…an online argument is often more brutal and cutting as people often feel empowered to be more cruel when they don’t have to look the other person in the eye across from them and witness them as another human being, just like themselves. On line, you don’t have to see the persons facial expressions and witness their emotion when you insult them. You can just project all of your anger and pain onto another and if you want, move on without witnessing the destruction in your wake. This is a dangerous set up, as there are many, many people in this world who are suffering and looking to project their pain elsewhere.
As a part of my interview series about the things we can each do to make social media and the internet a kinder and more tolerant place, I had the pleasure to interview Becca Clegg, Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and Supervisor, Author, Psychotherapist and Speaker. Becca is the Clinical Director of Authentic Living; a private practice specializing in the treatment of women in recovery from eating disorders & body image issues in Atlanta, GA. Becca also writes and presents nationally, educating families, clients and clinicians on the treatment of eating disorders and her book, Ending The Diet Mindset: Reclaim a Balanced and Healthy Relationship With Food and Body Image, aims to help women stop their obsession with weight loss and body image and reclaim a relationship with food and body that is balanced and sustainable.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I am a psychotherapist and author who specializes in working with women’s issues and food and body image issues. This is my passion because I once too had an eating disorder, and I know first-hand how destructive eating disorders are to the lives of those individuals who are struggling with them. I knew very early on in my own path of recovery that when I was recovered, I wanted to help others who were trying to recover from disordered eating. It was a way for me to transform a story of pain and struggle into one of triumph and meaning. I honestly believe that how we choose to look at our life is critical to what we make of it. This is why I am so adamant about teaching young women about self-love and self-worth early on, so they can navigate their world with a lens of compassion.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
After years of practicing psychotherapy, I knew I needed to broaden my career. I have moved into consulting and speaking and find I love teaching as much as I have loved therapy. Part of what I do as a consultant is help larger treatment centers who want to start an eating disorder program develop and implement this process.
Recently, I was standing in the meditation labyrinth in this gorgeous treatment center in Florida and I thought, “25 years ago, you were the one needing help, and here you are helping others in such a large-scale way…” It was a full circle moment that truly made me pause. We are so busy in our day to day lives that I don’t know that we stop often enough to take it all in.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I am not sure it was a mistake in the traditional sense of the word, but when I first started my private practice, and went into business for myself, I had years of school and training in psychology. I knew how to be a therapist. I did not, however, have any background in business or marketing, so low and behold, I found myself running a company with very little understanding of what that entailed. I had no business being in business, but there I was! I quickly realized my dilemma and immediately sought assistance from marketing and business coaches and consultants. Luckily for me, I was not afraid to ask for help and I knew the value in seeking the assistance of an expert.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am! It’s been over a year since my first book was released, and I feel the writing itch coming on. I am excited about starting a new book this year, with the summer being my target to get started. I want to write more about the spiritual and personal development that comes with recovery from hardship, and I feel this message will resonate with a lot of people who are struggling and looking for hope.
I also am focusing this Fall on taking some training I have been wanting to dive into, as I am a consummate learner and always want to develop my skills. I love to teach, but I love to learn, so I am excited about having a nice balance of both this year. In 2020 I want to do more work supporting families of those who have eating disorders, as I know this is a big area of need, and much of the training I am attending are all about supporting families and the new research we have currently about how to do this best.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Have you ever been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media? Can you share with our readers what that experience felt like?
I would say, no, I haven’t had an experience where I have been shamed, but I have had occasions where I have been embarrassed about things that have gone public and dealt with my own judgement and inner-critic. I use social media mostly for business, so when something goes out with mistakes, or typo’s, it can hit me hard as the recovering perfectionist inside of me still wants to be able to control other’s perception of me. Especially when it comes to branding and business.
What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?
I have to practice everything I preach at these moments and remind myself that everyone makes mistakes. I lean heavily into a saying I love at these times, and that is, “It is better to take imperfect action than no action at all”.
Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?
No, I don’t think so. I have, however, posted comments that I later wondered about in terms of how the other person would interpret the comment. It left me feeling unsettled, and uncertain if I might have offended someone.
Can you describe the evolution of your decisions? Why did you initially write the comment, and why did you eventually regret it?
Texting and typing as a form of communication can be dangerous because they both lack the context clues of facial expression and tone of voice that in person communication provides. Text and type can easily be misinterpreted, and I have gone back and explained comments in more detail in an effort to assure my meaning is conveyed. If a comment is vague and or left open to interpretation, it can very easily be misconstrued.
When one reads the comments on Youtube or Instagram, or the trending topics on Twitter, a great percentage of them are critical, harsh, and hurtful. The people writing the comments may feel like they are simply tapping buttons on a keyboard, but to the one on the receiving end of the comment, it is very different. This may be intuitive, but I feel that it will be instructive to spell it out. Can you help illustrate to our readers what the recipient of a public online critique might be feeling?
Many people on social media see the things that they are posting as a direct reflection of themselves. If they get likes or shares, they feel seen, heard and validated. If they get direct criticism, they internalize that as meaning that something is wrong, not with their post, but with them. There is very little separation anymore between social media and personal identity, so many people see what is said online as being a direct reflection of who they are, good and bad.
Do you think a verbal online attacks feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?
I think the experience is different for everyone, but an online argument is often more brutal and cutting as people often feel empowered to be more cruel when they don’t have to look the other person in the eye across from them and witness them as another human being, just like themselves. On line, you don’t have to see the persons facial expressions and witness their emotion when you insult them. You can just project all of your anger and pain onto another and if you want, move on without witnessing the destruction in your wake. This is a dangerous set up, as there are many, many people in this world who are suffering and looking to project their pain elsewhere.
What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?
We know that online bullying has led to suicide. This is an extreme but real example of how real online shaming is. Verbal abuse is as harmful and traumatic to the growth and development of a child as is physical abuse, and online shaming is a form of verbal abuse. It not only affects children, but it harms adults as well, and our self-esteem is affected by the negative comments.
Many people who troll others online, or who leave harsh comments, can likely be kind and sweet people in “real life”. These people would likely never publicly shout at someone in a room filled with 100 people. Yet, on social media, when you embarrass someone, you are doing it in front of thousands of even millions of people, and it is out there forever. Can you give 3 or 4 reasons why social media tends to bring out the worst in people; why people are meaner online than they are in person?
The world is full of people who are hurting and don’t know how to handle it or have the resources to heal it. So, I believe a lot of this hurt gets projected out into the web. Here’s how this works.
I mentioned this earlier, but online, you don’t have to see the persons facial expressions and witness their emotion when you insult them. You can just project all of your anger and pain onto another and if you want, move on without witnessing the destruction in your wake. We know that humans are more capable of cruelty if they dehumanize their victim, and the internet dehumanizes us by taking away our personhood and reducing us to a screen-name.
Projection, which is passing on pain to another until you feel better, is a commonly practiced unconscious defense mechanism. Based on reason number one, the internet is a perfect place to use projection as it feels safe and without consequence. Except there are consequences. We just don’t see them because the internet experience detaches us from the end result.
If you had the power to influence thousands of people about how to best comment and interact online, what would you suggest to them? What are your “5 things we should each do to help make social media and the internet, a kinder and more tolerant place”? Can you give a story or an example for each?
- Practice the Golden Rule — Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. Before you post something always consider how you would feel if someone posted the comment on your page.
- Consider if it is necessary — Before posting ask yourself if you truly need to make the comment you are making. Often, if we can examine our motivation before we post, then we can catch the times we might be posting just to project our own frustration or anger and stop it before we hit enter.
- As if it is helpful — Another way to stop yourself and reflect before you post is to always ask if your comment is helpful before you post it. It’s a great filter to run through your mind just to assure that you are adding kindness, not cruelty, out into the web.
- Edit for sarcasm and self-righteousness — I witness a lot of people lately who post messages that have good intention but are reeking in sarcasm and self-aggrandizing tone. Consider how difficult it is for anyone to hear your message when you present in this manner. No one, including you, likes to be talked “down to”. The communication is completely going to fall on deaf ears, and your message (which is probably important!) will be lost.
- Try editing for objective facts, versus subjective opinions — just for fun, before you post a comment, try taking out anything that is not objective. In other words, only post facts. Try leaving out your judgements and personal opinions and see what it is you are saying if you can’t inject your own feelings about the issue. This helps you see with greater clarity how much of your comment is about you, and how much of it is about the subject you are commenting on. Sometimes, it’s important to see this clearly before you decide what you want to share.
Freedom of speech prohibits censorship in the public square. Do you think that applies to social media? Do American citizens have a right to say whatever they want within the confines of a social media platform owned by a private enterprise?
This is tricky stuff. I truly do believe in free speech, so I am hesitant to say anything to the contrary. The truth is, and this is not new, but we live in a world where people are cruel to one another. This is happening in real life, and it is bound to happen online.
I think we need to try and do what we can to prevent harm from coming to anyone, but to legalize the limits of expression scares me, and I share in full disclosure my own confusion about where that line should lie. I suppose this is why I want individuals to take more personal responsibility over the consequences of their own actions, online and otherwise.
If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?
I am not sure I would be the right person for that job. That’s my honest answer. I think we have to protect children from predators online and continue to do what we can to make the online world a safer place for them. Beyond that, I believe that the internet is probably very much like society itself. I think we need rules and “laws”, but that too much control defies human nature and is more authoritarian than it is useful in terms of making changes on a personal level. We do not learn by being told what to do; we learn by the virtue of our own life experiences. Because I take such a hands off approach by the nature of my job (therapists are trained to assist others in finding their own truth, never to give advice) I think putting me in control of making “the rules” probably isn’t the best idea!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants” — Sir Isaac Newton
This is the quote that I have in the beginning of my book, under a dedication to both of my grandmothers. I find that this quote sums up my deeply held belief in the importance of connection and supporting one another.
I think it is so important to honor those that have come before us and paved the way for our success. As a woman, I would never be where I am today had it not been for the courage and the grit of the women who came before me and demanded that we as women have rights equal to men. As a recovered woman, I would not be where I was had it not been for counselors, teachers, and wise counsel of others who had struggled before me and paved the way with research and trial and error. As a human, I would not be on this path of success were it not for the vulnerable connections I have with my loved ones and family. I may have grit, but I do not exist on an island. I stand on the shoulders of giants, and I am forever grateful for and humbled by their help and support in my journey.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. She’s local to my city, and as such I’ve heard many great things about her. She also spoke at a conference I attended many years ago and she inspired me so much. I just think she models great things for women in business.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/beccaclegglpc
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!