I’m often asked why I don’t have a forum on this website. The only problem in answering this question is where to begin.
I’ll start here: I don’t recommend traumatized people visit online forums because of the amount of secondary victimization that goes on at the hands of trolls or from other survivors who try to help, but who end up perpetuating victim-blaming attitudes. Some people do have positive experiences. There is tremendous value in speaking with other survivors. But in a forum situation, there is just as much potential for harm as there is for help.
Validation is vitally important and of course support is, too. But I’ve heard from several people who were re-victimized in forums, and I experienced it myself. It was the last thing I needed at that time, and it set me back. Please keep this in mind and be very cautious if you decide to participate.
Unfortunately, there are foxes in the hen house.
I do my best to keep them off of this site, but every now and then one slips past me. I know that if they’re trying to gain access here, they’re doing the same elsewhere.
Traumatized people are at their most vulnerable when they turn to online forums in search of support. It can be hard to get much or any support from family, friends, or even therapists who don’t understand psychopathic victimization, but we have a real need to be heard and understood. And when we discover a forum filled with others who have experienced the same thing, we dive right in. That’s what I did.
But if we end up being re-victimized by our supposed peers, it can be devastating. Not only can it hold a person back from healing, it can add to the damage.
One of the most important aspects of healing for a former victim is to stop blaming themselves. But something I saw many, many times within the forums I participated in was victim-blaming. The people who do this may be former victims who are simply passing along their own erroneous beliefs, or they could be ‘trolls’ who do it purposely to inflict harm. It’s a moderator’s job to intervene. But if the website’s posts and pages perpetuate the idea that victims participate in their own victimization, then that attitude is going to be acceptable in the forums too.
Some forums have a group of three or four members who form a tight little ‘clique.’ They post repeatedly, in some cases for years. They seem to post every day, all day. They have constant conversations with each other. That makes me wonder.
One day back when I was participating in a forum, a ‘clique’ was present in a particular conversation. One of them said she was ‘willing to admit’ it was her fault she was victimized, and wanted to know who else was willing to ‘raise their hand’ and ‘be honest along with her.’ The first people to step forward were members of the clique as well. Then, others (who were not part of this close-knit group) began to ‘admit’ they were at fault. The clique praised them for it, telling them they could never move forward without ‘taking responsibility.’ I was stunned. How can taking responsibility for something that wasn’t your fault help you in any way? In doing so, you miss the point. You miss what will really help you.
I saw right through it, and it turned my stomach. I spoke up, reminding everyone that this was a forum on a website about victimization by psychopaths — you know, those skilled manipulators who engage the unsuspecting in pathological relationships? I was immediately attacked. I was admonished for refusing to ‘take responsibility’ and for contradicting the ‘wisdom’ of victims who had recovered and were there to help others. The moderator jumped into the fray, but only to ban me from the site because I refused to agree. This forum was one where the wayward were sadistically penalized for refusing to tow the “party line.” I was left questioning whether they were misguided victims who were, in turn, misguiding others, or if they were manipulators trying purposely to undermine the recovery of vulnerable people. It sure felt as if that were the case. I was deeply shaken.
From my own experience, and from hearing the experiences of others and from reading plenty of forums, I found that some conversations seem to follow the same pattern as pathological relationships: Idealize, devalue, discard.
It goes something like this:
A new, freshly traumatized member is welcomed and befriended by others who take an interest in her (idealization). Then, perhaps after relaying some new detail about her experience, someone will tell her she should have known better, that anyone would have seen whatever it was as a red flag, so why didn’t she? Was she really so naïve? Or she will say something ‘wrong,’ not understanding how it was perceived as wrong, and will be attacked and then shunned or ignored (devaluation). Usually, the victim will concede and agree with them, believing that they know more than she does and believing they are there to help her (they must be there to help, right? why else would they be in the forum every day for three years?). This undermining will continue intermittently in future conversations. If the victim disagrees with them she is attacked, the focus turning to her ‘problem’ with taking criticism, accepting advice, or some other way that she is impeding her own recovery. Depending on her response, she may be ‘banned’ from the site (discarded). If not, the intermittent undermining and devaluation will continue, either from direct conversation or through reading other people’s conversations on the forum.
Is this always the case? No, of course not. But it seems to happen too often, to too many people. When it does, it can be devastating. If the victim realizes what’s going on, he or she will feel victimized all over again. If they don’t recognize it and it continues, it will undermine their confidence, perceptions, self-esteem, and recovery.
I once read a forum conversation that was beyond belief.
The victim was attacked when she disclosed that she was duped into leaving her husband. She shared how regretful, traumatized, and depressed she was about what had happened. One of the clique members actually said this:
“You had an affair for a year, then you left your husband for him, and then he dumped you after you left your husband and your kids… so how the hell is HE the psychopath? Why is this guy such a scumbag when YOU dumped your husband and kids for him, when he was only telling you he loved you to get you into bed?”
HUH? This is exactly what a vulnerable, traumatized person does not need when looking for empathy, understanding, and support. The outright cruelty of a comment like this could easily devastate someone who’s on the edge.
One thing I’ve noticed about a couple of forums (and their associated websites) is a consistent undercurrent of anger.
Often, the blog posts are filled with rage or outrage and they seem to encourage the readers to feel this rage, too. In the comments attached to these posts and in the forums, I noticed many victims expressing rage and yet also saying the victimization had ended five or ten years ago.
Anger is appropriate for what occurred, and the energy it carries can ignite our determination to make a full recovery. After that happens, it serves no purpose and should resolve on its own. Ongoing anger means that recovery wasn’t complete. I wonder if the people who run these sites want to keep victims in a perpetual state of anger for some self-serving reason, or if they are just stuck in that state themselves and it is reflected in their writing and on the site?
I had a reader on this site who left comments that made it apparent that she was still enraged twenty years later. She became enraged at me because I wasn’t enraged. She told me off and never came back.
When someone is surrounded by other angry people and anger is fostered or encouraged, it can keep them stuck.
There is also talk on forums about ‘real victims’ vs ‘psuedo-victims.’ One thing abusers love to do is to invalidate a person. Another thing they love is to put someone on the defensive. One way to do both of those things at once is to tell someone they’re not ‘really’ a victim.
It’s no surprise that these forums attract abusers. They choose victims whom they perceive as vulnerable in one way or another, and where else can they find hundreds of traumatized, vulnerable people in one place who can be easily hurt with a few well-chosen words? Hit ’em when they’re down, that’s what they seem to aim for.
A recent study discovered a link between trolling and sadism in its various forms. Overall, the authors found that the relationship between sadism and trolling was strong, and that sadists appear to troll because they find it pleasurable. They feel sadistic glee at the distress of others, and the internet is their playground. One of the authors said she isn’t sure if this problem can be fixed. “Because the behaviors are intrinsically motivating for sadists, moderators will likely have a difficult time curbing trolling with punishments (e.g., banning users). Ultimately, the allure of trolling may be too strong for sadists to resist.”
And imagine what happens when the moderator is a sadist…
Be very careful out there.
Helpful advice from a reader named Aurora:
“I was fortunate that finding one particular forum site was the missing piece of an unsolvable puzzle late last year, and the relief, shock, knowledge and information I gained initially was literally lifesaving for me, as I was in such a dark place.
But I also found some aspects of the discussions and feedback really disturbing. Especially as people in these situations (including myself) are incredibly vulnerable, with many painful and confused emotions — and still caught in massive cognitive dissonance, denial, PTSD, and anxiety. In that head space the inappropriate or hurtful feedback — framed as ‘tough love” — from moderators can have the impact of totally annihilating you and set you back eons in recovery when you are raw. Especially where there is that need to gain peer acceptance and approval, it can almost seem like a blood sport with whichever moderators give you the toughest character assassination and make you feel like you are straight back in the very disturbing dynamic you have just lived through.
I read a lot in these forums and as I said was very grateful for the information I gained and the stories of others that helped me put into perspective what I was experiencing and ways to manage that. But although it was a significant part of my process towards recovery, it was augmented with reading books, therapy, medication, and the support of a few very close friends.
The problem is (and I found this also when initially sourcing a good therapist) — there are a lot of sharks out there in the ‘helping profession’ and because of your inherent vulnerability in these situations and the ‘life or death’ feelings of wanting to be ‘fixed,’ it is easy to get lulled into the ‘sales’ aspect of these forums – especially where there are adverts for paid support groups and constant reinforcements that this is the only way to heal. You are so desperate for help that this aspect of your desperation is played upon – which can feel a lot like re-victimisation.
On the whole I have found loads of good information and support on the internet (especially sites like this where the information is researched, considered, non-judgemental and informative).
I would caution anyone in these situations to research as much as you can, then find what feels right and safe for you.”
♥ Thank you for reading.
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