Know how some days you just don’t want to people? Peopling is a verb, you see. As in:
Peopling is hard.
I don’t want to people today.
I’ve reached my peopling quotient for the day.
I’m pretty sure this is how my cats go through life, once their humans have fed, refilled their fountains for cats with battery, and pet them.
Like the other day, when I shared some tips on how to make blogging easier and someone told me I was being ‘ableist’ because my tips didn’t take into account their personal inability to market books due to pain (which granted, totally sucks). I feel bad for them and shared that I have chronic pain issues also and don’t give as much attention to this blog as I want to.
Or when I explained what exactly #MondayBlogs is all about and a lady told me that by not sharing her repeated quotes about the wonders of Trump, I’m discriminating against her (never mind that the hashtag is for blog posts, not quotes — lady, it’s right there IN the hashtag — and as I spell out right on the @MondayBlogs bio, pinned tweet, blog post right in the bio, various visuals, and throughout the day each week).
Or when a darling survivor friend of mine finally shared in a post that she is a survivor and some guy trashes her immediately about one aspect of the piece he disagreed with. In fact, she was ready to pull the piece, even though it’s beautiful, honest, and wonderfully insightful, all because his #NotAllMen ego doesn’t like her perspective. (A bunch of us talked her out of that, thank goodness.)
The good news about peopling online is that you can shut off all that mental noise and walk away, open up a program and write a blog post about how annoying people are.
We like being able to turn off interactions and it’s healthy to do so. You can calm down, breathe, remove yourself from that virtual world and get back to your real one.
But what about those people who can’t? Who stay on and argue online for hours and hours? Who can’t differentiate their online world from their real one? Who believe their online world IS their real world? What if the only company people have is online (a real issue for many people)?
Newsflash: not everyone needs to know your opinion about everything. Is it necessary to criticize others because their beliefs are different than yours? Are you enjoying how sanctimoniously judging others makes you feel simply because someone wrote something you don’t like or agree with online?
This is how social media works: we, as owners of our social media handles and channels, curate our own streams and timelines and feeds however we want to, and don’t need anyone’s permission to share what resonates with us. If you don’t like it, move along. Unfollow.
An interesting study shows how our brains react differently to real-life interactions versus online interactions. While we may think we are emotionally invested in these online connections, the areas in our brain that control emotion shows otherwise.
“Interaction with human partners requires more emotional involvement, and thus more cognitive effort, than interacting with a computer. (Rilling, Sanfey, Aronson, Nystrom, & Cohen, 2004). The study also shows a difference in activation strength between our reactions to human beings and computers. This is because when we interact with another human being, we cannot control our emotional involvement invested in the interaction process. The activation of specific brain areas is automatic once our mental radar detects another person.” (Source: Psychology Today 2014)
What’s Missing When Peopling Online
This begs the question my friend asked and what many of us experience with online interactions that go south: why are people often so mean online?
- Pretty basic: non-verbal communication.
When we interact in real life, our brains interpret non-verbal clues (unless one is autistic). For example, if the #NotAllMen dude saw my friend’s distress in response to his brutally mean commentary, how would he feel? Would he have been as likely to say those things to her face? No way. Perhaps he would have asked her about her motivations, experiences, and why she felt the way she did (totally hypothetical and idealistic on my part), opening a dialogue to understanding.
Without those non-verbal clues, online communication fails to meet these emotional needs and is ripe to become tit for tat, back and forth, and mean-spirited. People can become whoever they want to be, projecting an image (often toxic).
“Hence, it is easier to hide our emotions behind an email, a Facebook post or a tweet. These platforms help people project any image they want; they can be whoever and whatever they want to be. Without the ability to receive nonverbal cues, their audiences are none the wiser.”
The emotions we feel during these interactions feel quite real, and can negatively affect our mental health, self-esteem, and overall well-being.
- The other phenomenon that takes place online which freaks us out is the lack of control.
Humans have a need for control – this is built into our evolutionary psyche. We need to know what’s going to happen next. We’re planners. Online communications provide constant surprises – we have no idea what someone we are communicating with is going to say, when they’re going to say it, or how they’re going to say it (if at all).
Plus, the communication is unsynchronized (people respond whenever they want), whereas real-life comms are synchronized (you speak, then I speak, etc). There’s a flow.
Positive Online Peopling
Not all communications online are negative, clearly. I’ve met some of my best friends in real life online. I even met my guy that way!
Online groups and chats are incredible ways to form meaningful, helpful relationships that can benefit all kinds of folks. As a writer and businessperson, I can attest to this – social media is a crucial part of any author’s platform. Support groups are often the only thing keeping many people alive and can be incredibly validating, particularly for survivors.
Virtual comms can be a relationship surrogate for many people, full of satisfaction and enjoyment and for some, that may be enough.
I’ll share a little story with you: at one point, back before I published my Broken books, a writing mentor suggested I join her online critique group, so of course, I jumped at the chance! I greatly admired her and figured this would improve my craft. After a few sessions, however, I felt so defeated by her feedback and also critical attacks by other members of her group, I not only quit, I fell into a deep depression.
Was my writing that bad? Would nobody read it, as she said? Was I really “not ready for publication?”
After wallowing in their hurtful comments for a few weeks, I sent my manuscript off to my former screenwriting brother-in-law who gave it to a screenwriter friend who had done some script-doctoring for Spielberg. Yea, I know. She read through Broken Pieces and emailed me, “Honey, this is the real deal. You even made me cry and I never fucking cry. Publish it.”
Which I did.
Peopling Is What You Make It
As I always say with social media, blogging, and any other online media, it’s what you make it. To grow your social, you must interact and build relationships. However, you don’t need to engage with trolls or negative people unless you feel it’s somehow helpful or necessary to your well-being.
Ask yourself this question before you begin to madly respond to someone:
Is talking with this person good for you? If the answer is yes, do it. If the answer is no, don’t. Simple.
Besides, how else could you be spending that time?
Part of my own personal growth is to choose a yearly watchword (or focus word, as some people call it). This year my word is Power. The power to enforce my boundaries is a big one for me. Do I need to respond to people simply because they engage me online? I do not.
I’ll be writing my next post all about how to go about using your watchword, so please check back in a few weeks for that in case it’s something you’re also interested in.
For now, what I want to express to you is that while peopling can be hard for some of us online, we wouldn’t have social media without each other. Make it work for you. And if it isn’t working, take a break. Take a break anyway – we spend too much time online, don’t we?
Be the people you are. Be you, wonderful, messy, you. Write, read, kiss your lover, play with your kids, get crafty, sing, dance, cook (well, not me because you know, I burn everything), pet your cats, get cbd for dogs and spend time with them, watch a movie, sleep (oh, how I love to sleep), exercise…be the you that you want to see in the world.
Non-verbal that shit.
Read more about Rachel’s experiences in the award-winning book, Broken Pieces.
She goes into more detail about living with PTSD and realizing the effects of how being a survivor affected her life in
Broken Places, available now on Amazon.
Mark Schultz saysJanuary 9, 2019 at 5:30 pm
Thank you. Well said. I have learned to limit the amount of engagement when dealing with people who have no limits.
Rachel Thompson saysJanuary 14, 2019 at 1:05 pm
Smart man! Samesies. 🙂
Seriously, though, it’s more important to our mental health than many of us realize. People will tell us they enjoy that back and forth, yet I don’t think they realize how it affects them – even physically (higher heart rate, faster pulse, etc). Arguing isn’t healthy for anyone.
Mark Schultz saysJanuary 14, 2019 at 1:35 pm
I completely agree. The internal tension is not worth it. I have had to pull back from interacting with my oldest friend because he cannot get off of politics. So, I love him from a distance.
Lydia saysJanuary 9, 2019 at 6:21 pm
Yes, exactly! You hit the nail on the head with this post. My life has become so much more peaceful since I stop associating with a couple of people who simply weren’t good for me.
Rachel Thompson saysJanuary 14, 2019 at 1:03 pm
Hi Lydia! Thank you for sharing that. Recognizing that toxicity is so important for our mental health. We often feel some kind of weird obligation to keep these online ‘friends’ in our lives and I often why. I feel that, too. Yet when we do stop those associations, life is…calm. We don’t miss them (and I’m sure they don’t miss us). Which reminds me, I’ve got some online cleaning to do on Facebook!
dave smith saysJanuary 9, 2019 at 10:21 pm
You have a great point about the limited communication typical of virtual comm., the lack of non-verbal info. & any empathy for the other person (emoticons can only say so much). Liraz Margalit ‘s piece talks about a mother who texted her daughter pleasantly just hours before the daughter committed suicide. This reassures me that in my counseling work with substance abusers, a text or email exchange is often not enough because they communicate only what they think you want to hear (such as they’re ok, not using, getting their life in order, etc. ) but when I visited them they were quite close to giving up for good (i.e. suicide).
I feel bad that women are often abused online by trolls with no apparent purpose except to spread hate. But it’s good that you will advise them on how to control this activity to minimize the emotional impact.
Oh, BTW, some of the best films I have seen had scripts that were rejected by many writing critics. A good story can often outweigh writing deficiencies. That’s why we have proofers & editors!
Rachel Thompson saysJanuary 13, 2019 at 4:47 pm
Wasn’t that a sad commentary (about the mother and daughter)? In my own experience, I spoke to an ex-boyfriend on the phone and he said he’d catch me later on Facebook that night (totally platonic at that point – it was 20 years later, I was married, etc. He had reconnected with me three months prior after literally zero contact.), and when I logged in and he hadn’t left me a message, I cruised over to his wall and it said “RIP, D” and I was completely shocked to find out he’d shot himself. This was about eight years ago. I write about it in Broken Pieces (my first Broken book).
It’s still shocking to me, TBH. He sounded FINE. Happy, normal. His sister said he must have been planning it for a while. Perhaps that’s even why he had reconnected with me in the first place. I’ll never know.
Point is, communications is, at best, faulty. We only see what we see through our own worldview. Kudos to you for helping so many people in need. I applaud you, Dave. x
Lisa @ The Meaning of Me saysJanuary 10, 2019 at 12:01 pm
Practical wisdom, Rachel – the kind we should all just kind of know. But we either truly don’t or we forget and so the drama begins. Choosing your people carefully – whether online or offline – is key.
Rachel Thompson saysJanuary 13, 2019 at 3:54 pm
HI Lisa! Thank you for commenting. Yes, being careful is important. It’s not about quantity but quality, as in anything, right? That can sound trite but like anything, it’s about the effort and care we put in. Connecting with a core group of readers, for example, is more important to me than a bunch of strangers who want to argue about politics. Not my branding nor of interest to me. Besides, with limited time for social media, where do I want to spend my emotional efforts? Certainly not arguing with trolls.
IRL, same. I refuse to argue with even family or friends about religion or politics. Feelings are hurt, always. Evenings are ruined. Why go there? Ugh. Thanks for visiting and commenting, luv.
Aleigha Siron saysJanuary 10, 2019 at 11:35 pm
Another home run, Rachel. Excellent blog. I love the “peopling” did you create that word?
You’re so right, peopling on social media is not only time consuming it can be a total mind and emotional drain. It can also be a wonderful place to reach out and get much needed support. I’m sure the day is coming when soc/med will become more interactive face-time along the lines of Skype where those subtle nuances you mention will be somewhat present. Isn’t that a scary thought since I’m writing this in my bathrobe, sans makeup and with frumpy hair.
I’m doing very little peopling due to an accident that caused numerous injuries that are not cooperating and keep revealing new issues. Now I feel guilty for not being plugged in! Mostly because I’d rather do that than what I’m dealing with, desptie the fact that when i was more active the whole soc/med aspect, especially the technical difficulties, was always the proverbial love/hate relationship.
In the meantime, I’m with you, pet the pets, take a walk, watch a sunset or sunrise, and take a break.
No one will miss you when you’re suddenly absent, although I suppose that will make us feel bad because we thought they were our “friends”. The cloud is a very strange and often unsettling part of modern existence.
Rachel Thompson saysJanuary 13, 2019 at 3:49 pm
Hi Aleigha! Thank you for the lovely feedback. I did not create the word peopling to answer your question. I’ve heard it around and about on the ‘net (if you Google it, you’ll see a few quotes and images here and there). Kind of along the lines of ‘adulting’ if you’ve seen that around maybe? Similar-ish.
So sorry you’ve been dealing with injuries. Family and health always come first before anything else. I always tell fellow authors and clients to pick one social media channel that works best for them and develop relationships with readers there. For me, it’s Twitter. Always has been. For others, it’s FB or Instagram. Whichever you have time for, do that. And when it’s too much, walk away. It’s not going anywhere. 🙂 Be well, lady.
Norah Colvin saysJanuary 12, 2019 at 6:35 am
I always appreciate your posts, Rachel. This one is very raw and holds a lot of truth. I find peopling difficult too – I like your verb. At least online we don’t have to listen.
Rachel Thompson saysJanuary 13, 2019 at 3:43 pm
Hi Norah! Thanks so much. I was just talking to my #SexAbuseChat co-hosts about how we release a lot of truth at that moment when we are feeling ‘hot’ about something. I wrote this post in one of those moments and let it simmer for a few days. My blog schedule told me to write about my watchword – so I changed it up and that’s my next post. Flexibility is important, right? LOL.
Appreciate your feedback. x
Judith Staff saysJanuary 13, 2019 at 5:17 pm
Rachel, this is brilliant, honey – there are so many memes floating around which say (paraphrasing) “life’s too short to waste it on unimportant people” but really, it runs deeper than that. We need to protect ourselves from toxicity and abuse, and people who don’t know us can hurt us as easily as those in our daily life can. Being aware of this, and creating a critical distance from online personas who are unhealthy for us to interact with, is really essential. Thanks for sharing – and yes,there are many days I’ve had enough of peopling too! xo
Rachel Thompson saysJanuary 14, 2019 at 12:59 pm
Thank you for understanding me, Judith (you speak Rachel so well!). It’s true, though – while it’s important to me to practice The Four Agreements (particularly not to take things personally), I have no control if others do so, and when they lash out at me, that’s when I mute, unfollow, block, or just shut it all off for awhile.
IRL, I walk away or check out mentally if that’s what it takes until I’m ready to discuss things. Write in my journal or online, or reading is my go-to when I’m stressed. Self-reflection is where I find solace: how can I learn from this situation? Did I contribute and if so, what can I do differently? We’re not all little angels in this life – we fuck up, too. If it’s not me and someone is just being an ass, I’ve learned to breathe slowly, and ask: “What’s bothering you? Can we talk about it?” instead of reacting back in anger (I’m referring here to my guy and my kids).
Online, it’s harder to have these conversations yet not impossible. How invested do we want/need to be in total strangers? Only we can decide that. x
Terry Gibson saysJanuary 14, 2019 at 9:40 pm
This is a compelling post, Rachel. Although I haven’t voiced much about how social media is affecting me, I have been flat out lost recently. I learned and will never engage in forums or threads that are biting and cruel. It’s as if people want to sling mud and they don’t care at whom. If asked, they would probably have no reason for their behaviour. I have felt devastated by comments and watched new writers being decimated. While I tried to comfort them, I was enlightened. I would never let some faceless creep talk me into suicide. I don’t judge those who fall prey to it because obviously there were other things in their lives contributing to create that state of fragility.
Bjørn Larssen saysFebruary 2, 2019 at 1:28 pm
“Plus, the communication is unsynchronized (people respond whenever they want), whereas real-life comms are synchronized (you speak, then I speak, etc).”
Interesting – this is exactly why I prefer online peopling. Because I am one of those people who can respond whenever they want (or use the block button, which sadly doesn’t work in real life, not that I tried or anything). In a 3D conversation way too often I end up thinking “sure, NOW I know what I should have said” two minutes after my turn to say the thing was…
Barbara Radisavljevic saysMarch 11, 2019 at 4:08 am
This post came just at the right time for me tonight. I had dabbled in my Twitter feed and came away so disgusted that I was tempted to close all my Twitter accounts and stick to Medium. And until today I’ve always enjoyed Twitter. I’ve met some wonderful people here and I learn a lot. Were it not for keeping in touch with a few real life friends and my blogging groups, I’d probably leave Facebook tomorrow. The drama exhausts me and unless what I read inspires a rant, I don’t feel much like writing after a social media session either.
I like a certain amount of peopling. I even enjoy it online as long as it stays civil. I don’t mind polite disagreements over ideas and policies. But when people start attacking the character of others on my timeline I’m not afraid to block them. Nothing of value ever comes from such character attacks and name calling.
Rachel Thompson saysMarch 13, 2019 at 8:44 pm
Hi Barbara! There can be such a negative/toxic element to social media, especially when people go after someone. That mob mentality is definitely difficult when we feel differently or don’t believe in participating in those kinds of ad hominem attacks. It’s the easy route to make fun of people – it’s much harder to find compassion and understanding (not directed at you).
And it’s easy to get caught up in that and then feel horrible afterward, too. I get mad at myself sometimes – Twitter can be especially quick to beat each other to the punchline. I get you on the Facebook thing, too. The drama – yes! I avoid it by posting photos of my cats or quotes (though I’ll often get political comments on those, too!). Everyone has something to say. Sending you hugs! xx
Dayna Landen saysJuly 22, 2019 at 5:47 pm
Rachel, this is beautifully eloquently expressed and written. I loved reading every word and I’m very touched by the realness of it. I’m the most sensitive empath suffering from very painful PTSD I know and omg peopling is so hard for me. I’ve been attacked by so many social media troll idiots, I’ve lost count, but as my dear sweet loving husband always says, “girl, listen to your Inner Voice Intuition, it either lovingly guides you that it’s ‘kosher, all good, safe,’ or say, ‘next’ and move on. They aren’t worth it!” And that’s exactly what I do! I’m a very stressed full time caregiver Mama for my autistic special needs little boy and I’m busily working on my writing and coaching business, I don’t have time for toxic bs. I love the story you shared about your survivor friend and I love what your screenwriting friend said! Such a beautiful expression of honest loving truth! Oh and 1 of my favorite quotes is, “other people’s opinions of you are none of your business!” Thank you, girl! 🙂 xo <3
Kay saysOctober 17, 2019 at 10:31 pm
Never really realized I was not the only one who finds peopling hard–like social media, it seems the “others” are always ON. This piece really laid it out, really gave a friendly hand up, really said it clear. I’m re-energized by it and renewed knowing it’s OK not to love peopling.