost, I was very happy with my life at that point. I wasn’t following them to support their life journey, or to ‘like’ their photos, but only to make fun of them for my own, personal gain. I was the judge and jury for their life story, and I hadn’t spoken a word to them in 6 years. This was a problem to me. I’d always been a public advocate for positivity and self love, but I was coming home to privately evaluate others lives entirely based on only the content they decided to share socially. Over the next month or so, I began unfollowing the masses on all social platforms. I unfriended anyone I hadn’t spoken to in over 2 years. I unfollowed anyone I was following simply to critique their lives. I went so far as to unfollow celebrities or influencers who just made me feel bad about myself, from the Kardashians, to the modern day bloggers and entrepreneurs who only post about how awesome their lives are, and never really let you into their daily struggles. Within a few weeks, I not only felt better about myself, but I was spending less time connected to my phone, and more time with Nik and our friends and families. This one healthy purge is the very first this I recommend doing if you’re spending your off time comparing your life to your Facebook family’s lives.
In the past year, I’ve began following and building a new kind of positivity in my life through my social media presence. I stayed stagnant and content with my short list of social media friends, but I craved some positive content from real influencers. I began following a few different boss babes, because that was the particular info that I wanted fed to me on a daily basis. I would follow some of these ladies for a week or so, give them a trial period, and see if they shared the good, bad, and ugly with their followers. I unfollowed if they didn’t, and I stuck with the ones that did. I wanted to see people just like me. The struggles, the triumphs, and the positive vibes for family, friends, love life, and everything in between.
Bullies Bullying You About Other Bullies
I’ve seen this one happen more times than I can count, but most recently, I’ve seen it happening to expecting parents, myself included. For example, we were in our birthing class a few weeks ago, just openly chatting about our past week, and one of the other expecting moms in my class said that she’d recently been offered the flu and whooping cough vaccines, as many women are during pregnancy. She went on to say that while she was interested in learning more about the vaccines, that she told her healthcare professional that she wanted to look into the cost and benefits for her particular situation, as she has some additional complications with her health outside of pregnancy. Upon hearing this information, her OB went on to explain the dangers of NOT getting the flu and/or whooping cough, including the risks of preterm labor (a very worst case scenario and scare tactic, in my opinion), if she were to get seriously dehydrated and yadda, yadda, yadda. Though it’s a valid issue, this mom shouldn’t have had to think about that if all she wanted was a little more time to investigate her options.
Let me be clear here. 1) This is NOT about the pros or cons of vaccinating, so please don’t start losing your mind on me about your vaccination views. 2) This IS about opinions versus facts, and I do not support thrusting your opinion on anyone, EVER, as the gospel truth, especially when it comes to a particular parenting style or choices parents must make for their children. We should all live under the assumption that people are trying to make the best effort and decisions for the benefits of their children. But not one opinion is better than another simply because an opinion is just that. When you formulate your personal cognitive reasoning about anything having to do with your life, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone else is raring to argue with you on the polar opposite end of the spectrum. Opinions are like noses; everyone has one, but it’s usually got a few holes in it. However you rationalize your opinions should ALWAYS be up to you, and you alone.
Before this expecting momma could even finish her sentence, our birthing instruction was shaking her head, wagging her finger, and saying “no, no, NO! She’s just bullying you”. Do I disagree at this point? No. It was a bullying scare tactic to get mom to get the flu shot then and there. Had the healthcare provider checked her chart a little more thoroughly, she may have understood the reasoning behind this expecting mom pushing back, but even if she wasn’t aware of the additional health concerns, she should have respected mom’s wishes and said that she’d see her again in 2 weeks and they’d offer it to her again after she’d had a chance to research it for herself. What a beautiful dream, but here in reality, that of course, did not happen.
Our birthing instructor went on to begin her own rationalization of why this mom shouldn’t ever get the vaccines, including, but not limited to a few select phrases that just irked me to my core, like “well would you normally get either of these vaccines? If not, don’t! You shouldn’t do anything differently because you’re pregnant!” and “they don’t even know if they’re offering a good flu vaccine; they don’t even have proof that vaccines work!”, and my personal favorite, “there’s lead and mercury in vaccines! You could seriously harm your baby!!!”. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but those all sounded like extreme scare tactics to me. While I personally am a pro-vaccination gal, and Nik and I have made the decision to vaccinate ourselves and our baby upon his arrival, we don’t just spew information without supplemental documentation simply for the shock value. If you believe those things, that is just fine! You are entitled to your opinion. But yet again, this momma was getting bullied by someone telling her that it is unsafe to allow herself to be bullied by anyone, which was a bit too much of a paradox for me. Take your feelings about vaccination out of the equation entirely. This was not okay, at least not to me.
When I hit my tipping point, I finally said it. ‘Nik and I talked it over and decided that we would both get the vaccinations 3 days earlier, and we haven’t died yet.’ I didn’t mean this in an insulting way to either sides of the equation, but I wanted the other momma to know that she wasn’t alone if she did decide to move forward with it, and that is was a personal decision. I went on to tell her that Nik and I weighed the cost and benefits, we chatted about my normal vaccination habits, and then decided that this was the way, as a family, that we wanted to make our decision. I wasn’t bullied, I wasn’t talked in, or out of the vaccines; I educated myself, with resources that I and my husband deemed reliable, and we made our choice. Our choice is not right or wrong. But for anyone to put so much weight on an expecting mom’s shoulders, for an optional vaccine mind you, and to say things on either side of the situation that could put her baby in mortal peril, is nothing less than bullying. I leaned over to the other momma and quietly said “you know, if you have a specialist for the other health issues, you may want to chat with them. Maybe they can help you decide what is best for your family, but it’s wrong for anyone to make you feel bad for getting the vaccines or not”. She nodded and said “thanks… everyone really gives you their opinion when you’re pregnant, and they’re all confusing”.
Aside from this particular instance, I see it allllllllll the time. If you have a strong self-perception and you’re confident in your choices, you may not fall victim to the dual bullying, but if you struggle with choices and getting conflicting information, just know that even the most confident seeming people do too! Don’t start a crash diet because someone convinced you that it was ‘healthy’. You know what works best for your body, listen to it! Don’t let your great aunt and mom make you feel inferior for going back to work after having a baby. You probably stayed up talking to your spouse about what was best for your family, remember that! But most of all, don’t be afraid to change your mind on your own terms. It’s okay to hold true to something until you feel like you’ve given it a true shot, and then change your plans. This is your life, and only you get to make those important decisions for yourself. If we all left it to social medias to plan our lives, we’d be broke, depressed, and pretty confused. Take care of yourself by any means necessary, no one else does a better job!
Be Aware Of Yourself And Others
My last bit here will be on self-awareness. I truly just mean watching what you say and how you say it to people. When I have to mediate office conflicts, there is usually one upset party, and one side who “didn’t mean [what they said] that way”. To be honest, my retort is always the same; “it doesn’t matter how you meant it, but how you were perceived”. I don’t need my employees to lovingly hold hands and skip down the street, but I do at least need them to walk on the same side of the road. If I witness snarky or flat out rude behavior, I’m the first to call a meeting to rectify the situation. But if we’re in a he said, she said situation, I always remind both sides of the conflict that we can’t use the cop-out that we ‘didn’t mean it that way”.
We live in a day and age where technology plays a big part in our everyday lives. From Facebook comments, to instant messengers and emails, it can be confusing to convey what you mean via text. I always recommend clarifying via text, or even breaking tension with a ‘haha” or smiley if you are kidding around, otherwise your jokes may not be getting picked up correctly. If you think something said in text has been perceived incorrectly, take the time in person to clarify. A clarification like “hey, when I said ‘no, don’t do that, I’ll do it myself’ I just meant I didn’t want you pulling your attention away from your duties and figured it would just be easier. I wasn’t meaning to insult/upset you if I did” or even just “sorry if that came out weird, I just meant…”. Again, jokes and smoothing the situation over will only help you dig yourself out of a bad situation. Be authentic and kind, but also be prepared for a response if the receiver of your message did take it that way.
Now if you’re communicating face-to-face, I ask you to keep as few things in mind:
Try not to be constantly negative. If you’re bringing down the mood, give it a boost. Even your closest friends like the reassurance that you’re okay, and if you’re not, say so! Friends are there to help! Nik and I have a peeve of people creating their own situations, then complaining about it. YOU did this, you can either wallow in self pity, or you can clean it up (this includes asking for help guys!!).
On the same token of negativity, watch how you speak about others. It’s perfectly normal to joke about people, and it’s human nature to make jabs sometimes, but don’t do so out of personal insecurity. Be confident in who you are even if someone else seems to be ‘doing it’ better. Instagram does a great job of reinforcing how ‘easy’ or ‘perfect’ someone’s life is. Remember that it’s not the social norm to post about the huge fight they just had with their dad, or the financial burdens they’re facing… You don’t actually know anything about them from their story updates, so don’t pretend like you do.
Talk and really listen. If you glaze over and just give the appropriate “uh huh” or “ok”, but you’re actually thinking about your next story to tell, you’re failing here. It’s also okay to say, “sorry, my mind spun off when you said ‘X’, can you repeat that?”. We all do it, just try to do better.
Keep a true open mind. Listen well and offer your opinion when it’s warranted, or asked for, but don’t pressure someone just because they don’t think the exact same way as you. Agreeing to disagree has saved marriages and friendships over the last few centuries. Practice some self control and try not to fly off your rocker on someone when they disagree with you. Assume that you’re not always right.
Develop your own self perception and decision making skills. Tell me what you want, what you really, really want. There is nothing wrong with a man or woman who knows exactly what they desire in any context. When you do, or don’t want something, pipe up! Send your food back when it’s cold. Tell your spouse he can’t put the gun safe in the bedroom because it is a fugly piece of furniture that disrupts your ju-ju. Just be honest!
Just a bonus tip, and personal pet peeve, when someone compliments you, it’s kind of rude to discount the compliment. Example: “Hey, I love your blouse! It’s super cute!” and you respond, “Oh, THIS old thing?! I’ve had it forever and I only wore it because it’s laundry day”. Even if it’s a joke, you’ve just discounted your complimenter’s personal style and probably didn’t even notice it. A simple “Thank you!” should do it, and really taking a compliment will boost your self esteem!
It seems easy enough, right? Wrong. I struggled for a long time with self comparison and letting others tell me in likes and comments about my own self worth. Implement some positivity into your life, and try it out for a while. It’s worth every moment you invest in yourself, I swear!