By Suzanne Burnett Stewart
When we are in hurting, it’s difficult sometimes, to feel another person’s pain. I am a founder and administrator of several support groups online. Some are for chronic illnesses and pain, while others are for fun and socializing. I’ve noticed that my group for cat lovers,”The Scratching Post”; is very different than my other groups that support people living with different kinds of chronic pain. They’re different because people who are there to hang out and talk about their cats are usually thinking more positively and they’re possibly in their happy place. Those of us who struggle with pain, may feel a various number of emotions. We bring those emotions into the group setting. Luckily, in the support groups that I run; I have not had any trouble with drama, in-fighting or bullying whatsoever. I tend to think that it is because I have been the sole administrator and I take care of anything and everything before it happens. I check the “new member requests” very thoroughly. I try to keep my groups safe from harm or any kind of researchers that want to “study” us/them. I have had people impersonate a pain patient while requesting to join my online support group. Awhile back, I had a few interns from various countries, who wished to “study” the persons with CRPS or Invisible illnesses, so they tried to join one of my support groups. I didn’t admit them because I had a bad feeling about their answers to my questions. Finally, one of them asked me again, to join. He told me “he wanted to join so that he could study people in the group!” I blocked him immediately! I would never allow them to join any of my groups.
By doing a few simple tasks before allowing someone to join, I keep my support groups safe. I look for “signs” on their pages and I ask several questions via private message. If their page is bare, without even a cover photo or profile picture; I don’t respond to their request to join. If it just looks a bit “private” but they’ve been on Facebook for several years, then I ask them the questions that I will post below for you. If they have a few friends in my support group(s), or if they are referred by someone in the group; I usually just welcome them to the group and don’t check much more. I will ask the person who referred them or the people they have as their “friends”, if they know them well or if they are just an acquaintance? Here are a few of the questions that I ask a prospective new member in one of my online support groups:
- First I will make a statement something like: “Hello, my name is Suzanne and I’m the founder/admin for the group that you have asked to join (then I name the group)”. Then I’ll say, “Please don’t feel singled out, because I ask all prospective members the same questions. I like to just get to know you a little bit to make sure that you are in the right group for what you want/need.”
- Secondly, I will ask them, “How did you find this group? What were you searching for?” (Because my groups are mostly private, which means they can be seen in name only but the posts are private)….this also helps both of us make sure that they’re in the right place.
- Then I might ask, “What makes you want to join this type of group? Do you live with __ or __?” (*Chronic illness, invisible illnesses and/or RSD/CRPS), or are you a Caregiver?
- Next, I will say “When were you diagnosed? Where do you live?”
- Then I will check everything out and usually allow them to join
- If they don’t or won’t answer any of the questions, I don’t allow them into my groups. There are many other groups out there and I just want my members to feel safe.
- If their page has zero information, zero photos and nothing that you can see whatsoever, that is a bad sign and I just usually “ignore” that request to join.
Some ideas for Administrators and moderators of groups already ongoing are:
- Check the group regularly and just look over the new posts as they come in. Respond as soon as possible.
- Look for abusive language &/or aggressive behaviors
- Watch for a person that may be “picked on” or who has the anger of the group “dumped” on them. Act accordingly to figure out and fix the problem.
- If you have spoken to someone a couple of times and they are rude to you or other members, it’s time to take them out of your group for the members’ sake
- Ask for help, as I just recently started doing. I just couldn’t be everywhere and do it all. I asked for volunteers, for people who wanted to do some of the things that I cannot keep up with. Such as checking out all of the new members. Watching for any abusive, nasty or negative language or posts; and then telling me about them. Then I can decide whether to delete the post or talk to the person. Either way I will speak to the writer of those kinds of posts; it’s just a matter of before or after I delete it. My new moderators have the choice if it is a very abusive post to just delete it and tell me who and what, later.
- Make sure that if you do ask for help, you choose people that you relate well with. Also persons who you have known for quite a while and you trust them and their judgment.
Unfortunately, many who live with chronic pain and illness, don’t always have the most supportive families or friends. These types of people also try to show up in groups to find out information for the “family”. That is another article in and of itself about Malignant Narcissist’s or abusers. If you have a supportive family, that is half the battle; it’s wonderful for you and that alone can help with your healing.
Whether you are a founder/administrator, a moderator or a member of an online support group. Try to think first before you write, or at least before you hit the “send” button. Remember that in Facebook support groups, you have the chance to go back and delete what you have written. Just in case you were terribly upset (we all can feel that way sometimes) and you want to get rid of your post before another person’s feelings get hurt or worse. Never carry private or specific information from one group to another. If in doubt, always ask the administrator(s). If you want to re-post an article or something similar, then go to the original website where that article was posted and share straight from there. This way you aren’t taking a post from one group and sharing with others. Usually it is impossible to “share” between private groups anyways; but just in case.
We all continue to learn and grow in our lives each day. I’ve made mistakes before and I try to make amends or change whatever I can, so that I don’t repeat the error of my ways. I do my best to think first before I react or say something to another person, whether they are a friend or foe. Regardless if they are online in a group or out in the world in some kind of group setting. We are all humans and everyone feels hurt when someone is downright rude or is treating us badly. I want to add that if you are going to comment either way about something that someone has said, written or done; always be sure that you know all of the facts first. Don’t just read one line of something that someone has written, and then make a rude or cutting remark. Don’t try to guess what someone means when they write a sentence or two in a group post online. Sometimes the short or hastily written words cannot depict the true feelings, ideas or thoughts of a group member. Keep in mind that some people are better at expressing themselves with spoken words and others are better at writing. Try to not get bothered by the small things, and think about what the “tone” of the words feel like to you; even if you might’ve said it differently.
When all is said and done, remember that we all inhabit this internet world together. We need to be as kind, loving and gentle as possible. There are always times when we say or do the wrong things. What we do afterwards, or the next time; is what matters most. Be kind and remember that the person you are upset with may have a whole mountain of issues, illnesses or problems that you don’t even know about. That doesn’t give them the right to abuse or hurt you or others in any way. But just get away & remove yourself from the situation whenever possible. It never hurts to explain yourself, if you feel that someone has gotten it wrong or judged you wrongly.
Lastly, please remember in the support groups for chronic pain, illness, grief, abuse survivors etc….these people are hurting a bit more than the average amount. Try to be understanding and be a good listener, especially in a support group. Give hurting members; those who are in much pain either physically or emotionally, a little leeway. Remember to be gentle and kind. If you felt hurt by the actions or words of another member in your support group, step back for a moment and think. If you forget and then realize that you retaliated against someone in a group, because you felt angry or hurt; try to make amends. Try to put yourself in someone Else’s situation, if you know it. If not, then try to just be thoughtful of others feelings. Treat them how you would like to be treated. Remember that Kindness matters!
Suzanne suffers from full body CRPS and has lived in chronic pain since 1999. Before being disabled by chronic pain, she was an Interpreter for the Deaf at University of Michigan Hospitals and for several school districts, working with children. Today she is a patient Health Advocate, guest writer, blogger and fundraiser for RSDSA and an Ambassador for U.S. Pain Foundation and creates Advocacy videos, and writes in her own blog “Tears of Truth” (suzydukettes.wordpress.com).