Why You May Be Engaging In Personal Attacks On Social Media — And How To Stop

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woman looking at her smartphone

Have you ever found yourself caught up in emotions, due to current events and political affairs, and posted something that started a swooping frenzy of biting personal commentary?

Or, perhaps you commented on a post that was clearly a personal attack on someone else? Maybe you've lost or ended relationships because of your interactions on social media?

Have you ever stopped to think about why you may be engaging in personal attacks on social media, or why you are so easily pulled in?

If any of this is true for you, you're certainly not alone. It seems many are at one another's throats online.

A simple scroll through most anyone's feed reveals that some people on social media are engaged in good things. They work hard to inspire, support, and uplift others.

Unfortunately, you also find some who appear to only post discouraging or negative comments targeting and attacking people instead of issues.

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All too often this kind of rhetoric is masked as humor and you're meant to take it as a joke. But is it really a joke?

For example, it's common for people to post jokes about political leaders' and staff members' appearance — hair, wardrobe, or speaking abilities — or some other personal attack or criticism instead of calling out the real disagreement with their values, beliefs, or policies.

It seems being on social media gives some people a permission slip to regress in maturity and behave like a schoolyard bully. And "children" learn what they live.

So, what's going on underneath all of these personal attacks on social media?

The stressful nature of current affairs, including but not limited to the U.S. political division, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Covid-19 pandemic has heightened emotions.

For many people, what they put on social media reflects their feelings minus a filter. Instead of "thinking before they post" many dive into social media full of anger and frustration.

What they post speaks to the myriad of unprocessed emotions and like a child, they are reacting to their feelings.

The result is a rash of juvenile-like behavior, where making fun of another simply to feel better about oneself is common and apparently acceptable — at least behind the protection of a computer screen and an optional alias identity.

Social media attacks have become normalized. 

Unfortunately, this experience has become normalized in recent years. Have we become desensitized to it?

Regardless, this "throw stones in any direction" mentality is detrimental to the person throwing the stones.

In fact, it's self-sabotaging behavior.

While it's normal to feel frustration, anger, sadness, or worry about an issue based on your personal views and experience, directing your feelings into behavior that violates your personal value system is an act against yourself.

Ultimately, if your emotion is dictating your actions, you're no longer in control of your life.

Your emotions— which are temporary feelings — are in the driver’s seat.

And, emotions can put you on a crash course that can be difficult to come back from. Words are easily tweeted and posted, and not easily retracted.

When emotions run high, it is easy to let them out online.

The difference among those who act on their feelings is not how smart they are, how educated, or how affluent.

The difference is how self-aware and emotionally intelligent they are.

Those who can process their emotions before acting on them simply have a healthy strategy to release the negativity (this could be as simple as a deep breath), allowing the opportunity to choose a response instead.

They have higher EQ (which is not the same as IQ). The power in that simple pause to breathe transfers the energy from the emotional side of the brain to the rational side.

This allows you the opportunity to choose a response very different from the emotionally driven reaction.

Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, says when emotions run high, they change the way our brains function by diminishing our cognitive abilities, decision-making powers, and our interpersonal skills.

Goleman says that by understanding and managing our emotions, we can become more successful in our personal and professional lives. He argues that EQ ultimately matters more than IQ.

Are your actions in alignment with your personal value system? Are you self-sabotaging?

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Look at the core value of "respect," which looks like one of these:

You give it and expect to receive it.

You teach it to your children and emphasize the importance of it.

You're upset when you feel you have been disrespected in some way.

You're sensitive to others including characters in films who show disrespect or are disrespected.

If respect is a high value for you and, yet, you post, share, like, retweet, or react with an emoji on a disrespectful commentary or photo about a person, rather than about an issue or difference of perspective, not only is it a personal attack against the target of the post but against yourself.

Your core values are who you are. And, when you tear another down, you weaken yourself. The fabric of who you are just got a loose thread.

What will tug on it and unravel you next?

What is the solution to stop engaging in personal attacks on social media? Here are 3 ways to get back to basics.

1. Get reacquainted with yourself.

Define your value system. Live true to yourself. Hold yourself accountable for your own integrity.

As you build self-awareness, you will intercept your actions, learn to process your emotions, and eventually challenge the thoughts that created the negative feelings in the first place.

And by all means, change your mood before you post!

2. Take down your wall.

One stone at a time, if that is all you can carry. It is worth considering that there has been little face-to-face, in-person contact this past year.

This may have contributed to the inability to see others as flesh-and-blood human beings, rather than just symbols of an idea that we may disagree with.

Let’s try to see one another again.

3. Get to know someone.

The part of human nature that seeks to identify with a group, the need to fit in, to fear others who look, act, or believe differently and treat them as outcasts and enemies have been the theme of many a conflict in life and film.

The solution has always been spending time together, to get to know one another, and to find common ground. Then, we can make a fair and amicable compromise.

Just like when we were kids, there will likely always be a bully. Let's not become or encourage one by engaging in personal attacks on social media. Instead, let's tear apart the issues in the spirit of finding solutions.

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Ann Papayoti, PCC, is an author, speaker, and life coach helping people unlock their best life. She is the co-author of the intimate self-help guide, The Gift of Shift. Connect with her and learn more about how she can help you at Skyview Coaching.

This article was originally published at Skyview Coaching. Reprinted with permission from the author.