I liken social media bullies and trolls to those who engage in road rage, domestic violence, or other “unseen” habits that allow a darker side of the personality to emerge in certain situations — particularly those that are not visible to one’s general social circle. The energy of this is somewhat similar to the “really kind” postal employee who explodes to actually shoot innocent people. Certain “really kind” people can change masks and turn into social media bullies who shoot verbal attacks at others. Although, thankfully, the attacks of online bullies are not deadly in the way that gunfire often is, their attacks can have serious effects that lead to emotional injury and, as noted above, even suicide.
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 Dr. Carla Marie Manly.
As a clinical psychologist, author, and advocate based in Sonoma County, California, Dr. Carla Marie Manly is passionate about helping others create the lives of their dreams. Dr. Manly believes there’s no topic too big or small to address head-on. From offering guidance for relationships, sexuality, communication issues, and work/life balance to providing tools for healing stress, anxiety, and depression, Dr. Manly offers insights on even the most challenging topics. Focusing on optimal wellness, she skillfully promotes mindfulness, stress reduction, fitness, and self-care. With a direct and honest approach — plus a dose of humor — Dr. Manly enjoys supporting others through the ever-evolving journey of life. In her new books, Joy from Fear and Aging Joyfully Dr. Manly takes the reader on a soulful adventure into self-awareness. Dr. Manly’s books provide gentle guidance for individuals and also for those who enjoy journeying into greater awareness and joy through women’s groups, men’s groups, and book clubs.
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?
My journey into clinical psychology has been anything but linear, yet every step — both the triumphs and the challenges — has proved to be invaluable. Along the way, I’ve earned a teaching credential, school counseling degree, law school experience, and years in the investment arena. As a mother of two, I’ve also accrued some of my greatest personal growth in my role as a parent. It was only after my sons were in their teens that I was able to turn my attention to my lifelong dream of earning my doctorate in clinical psychology. Now, as a clinical psychologist and researcher, I use all of my life history — sometimes relying heavily on what I’ve learned as a result of my own challenges — to bring my best self forward. AT this point in my life, I count myself blessed to be of service to others as I continue to expand my levels of awareness, understanding, compassion, and empathy.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I was in my internship for my doctorate, I worked with juveniles on probation. My supervisor, a wonderful man, was observing as I led a group session with adolescent boys. As one boy shared his particularly difficult week (which included verbal abuse by a father), tears unexpectedly flowed down my cheeks. I wiped them away in haste and noticed my supervisor watching me. Afterward, I apologized to him for my display of emotions. He noted that I should never be ashamed to cry and that, indeed, it was good modeling for the young men to see that I felt (and even carried) some of their pain. I’ll never forget that moment and — from that day forward — I have been privileged to cry for and with those who sometimes cannot bear to feel all of what is inside them.
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? As a doctoral intern, I remember thinking that I had to be perfect. And, when I worked with probation staff, I had a strong fear of saying something wrong — a realistic fear given my rather too-direct nature. Thus, when we had group meetings, I’d often hold back my words for fear of saying something that would be seen as too direct or inappropriate. As my input was necessary given the nature of the work, I’d eventually have to speak, yet I’d choose my words so carefully that someone would eventually say, “Carla, just spit it out! Whatever it is! Just say it!” It was both funny and embarrassing at the time, yet I learned that I could — and needed to — speak my truth even if I ultimately needed to do a bit of clarifying.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people? I’ve finished my second book, Aging Joyfully; it was released by Familius in August 2019. It’s an amazing book that’s designed to help women (and men) learn how to love themselves and their lives no matter what their physical age might be. Our youth-oriented world leaves many women and men feeling absolutely terrified of aging. I pray that Aging Joyfully helps shift this destructive paradigm. As we age, we are often blessed with the most incredible wisdom and freedom of our lives. Growing older, to me, is one of the most joyfully transformative experiences, and I want to help others know and embrace this beautiful, exquisitely powerful energy that can come with aging.
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?
To date, I count myself blessed that I’ve not been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media. However, I’ve been questioned on social media, and that’s an interesting experience. It felt intimidating to be questioned on my own truths — and I felt quite anxious until I processed the situation. A dose of self-doubt also set in. In being questioned about my stance or perspectives, I’ve realized that it’s important to be strongly aware of what I put out into the world. If I believe in what I am saying and doing, then I can always come “home” to my own truth. However, if I happened to promote beliefs or actions that are not truly aligned with my compass, then I’d be in a very tough spot. I imagine the day will come when I do feel publicly shamed or embarrassed, and I hope that I’ll be able to dig deep and hold to my truth. And, if I’ve inadvertently done or said something that is not in alignment with the type of person I strive to be, I would hope (and expect) to have the awareness and strength to apologize fully and set things right. I think, for most people (self included), being questioned, shamed, or embarrassed can initiate a cascade of feelings that include anxiety, fear, worry, and self-doubt.
What did you do to shake off that negative feeling? I was able to shake off the feelings of self-doubt and anxiety by pausing to evaluate my perspective. Once I reflected for a bit — really turned inward to make certain that my stance was aligned with my core beliefs — I felt a surge of relief. I also took a walk later that day to cleanse my energy, and I moved on from there. The key to moving through any attack is to turn inward to see if there is any truth or learning to be embraced and, if so, taking that information to evolve. And, if there is no truth or constructive information to be explored, then to learn to let go of the negative energy and experience as being generally unproductive and unhelpful.
Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?
I don’t believe I’ve ever posted a mean or negative comment on social media; that’s not the type of energy I like creating or offering. And, if I inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings by making a too-direct comment, no one has brought it to my attention. Given that I tend to be a very positive person, I don’t generally feel negative energy toward others. And, if I happen to see a post that’s irritating, I move on from it and strive to not let it affect me. Finally, I generally believe that we all are entitled to our opinions and perspectives, so I’d rather not use my energy to harangue or criticize others; instead, I strive to use my energy to respectfully increase awareness and positive feelings.
Can you describe the evolution of your decisions? Why did you initially write the comment, and why did you eventually regret it?
Although I’ve not been involved in a social media harshness, I can think of a few times in the distant past when I sent harsh emails. I learned a great deal from these experiences including the importance of slowing down to think before commenting orally or in writing. The written word is particularly permanent, and we simply can’t take things back once they’ve been written and sent. Once I realized the impact of my words — which were harsh, if honest — I realized that I wanted to be kind and gentle whenever possible. Thus, I learned that — if my emotions were running high — it was best to slow down, process things, and — if necessary — write an email to myself in order to “vent.” I actually teach this strategy to clients. It’s proven very helpful in allowing others to notice their emotions, process their feelings, and move forward in positive — rather than destructive — ways.
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?
In the same way that a person may feel hurt, rejected, angry, or disparaged by public, in-person critiques, a public online critique can be quite devastating. Any personal assault can be difficult to accept and process given that such attacks often affect our sense of feeling accepted — safe and secure — in the world. On a very primitive level, humans want to be acknowledged and accepted — this is fundamental given our tribal nature. As well, a person who is the recipient of a public online critique may feel judged and humiliated — put on spot — by a faceless person or persons. Given the nature of certain online communities, the possibility of open, respectful discourse is often lacking; this issue often creates substantial frustration for the recipient and adds further negative energy to the situation.
Do you think a verbal online attacks feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?
A verbal online attack can feel worse than a verbal face-to-face argument in certain situations. The degree of upset depends on many factors include the nature of the attack, whether or not others join in the attack, the level of supportive commentary by others, and the perceived “weight” of the attacker (e.g., an attack by someone who is clearly mentally imbalanced might not feel nearly as destructive as a focused, clearly orchestrated attack by someone who carries a certain degree of clout). Of course, a verbal argument in real life can be quite devasting for its own reasons. In cases where an attack comes from a person we know well — and someone we might even have a strong bond with — the assault might be directed to the recipient’s “wounds” (e.g., emotional weaknesses). As well, depending on the nature of the argument — the level of the emotions and choice of words — an in-person attack can be laden with a toxic emotional energy that may be far less perceptible in an online attack. Too, although an in-person argument might offer the opportunity for discussion and clarifications, the ability to have respectful discourse depends on the emotional intelligence of the individuals. If one or both parties lack emotional maturity, any attempt at clarifying dialogue is unlikely to be fruitful.
What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?
Given that it’s human nature to want to be liked and respected, online shaming can have devastating effects. As online communications have the potential to reach a wide audience and remain present “forever,” the victim often fears being “forever humiliated in front of the entire world.” Although this may seem like a catastrophizing thought for an objective observer, the fear is often very real to the person who was shamed. Online shaming can lead to anxiety, depression, and — at the extreme — even suicidal behaviors. In certain severe cases, the individual may develop PTSD as a result of being subjected to humiliation. Many factors contribute to the long-term effects including the nature of the shaming, the victim’s psychological state at the time, the level of support received during and after the shaming, and the victim’s general developmental and psychological history. Sadly, online bullies and trolls may be completely unaware of — or even uninterested in — the often-devastating effects of their shaming.
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?
I liken social media bullies and trolls to those who engage in road rage, domestic violence, or other “unseen” habits that allow a darker side of the personality to emerge in certain situations — particularly those that are not visible to one’s general social circle. The energy of this is somewhat similar to the “really kind” postal employee who explodes to actually shoot innocent people. Certain “really kind” people can change masks and turn into social media bullies who shoot verbal attacks at others. Although, thankfully, the attacks of online bullies are not deadly in the way that gunfire often is, their attacks can have serious effects that lead to emotional injury and, as noted above, even suicide. As to reasons behind the often-horrific behavior of online bullies and trolls, I’ve outlined a few key points below, many of which are interrelated.
- Lack of emotional intelligence: Those who engage in trolling and online bullying display a true lack of emotional awareness and emotional intelligence. These individuals may or may not be aware of the deeply destructive nature of their conduct.
- Unresolved psychological issues: Individuals who engage in online bullying and trolling behaviors often have unresolved mental health issues ranging from anxiety and depression to bipolar tendencies. Such individuals may be kind and sweet in some arenas but have unresolved issues that lead to outbreaks of emotions such as anger, resentment, and hostility.
- Conflict prone: Some individuals enjoy conflict and actually engage in negative online behaviors to knowingly create dissension. By creating conflict in online communities, such individuals feel a rush of adrenaline and toxic energy.
- Evoking emotional responses: Certain individuals thrive on eliciting emotional responses from others. As such, they often enjoy making comments that are targeted to create hurt feelings, anger, frustration, etc.
- Deflection from personal struggles: Some individuals feel isolated, lonely, or are struggling with various life challenges. In order to gain relief from emotional pain, these individuals may find relief by deflecting their thoughts and feelings to create attacks on others.
- Gaining control and power: Certain individuals find great comfort in controlling others and the sense of personal power that comes with this. Social media provides a perfect forum for those who enjoy manipulating others to derive a sense of power and control.
- History of abuse: Many people suffer emotional and physical abuse during childhood years. These individuals often do not receive mental health care to address these issues. And, to varying degrees, these unresolved issues often manifest in toxic online behavior.
- Desire for attention — even negative attention: Those who feel lonely and isolated often learn that “it’s better to have negative attention than no attention at all.” As a result, the readily available attention in the online world feeds such individuals in a highly toxic cycle.
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?
To me, appropriate online conduct is fairly simply and straightforward. It boils down to this: Treat others as you would want to be treated — kindly, respectfully, and with tolerance.
As to 5 things we should each do to help make the social media and internet worlds a kinder, more tolerant place, I offer these simple thoughts:
- Strive to be the best version of yourself in all areas of your life — online and in your daily world.
- Remember that your words and actions are permanent; if you were to look back at your commentary and attitude in 10 years, would you be proud of yourself?
- Strive to respect that the online community is much like our vital oceans. If we through negativity and debris into the world (be it the online world or the ocean), we are creating a toxic environment. Do you want to swim in an online sea of toxicity or a sea that is kind, supportive, and respectful?
- Process your thoughts and feelings before unloading in the online world. In truth, we each have the responsibility to engage in respectful behavior in all areas of our lives. This does not mean that should not speak your truth, but it does mean that you responsibly filter your feelings and thoughts in order to engage in speaking your truth in a kind, tolerant, and respectful way.
- Remember that your words leave an indelible imprint on yourself and the world. Whatever you think and do — online and elsewhere — emanates from you and eventually returns to you in some form. Knowing this truth, doesn’t it make sense to choose to be kind and positive?
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 a tough question. I believe that we are entitled to speak freely as Americans. Yet, much like gun rights, we must engage in appropriate, responsible behavior in order to maintain our freedoms and rights. A right is best used responsibly and not in a way that incites hatred and harm. This is rather risky territory, but I tend to believe that highly destructive commentary should be censured (even if a platform is owned by private enterprises) to protect certain individuals such as children.
If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?
I’d absolutely limit profanity. Why? Because we have so many powerful words available to us that don’t incite instant negativity and harm. Profanity has the power to take us instantly to a level that is below what we can be. And, the negativity held within profanity — the very dark nature many profane words contain — brings us down; in no way does profanity help or elevate us. Profanity is a dirty, all-too-accessible means of engaging in negative, emotionally abusive behavior. As well, if I had full control over Facebook or Twitter, I’d discover the common terms and memes used in bullying behaviors, and I’d be interested in creating standards to curtail such attacks.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Always be a first-rate version of yourself.” (Audrey Hepburn) and “How you do anything is how you do everything. (Anonymous.) These are two of my all-time favorites.
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 🙂
I’d have to say Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, or Gavin and Jennifer Siebel Newsom would be my top choices. The first two vying for first place given that I respect both Oprah and Ellen for the magnificent paths they have paved in the world. They each have excellent audiences and could help disseminate messages of greater kindness, respect, and tolerance in the world. As to Gavin and Jennifer Sibel Newsom, as a resident of California, I’d be honored to help create and push forward programs to generate better mental health programs/courses for younger children and school age children. If California can become a leading force in educating our children (from the ground up and inside out) as to healthy communication, kindness, and tolerance, we’ll be a million steps closer to creating a healthy, kinder, more tolerant world. A pilot program in California could ultimately be a boon for the rest of our country and, I pray, the world.
Bonus request: Lunch with every-so-kind Yitzi Weiner would be AMAZING!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!