Please be gentle in consideration of the context.
December 2, 2022 11:19 AM   Subscribe

I find call-outs deeply triggering of a long trauma history and they activate so much shame that I can barely even absorb whatever was the subject of correction. Please help me address this without retraumatizing myself.

I think private correction is more effective than public humiliation if the goal is positive learning. If the goal is to shame everyone into compliance then what we have established as the proper procedure for calling out oppressive, colonial, ableist and other social grievance issues is working well.

I've had trauma therapy including to work through shame triggers. Most areas of my life, the ghosts of trauma don't really visit anymore. Not true for this one. Public humiliation where I am told that I'm acting against my personal values is the most painful thing I can experience. I want to do good and I want to know if I'm not doing good according to present standards. But learning that by being corrected in a group feels really lacking in compassion and awareness of how people learn best, not to mention it's not very trauma informed to correct someone in a public setting without knowing their history.

I can tell myself all day long that my pain and struggle pale in comparison to the pain and struggle of whatever group that my gaff/faux pas/egregious oversight is connected to. I understand that on a prefrontal level. My limbic system is not listening to it well. I've got such a long painful history of social rejection that group call-outs make me want to just disappear and never return.

I know I can't make the rest of the world recognize the value of gentle, private correction over the more brash public format. I can't see myself paying my therapist's private pay rate for this issue. But it's basically derailed my whole day. I'm dealing with a double whammy of public correction and moderator action. Both trigger my shame issues badly and render me unable to function.

Once I get past it I'm ok, and I try to remember whatever I was taught to say or not say. I can avoid this entirely by never participating in any spaces where the expectation is to be called out if you misstep in these ways. That solution is problematic for many reasons.

I really want to learn how to recognize these mistakes. But I dread being in these spaces because my reaction is so strong. I'm an Other myself, in multiple ways, and I don't say that to get a free pass at all but some of the ways I am Othered make this dynamic especially difficult for me.

I don't know what I'm even asking except how do I not get so fucking triggered when I WANT to be this socioculturally enlightened person that the group is trying to correct/shame me into being?

I am a progressive for sure but when this happens I find myself thinking horrible boomer thoughts like "there's too many rules to follow to be politically correct nowadays." It reminds me of a discord I joined for people with dissociative disorders. I had to leave because you were required to write "trigger warning" for anything you say that someone else identified as a trigger and it was a list of like 500 things, many of which were mundane or counterintuitive like talking about therapy, or talking about coffee, or talking about sports. I'm like I give up, I can't interact with my people because I am at too great a risk of being told I'm a worthless POS because I forgot one of these rules. (I know rarely is that being said. It's more like they say hey you didn't do this well and I tell myself it means I'm a worthless POS. ADHD makes that reaction process very fast and also very powerful.)

Then I feel like an asshole because all of these rules are valid. All the things I've ever been corrected for are absolutely valid concerns.

I feel like I'm doomed for unpredictable surprise shame attacks unless I magically convert to being a member of gen z or spend several years living in an area more saturated with progressives rather than the red state I call home. I want to do better, but I'm overwhelmed at the amount of rules I have to remember and afraid of what this feels like since my memory of every painful social rejection gets stirred up. As a woman with autism who went to very cliquish good ol boy type of schools, I've got a lot of those memories.

I don't know what to do. I want to be a good person who is conscious and aware and strives to be socially just. But I am so triggered right now and i just want to gather all my toys and take them home and never come back to play.
posted by crunchy potato to Human Relations (47 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add that the issue for which I was called out resulted in the thread getting locked because so many people were making the same mistake I made, so it's not like I was doing something especially horrible. My reaction is way too big for the issue at hand.
posted by crunchy potato at 11:28 AM on December 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Maybe you can try to find an analogy in your daily life that feels totally normal and whatever, and apply it to these situations.

So maybe driving for example. We have traffic signals, rules of the road both explicit (signage, legal, statutory) and implicit (understanding right of way, defensive driving, local quirks).

You don't see a stop sign while driving and think oh my god, I'm a horrible asshole driver. A stop sign means that the community has decided that everyone needs to stop here, for the safety of the community, that's all. Traffic signs aren't negotiations or personal attacks, they're safety measures that contribute positively to the community when we all respect them.

And in a similar way, I honk at people every now and again when I'm out driving. Sometimes it's a reminder (light turned green, stop looking at your phone and go please). Sometimes it's for urgent vital safety (you are not following the established rules of the road and are endangering me!!). Certainly there are people out there who are going to honk a lot more for a variety of reasons, maybe just because they're in a bad mood. But that's not how I honk, and I don't think I'm particularly special, so I figure most people out there honking their car horns are probably also doing it with a purpose, too.

My point is, there's probably something in your regular everyday life that's full of rules, guidance, and expectations but that doesn't cause you to have an outsize emotional response in this way. It may help you to try, just a little bit at a time maybe, to apply some of your feelings from those neutral situations to the more difficult ones. When you feel yourself getting hot, step back and apply that analogy in real time.
posted by phunniemee at 11:45 AM on December 2, 2022 [12 favorites]

When rules (no matter how well-intentioned) harm people (such as yourself), the rules are the problem, not the people. The point of being "politically correct" (scare quotes intentional, I think it's a BS term for reasons you'll see in a moment) is to be a nice person, which it seems immediately obvious you're trying to be. You don't get to be a nice person by following rules (again, no matter how well-intentioned); you get to be a nice person by using your judgment. Nobody is perfect; the way you develop good judgment is through trial and error. Humans cannot simply be programmed with axioms to achieve a desired outcome within an acceptable range. So if you're trying to be nice (I know your username, you usually are), and someone gets mad at you about it, at least consider the possibility that the problem is on the other person's side.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:48 AM on December 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I feel like I'm doomed for unpredictable surprise shame attacks unless I magically convert to being a member of gen z or spend several years living in an area more saturated with progressives rather than the red state I call home

I hate to say it, but that won't help. The problem you've identified - that public callouts are not very good at supporting actual learning and progress - are just as true for people who are immersed in that culture as people who run into it crossways some times. You've got a bigger and faster reaction than some folks do, but that instant path of shame->defensiveness->withdrawal is something basically everyone goes through. Some phases last longer than others for different people - I, personally, tend to go heavy on "withdrawal" with a lot less shame and defensiveness. It's not... better? It's just how my brain chemistry handles it.

This isn't really a solved problem. There are arguments to be made that there are valid community-supporting purposes for corrections to be public (I have almost certainly made some here over the years) and there are undeniable costs. There is also a pervasive Western-Internet-Culture pattern right now where people have been rewarded for callouts with public acclamation to the point where a lot of people have convinced themselves that yelling at someone online is good social justice praxis. (It's not.)

I got a lot of value out of reading this fascinating post about the Jewish ethical principle around Lashon Hara, which I came across because a Mastodon instance has adopted it as a foundational principle. The brief version is that in a small, closed community, shit-talking is vastly more often destructive than constructive, and keeping it constructive requires some extremely strict rules around how and in front of whom it's done. I found the idea (which I'd never encountered before) and the modern implications really interesting.

In the meantime, my only advice is to go easier on yourself. This kind of reaction is understandable, nearly ubiquitous, and self-protective. If you need to withdraw after something like this, do that. Take some time to let your reaction settle down to the point where you can sit back and consider the actual facts of the situation. This might take you weeks! That's ok! It's also entirely possible that there are communities that are not accessible to you because this is too common a dynamic. That is also ok! Those communities worry me!

It is also extremely valid to talk to a professional about Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, which is the term I've seen associated with the often-ADHD-linked intensity of this kind of reaction. I don't know what the protocols look like for managing it, but it's well worth figuring out if there *is* something you can do to make it less painful. But you're not a bad person for having it nor for finding some places inhospitable to you because of it. And there may be behavioral things that come up that are less than ideal that you can specifically work on - things like lashing out in retaliation or demanding emotional labor from the people who are telling you that you harmed them - but just feeling bad and taking a break are normal and healthy.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:49 AM on December 2, 2022 [29 favorites]

Hey first off, so sorry you’re going through this. If these are online spaces are you able to change the surroundings in any way? Taking a break helps.

Personal example: tumblr in the early 2010s (at least in the circles I ran in) was full of these rules and eventually myself and my now-wife who were both very active (and met on there) ended up taking a break.

I just don’t think my mind is capable of holding all of these rules at the forefront of my mind when contributing to a discussion. Sounds like a pause would be good, or maybe a redirection.
posted by bxvr at 11:49 AM on December 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Can you give a few examples to show what you mean?

Because just on the face of it, yeah, you're in the right, and you should not be called out in public for "acting against YOUR personal values". Whatever the hell that means. Jeez. Who do they think they are, your personal conscience enforcement cops?
posted by MiraK at 11:50 AM on December 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I promise not to turn this into a conversation but I should have stayed in my OP that I have a similar intense shame reaction to being honked at (in that quick "trying to be nice while alerting you" way), and even just having people in line behind me at the store, if I am causing a delay by counting change or something, I have this huge reaction as well. Most mundane social enforcement of rules causes this huge reaction. (Mods please feel free to move this into my OP if that is a better way to adhere to guidelines.)

Some examples, shared under extreme duress, as requested:
Saying "Higher on the totem pole"
Saying "Picnic"
Saying "I don't mean to be a Nazi about this" (actually self corrected as I realized I was speaking to someone that identifies as Jewish but she didn't care and said it was fine)
Answering a question targeting someone identifying a certain way, while I don't identify that way but work with that particular identity regularly and have friends of that identity who have spoken to the question being asked (this is what just happened where the thread was locked because so many others did the same thing)

Done replying here so I don't get scolded with moderator action in a thread about how that is traumatic for me, but will answer MeMail if there are questions.
posted by crunchy potato at 11:59 AM on December 2, 2022

I'm trying to read between the lines here to get a sense of how the call-outs are happening and what's meant by that, but I'm struggling. Can you clarify which of these it's closer to?

You: [say xyz in a public setting]
Mod: Hey, xyz is actually harmful to abc group. Please say xyz instead.


You: [say xyz in a public setting]
Mod: Wow. That's so harmful to abc group. People who care about abc don't say that.

Fill in your specifics as you will. What I think will be really helpful for you in figuring this out is determining whether people are actively shaming you, or if any kind of public correction triggers shame in you. Those are two different problems, with very different approaches. Which one sounds more like what you're dealing with?
posted by brook horse at 12:01 PM on December 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oh, posted just a sec too late. Feel free to MeMail me if you'd like!
posted by brook horse at 12:01 PM on December 2, 2022

Can I ask why it doesn’t seem worth using time with your therapist to talk about this?

The difficulty of handling shame in interpersonal interaction is one of the most common reasons I know of for people getting into therapy - the shame we feel when other people are angry with us or hurt by us, for example, is at the core of so much couples’ therapy. I hear you saying you recognize that the intensity of shame you feel is about memories/internal judgments from your life that are triggered by these episodes, rather than the intensity of critique you’re receiving (for example, your brain telling you that you’re a POS, even though the person calling you out didn’t say so). I know the intense frustration of having worked on issues for *decades* and then in a flash finding that I’m *still* not past it - it sucks. But therapy seems like one of the best places to talk through those feelings.

I know this doesn’t address how to be in community with people who understand you when participating in that community triggers anxiety and shame - the typical advice to step back for a while, or to seek out other communities, might not feel or be possible for you. Are there ways in which you *could* step back? Participating in these communities as a listener only, and not speaking for a while? I’ve found it really useful to do this, and to repeatedly frame it for myself not as “I’m not allowed to speak” or “my voice is less valuable than other people’s voices”, but rather, “listening is an act of love, and it is validating to my own experience and desire for empathy to listen to others and give them empathy”.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 12:04 PM on December 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think you need to bring this up in therapy when you're next there. (A similar spiral actually pushed me into therapy.)

But mostly, it is okay to quit social media. This sounds like it's mostly happening in online "spaces" and TBH a lot of online "progressive" spaces can have really stupid dynamics. The tone is often set by very young, very invested people (because those people have the time to do most of the posting) and there is a ratchet effect when new rules or habits are introduced.

I had a really bad couple of social media years which culminated in a real life "call out" after I (along with some other people) did something genuinely stupid and bad that genuinely created an unexpected, painful situation for people who 100% did not deserve it. Online, people were monsters about random crap (not about the thing; the thing had nothing to do with online). In real life, I apologized sincerely, made what amends I could and while some people legitimately lost some respect for me in the larger community (appropriately!) everyone accepted my apology and my amends. Frankly, while I felt bad and ashamed over the stupid thing I did, I took it much harder than I needed to because I'd been in social media spaces with a discourse of "you are a monster garbage person because you [did something ranging from innocent and totally harmless to slightly thoughtless and mostly harmless]".

It was much, much easier to learn to accept and move on when I wasn't in those social media spaces. I do stupid things, I do things I regret, etc. In general I am more careful and take less responsibility than I did before the IRL callout. But I am much better at feeling and accepting regret and feeling/accepting that something has just gone wrong than I was when I was in those online communities.

Social media-wise, I read only now and rarely participate (except in a few very curated spaces). I have a couple of internet participation places for the social aspect and I have a couple of zoom bookgroups, etc. The more I see myself as a reader/lurker, the easier it is to say, "well, THAT seems like a fucked up and excessive response" when I read the callouts (I'm not counting "Simon uses they/them pronouns, you misgendered them above"-type stuff as callouts.)

I also find it useful to ask myself, "what concrete harm did X do" when considering a callout. We all live in the world, and while it may be upsetting or disappointing when someone says something unintentionally discomfiting, hey, that's life. It is not realistic to expect to be in a community and never have discomfiting moments. Very often online callouts in social media spaces are of the "this caused me passing discomfort and was slightly ignorant, you are a monster" variety, or the "I disagree with you because we believe slightly different things, therefore you are a monster because our disagreement upsets me" variety.

Just as we need to take responsibility for what we say, we also need to take responsibility to cultivate resilience so that we don't feel like we've been assaulted by slurs and hate speech when someone says something innocently ignorant.

I've been on the internet a while, and look, words can definitely hurt people, but when words are all you have, it's easier to believe that words have supreme importance and to overstate their power.

Anyway. If you are an anxious or depressive person, spending a lot of time in callout-heavy communities can really, really mess with your head. It took me a while, honestly, to recover from my bout with them. Most of the people in those communities do not respond this way. They aren't losing sleep. They aren't questioning their worth. They do all this "you are a monster" stuff without thinking at all about how it sounds to someone who is vulnerable to it. (And this is true even if they themselves deal with mental health stuff; people are not the same in how they respond to the internet.)

It's not just a matter of toughening up or whatever. If you're vulnerable to it, these internet spaces can be really traumatizing and you may need both a change in your habits and some serious talk with your therapist about it.
posted by Frowner at 12:05 PM on December 2, 2022 [26 favorites]

self-forgiveness was one of the great gifts of my forties. I finally figured out that my learning style involved making mistakes and bumping into things, and that was literally the only way I could get smarter. Looking foolish and inviting correction were necessary to my growth. Being easier on myself would make me smarter in the long term.

The flipside of this is that progressive spaces might not be very good teaching spaces, one of the difficulties I had navigating those spaces was that (generalizing very broadly) people were not interested in teaching the 101s of their progressivism. Some progressive spaces remind me of hostile tech mailing lists from the nineties where oldbeards would gleefully hammer less experienced posters with RTFM noob! messages.

> All the things I've ever been corrected for are absolutely valid concerns.

Challenge this for yourself. Progressive spaces are not inherently pure and not every consensus of a progressive space represents moral truth.
posted by Sauce Trough at 12:05 PM on December 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

Regardless of the context, when dealing with overwhelming feelings, containment visualization can be a useful exercise for some people.
posted by brook horse at 12:10 PM on December 2, 2022 [6 favorites]

I'm much the same way, except that I don't actually find private correction much better (and sometimes worse, since there's no potential "hey, this is aimed at everyone" ego-shield) -- I still have a terrible reaction to it. I guess the most helpful thing I've found is just knowing that it's just a thing my body and brain do, my scheduled miscalibrated overreaction. Like if I were one of those people who blushes at everything, or sneezes when bright light hits my retinas. I'm still working on this, but I think telling myself stuff like "it's okay, it's just you doing the thing again, it'll pass" is making a difference.

Also, there's that Maya Angelou quote about 'Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.' Being able to evaluate my own behavior and say "okay, I messed up but it wasn't really because I don't care or am not trying" helps me be easier on myself.

I haven't really tried this a lot, but another tool you can use is something like "We all have 10,000 mistakes to make in life. Guess that was one of mine." It's not really a pass on doing bad things, but an acknowledgement that doing these things is basically inevitable for everyone; there's no way for a human to try hard enough to live a completely mistake-free life. All we can do is try, and be philosophical when we fail (and make amends if that's called for).

I don't actually think that public (or private) correction is always bad: sometimes it serves a good purpose. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I agree with the callout, but sometimes after the automatic shame reaction fades I realize that I don't agree with it much or at all. (If it's about something factual, I might also fact-check the correction.) In either case I'll consider whether this should change my opinion or feelings about the people involved, or whether I think their intentions are good and they're not actually doing something harmful. Sometimes I'll just make a mental note of it and see if it becomes a pattern I'm uncomfortable with or not.

I also try to think about the times I've called people out (because we pretty much all have) and to think about how judgmental I actually feel about the people involved in callouts I've made, or wanted to make, on a similar level. This is a little hard since I don't actually remember most of these cases, but that itself is a useful thing to keep in mind.

Finally, there can be a brain chemistry element involved. There've been periods in my life where I was able to deal with embarrassment, anxiety, and stress much better, and to basically have minimal emotional reactions to things that at other times would have left me a wreck for days. I don't know if that's a route you want to explore, but it might be something to keep in mind.
posted by trig at 12:27 PM on December 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

Two [eta three] thoughts:

1. Without getting into your question history too much, it looks like life has involved some pretty tough stuff for you lately. If that's the case, it's going to intensify your response in online spaces and sap your ability to deal with shaming interactions.

2. If you are getting more than a passing "hey, don't say [thing], it's a common but offensive figure of speech" in response to stuff at the level of what you describe in your comment, those are bad online spaces with bad culture.

3. This may not be your problem, but again it may: If you start from a standpoint of "I am probably a bad person who is worse than others and constantly messing up and other people probably dislike me with good reason even though I don't realize it or understand it", online callout-centric spaces can both feel really homelike (because of the familiar "I'm a fuck-up" feeling) and be really hard to get away from because you feel like you deserve to feel bad. Also it can be really hard to put things in perspective, again because your experience of taking things really seriously and trying hard is so different from most people's relatively casual relationship to these spaces.
posted by Frowner at 12:33 PM on December 2, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I definitely think this is worth therapy.

I have struggled similarly but for me it was before most social media and it resulted in doing soooo much less good work than I could have because I went for "won't get me shamed" rather than "let's try something amazing."

There are actually different reasons that shame can be so significant for you. So that's worth thinking through. Because when you say Public humiliation where I am told that I'm acting against my personal values is the most painful thing I can experience...I do believe you in many ways but there is a part of my brain that is like "really? What if you accidentally set a horse barn on fire or were an air traffic controller and caused a crash or something?"

In other words, that feeling like you will die from this humiliation is actually a feeling, a powerful one, but just a feeling. Why is it so extreme? Some guesses:

- you grew up in a house where you were shamed, or threatened with being dropped off at foster care (that's one of mine) for making a simple mistake like...being 10 minutes late
- your own parents were narcissists so for them shame was intolerable and so you learned that it must be intolerable and so it is
- you were bullied in school for being 'wrong'
- you were neglected and took on that responsibility, that something must be wrong with you and so somewhere inside you you have a little voice that believes if you Need Correction the next step will be homelessness and poverty and abandonment
- abandonment in general
- you live in the United States, a country where a traffic ticket can land you in jail and lose your job and your health insurance as a result because it's kind of ridiculously punitive and has one of the top-two incarceration rates per capita on the planet
- your hormones just go off in a big blaring alarm because they are hypersensitive due to PTSD with no specific incident to link to

With all of these the actual cure might be learning that you actually will be okay.
- The feeling of shame is powerful, but you won't die and actually, you can have bad feelings and be okay.
- If you were to lose a social group, you would find a new one.
- If you were to be completely wrong and hurt people, you would find the strength and way to apologize and make amends as best you can.
- You can be wrong and still be a valuable and valued human being
- You can be enough and be okay
- You are enough
posted by warriorqueen at 12:34 PM on December 2, 2022 [19 favorites]

Best answer: I find myself thinking horrible boomer thoughts like "there's too many rules to follow to be politically correct nowadays."

A useful philosophical angle for this particular delightful brain concoction is something I've heard phrased a bunch of slightly different ways (and in fact I'm sure I saw it here in the past few days, but now I can't find it) is that when you have a strong reaction to something, the first thought is usually what you've been trained/manipulated to think, and the second thought is the one that comes from your own internal moral compass. Learning to just go whoa and let that first thought go farting past you at top speed so you can be ready to engage with the second thought is a skill, and it's not the easiest muscle in the world to strengthen but it can be done by exercising it.

It's also useful to frame that stinky first thought as an interesting data point. Like, in your example about the discord with a very intense level of content warnings recommended, my first thought was not very generous and then my second thought was that I totally understand where that requirement is coming from, and then my third thought was "and in conclusion that's not a system I'm ready to be good at yet and it's good that I recognize that and I'm glad that people who really need that kind of space can have it." There have been a lot of times that I have had this specific type of recognition and then found myself in that space six or twelve months later, because I eventually was ready. OR in situations where it was just never going to be my particular cup of tea, I was still able later on to effortlessly defend the right of people to have that space in a way that I don't think is possible if you haven't spent at least a few minutes thinking about it.

This may be an obvious point to make, since it's both the problem and the cause of the problem, but you are being SO much harder on yourself than I think you would be on someone else about the same thing. You sound thoughtful and concerned about the feelings of others and wanting to minimize any harm you might subject on the world because you care, and I'm sure if your good friend who you knew also cared about those things used a word with a bad legacy or poorly stated an idea or said something wrong you would automatically assume that they meant well and want to do better and just made a bit of a mistake or were lacking the most correct information. You have to practice extending the same compassion to yourself, and the same margins for imperfection you likely allow for other people. You deserve it.

It isn't possible to go through the world perfectly. You are always going to be finding out you were wrong about something, some way or another. But it is also possible to shape your receivers so that every realization isn't hitting you with such violence.

One way is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. You might want to look at this workbook for perfectionism and this one for shame and defectiveness - maybe talk to your therapist about them.

I don't find private correction any better, because it's too horribly intimate. I have reached a place where I can sit with the discomfort of both well- and poorly-constructed public or general callouts, because I have come to recognize that the sting is part of the mechanism of learning better and doing better. Even if it's done unpleasantly, there's a fine line between objecting to the delivery and tone policing, where we don't like other people to be upset because it makes us feel bad. Maybe I should take the hit of feeling bad, even embrace it if I can, in order to let them have the space to be upset. And I think that's likely how people handle it who have to take that kind of criticism as part of their personal or professional public life without defensively doubling down (or at least not out loud): it's not that it doesn't sting, but they know the sting is non-fatal and is important data that will need to be reviewed.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:40 PM on December 2, 2022 [19 favorites]

Best answer: I think that you should speak with your therapist about this. I can understand why it seems maybe not worth your time to talk about social-media-callout stuff with your therapist, but if you are having a shame reaction to things like counting change at the grocery store when there are people in line behind you, then - it seems like it could represent a huge change in your quality of life overall if you were able to devise some strategies with your therapist for turning down the intensity of that shame reaction even a little bit.

I also think it's perfectly valid to recognize that some spaces are not great spaces for you to be in, and that's not your fault, and it's not necessarily anyone else's fault either. I would not do great in a space where you couldn't talk about coffee without a content warning either, and I think that most people wouldn't. I don't know if it might help to keep in mind that

a) In trying to make spaces more accessible, competing access needs can be a thing. If someone else needs to stim, and I find that really distracting, there might be ways to work things out so that we can both use that space - but the easiest thing might just be for us to occupy different spaces. It's always fair to say "this is a space that doesn't work for me and my access needs."

b) There is not a Social Justice God issuing pronouncements from On High. There are many different versions of "best practices" that are in contention with each other, with some terminology becoming more popular and then losing popularity, and with ideas percolating through different communities at different rates. (Some people will have been enmeshed in these debates for long enough to remember the arguments over whether you should say trans* or trans, for example). And the more I see things in that way, the more I feel like the scale of the moral transgression is lower... like if I made a small mistake speaking a foreign language, where it's like, hey, it's not actually a big deal that I didn't know that thing.

But I think with that, it's going to depend on how much of this shame is coming from other people and how much is coming from your own brain. Because if other people are treating it like a huge moral transgression, then the right thing is to find gentler spaces. And if other people are treating it like "Hey, just so you know, a lot of people prefer not to say this thing because of the history behind it" and that's turning into something much more intense and punishing inside your head, then it might be more realistic to work on strategies to reframe that inside your head.
posted by Jeanne at 12:41 PM on December 2, 2022 [11 favorites]

It's more like they say hey you didn't do this well and I tell myself it means I'm a worthless POS. ADHD makes that reaction process very fast and also very powerful.

This is the area where you have the most control, though I totally get it doesn't feel like it right now. But "I have negative self-talk that derails my limbic system entirely when I'm criticized" is absolutely something a therapist can help you develop skills to interrupt. You might want to look into somatic-type therapies, if they're available in your area. (And, counter-intuitively, there are a lot of somatic psychotherapists who do online visits, so you may have more options than it initially seems. Most therapists are licensed by state, so you'd likely need to search within your state, but not necessarily just within commuting distance of you.)
posted by lapis at 12:46 PM on December 2, 2022 [6 favorites]

Oh, do I feel you on this. I have made major stumbles and been called out and had that linger with me for hours and ruin my whole day, even and maybe even especially when I was the one in the wrong -- and this was in a similar online context. So, I want to share with you some things that helped me understand this and sometimes feel better about it and ultimately not react quite so strongly. (But also, this has taken me years.)

First, this is from Ask a Manager of all places, but the question is from someone who is very sensitive to anything that feels like criticism in a professional environment, and I thought the answer was profoundly gentle and insightful. This was like a mini therapy lesson for me, so please read how Ask a Manager helps that person understand and work through her strong reactions (I found this because of the positive update from the question-asker that was just posted this week). It's wonderfully compassionate, I think.

Next, I know Robin Diangelo's work is controversial, but I learned something from a talk she gave on white fragility and specifically white women: when our goal is to be "good," any call out feels so incredibly threatening because it shows that we aren't "good" after all. You said, "I want to be a good person," and I hear that! But I'd encourage you to drop this notion of being a good person, because that means that there are two choices: good and bad. So if we are confronted with any error we've made, we can start down a pretty awful path of going, "Oh no, that must mean I am BAD!" Which is terrifying and threatening to our whole self-perception! So, yeah, trying to move past this binary is important.

And that's where I want to bring in harm reduction. I heard an excellent talk by Bunny McKensie Mack a few years ago on this (Mack starts at about 12 minutes in). Mack's point is much more developed, but the big take-away for me was this: instead of trying to be good, we can move towards a place of realizing that we all commit harm, usually without meaning to, and the goal is to reduce harm. This framing has been so helpful for me, because when I mess up, it doesn't mean I'm bad; it reminds me that I'm still learning, and that the point is to make amends and figure out how to do better and try to move forward.

But most importantly, I totally want to validate what you're going through right now. I've made some mistakes and been called out and it felt terrible and I wanted to run away and hide forever. ADHD and rejection sensitive dysphoria likely contributed.

In some cases, those specific environments weren't good for me. I wanted to be in more places with "call in culture" rather than "call out culture." There are many online spaces where the aggressiveness of the callouts can be painful and overwhelming. Sometimes I learned from those callouts, but wow, there were some hard lessons in that. But also, I have found that sometimes, the people being super aggressive about callouts aren't the ones who suffered harm, but just other people still trying to prove how "good" they are. And that's what really helped me: moving past the idea that we are either good or bad, and we have to keep working towards proving we are good. Instead, I'm doing a little bit better understanding that we are all flawed humans, and it's my job to do what I can to cause a little bit less harm.

I hope you are able to take a break -- being outside without a phone or screens and looking at trees and plants and petting dogs on the head helps me -- and get back to a place where you feel a bit more regulated.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:54 PM on December 2, 2022 [8 favorites]

You might want to try taking a total break from social media and other online interactions for a month or longer and see how you feel.

Conversing with strangers online isn't a mandatory activity and it seems like it is hurting you more than it is adding value to your life.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:55 PM on December 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Too much internet time = fighting on the internet. It's an outcome and a cause. When I feel like this the best solution for me is to step away from the internet and do something to contribute in meatspace. Volunteer, usually. People are way less able to nitpick conduct in meatspace and tend to not want to as much because the nonverbal part of the interaction can smooth over gaffes in speech. So yeah, go do something in person to help. Declutter some stuff and donate it, is an easy-ish one.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 1:10 PM on December 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Don’t post actively on forums where your IRL identity is known. For me, I’m less upset being called out when presumably, it’s my online avatar being attacked rather than myself as a person. FB is the only site where I go by my name and any time I notice a group with a penchant for call outs, I leave or spectate.

Even pseudonymously, I just limit my online posting time. Life is short and there’s a lot of wonderful things I’d rather do and learn than argue with some stranger.
posted by redlines at 1:11 PM on December 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

I can't see myself paying my therapist's private pay rate for this issue.

Oh, this is absolutely worth working on in therapy. You're characterizing it as frivolous, I think, because it's a reaction often provoked by social media, but (a) it's highly distressing to you and (b) you describe it as happening in other contexts, as well.

In the meantime, please try to remember that in those moments you are comparing yourself to a person who does not exist, the Perfect Progressive, Who Understands the Perfect Practices At All Times With All People, Knows Everything Relevant, and Has No Common Personal Flaws That Ever Get In the Way Of Doing the Right Thing Ever. Not only does this person not exist, but 80% of this person does not exist. We are trying to figure out how to do stuff that no society has ever done before. Even the theory isn't worked out yet, much less the practice. And the more you are trying to do the right thing visibly, the more risks you take. There are often people who will take out their anger about the vast injustices of broader society on this one mildly- to moderately-erring person who is within their social reach. There are sometimes badly traumatized marginalized people who are just in too much pain to react proportionately and appropriately to mistreatment, perceived or actual. And if you take "public" positions on controversial issues, eventually at least some of the people who you think you're trying to benefit are going to think you're being harmful instead, and you're going to have to reckon with that--but the alternative is retreating into the white, etc. privilege not to care, which is morally unacceptable.

But all this is an argument. The extremity of your reaction is pre-rational, and the list of possible childhood scenarios listed above probably includes yours. Some of us (hi!) were brought up in environments where we had to be good or else (though "or else what" may have varied), and that makes it very hard to feel we have failed at doing so. That's what therapy can help with.
posted by praemunire at 1:19 PM on December 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

Resilience has two main components.

The first is the ability to let things heal. Sometimes healing requires intervention but a lot of the time we just need to stop picking at the scabs. We get hurt but we compound it by continuing to cycle over and over it. It has to become okay — and this isn’t easy — to just let things be. We did something, there were consequences, done.

For me, maintaining a basic equilibrium via getting enough sleep and exercise is the key to that. Add 20-30 minutes of meditation every single day and I am mostly prepared to encounter the loud, angry voices that float around the world.

I don’t seek them out however, and the second part of resilience is to not overwhelm your ability to heal by piling on more hurt. If you are writing literally anything at all in a public space you are going to get ‘called out’ by someone who either believes that berating people in public is a good educational technique or (more often I suspect) has been deeply and continually hurt by the world and needs to vent. 100% chance this will happen on a regular basis.

And you know this. You have acknowledged it above. Soooooo… stop putting yourself in that position?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:24 PM on December 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Saying "Picnic"

Allow me to help in one small way with this conversation. Everybody makes mistakes, including the person who scolded you for saying picnic. Fact check: The word picnic does not originate from racist lynchings.
posted by entropone at 1:37 PM on December 2, 2022 [28 favorites]

I totally hear you as someone with ADHD. I love Jay Smooth's idea that telling someone they said something racist should be just as non-loaded as telling someone that they have something stuck in their teeth, but--I feel EXTREMELY embarrassed if I have something stuck in my teeth! I start to spiral like you do.

I think talking to your therapist is a really good idea, as others have said, because it's not about the callouts themselves but about your shame spiral afterwards. Anti-depressants helped me hugely with this, and I also take ADHD meds which make me more considerate of my words, but even without meds your therapist can help you with some self-talk strategies that will make these situations more bearable. Personally I find it helpful to imagine, when I start thinking something like "you are a terrible person" that someone is saying that to my husband or my best friend. Then it's easier to see the situation clearly. "You're not a terrible person, you made a small mistake." Using CBT (the book Feeling Good is great, and there are also apps) has helped too.

Wishing you peace, and send me a message if you want to.
posted by chaiminda at 1:38 PM on December 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think this is a great thing to bring up in therapy, because it's causing you distress and impeding your personal progress in an area that's important to you. This isn't silly, it's a common issue and a completely worthy one of your therapist's time.

I say this is common not to diminish its effect on you but to reassure you that you're not the only one who deals with this. I think one of the most difficult but important things to being an ally is being able to take criticism of your actions without feeling like it's an attack on you as a person, or feeling like the fact that you did one thing wrong means you're a bad person. I think working on this in therapy will help a lot, both in terms of making you feel better and making you more confident as an ally.

(The other thing I'll say is that once you have made some progress on this, you can start to be more discriminating about which spaces you participate in and whose criticisms you take to heart. Because no, you don't have to subject yourself to abuse to be a good ally.)
posted by lunasol at 1:47 PM on December 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Might this be about the spaces you're spending time in? Call-outs are the norm on a lot of the internet, whereas I think the "intent doesn't matter" thing I imagine has a lot to do with the triggering is way less common offline. I somewhat less apologetically find the call-out model of interpersonal relations poisonous and counterproductive so I avoid some places I know it happens all the time. I killed twitter a while back and don't participate in metatalk unless it's an entirely uncontroversial subject and left a couple of therapist fb groups that seemed to exist mostly so people could glory in telling others how wrong/irresponsible/reprehensible they are. No regerts.

I'm sure you make some mistakes but I also believe you that you're doing your best and I don't think you should feel like it's a requirement to say "thank you" when people punch you in the gut for a misstep. People's concerns are valid but that doesn't give them carte blanche to be dicks, which I think is probably not a popular opinion here. I think the only mistake you've made is assuming that people who call you out aren't intentionally making you feel terrible when in this discourse, the aim is to make you feel terrible more than to effect a change, which calling people out doesn't do on any meaningful scale.
posted by less-of-course at 2:07 PM on December 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

"Life is growth and change. If you're not growing and changing, you've fossilized."

this *is* a skill, and therapy is a good place to work on it, but you could learn it in a myriad of other ways if you don't want to do it in therapy. Therapists are just great at helping you learn the life skills you haven't acquired from experience.

I have acquired this skill from art school. The hardest part about your first year of art school is having to sit through group critiques - having 20 or so people, focused on you and something you have made, telling you what they do and don't (mostly don't) like about it and you.

First year has a HUGE dropout rate (sometimes as high as 75%) because this is a really hard thing to handle. (it's not just you who doesn't enjoy public critiques!) It feels like an attack. It's destabilizing because this is something that you have always considered yourself good at and comfortable with. Most people feel ashamed, most people feel angry, most people feel irritated and want to shut down and not listen and leave and retreat into their own studio and not have to grow or change according to what other people say. They just want to be told that they're already great. We all want to be told that we're perfect and we're not going to have to grow anymore because growing is uncomfortable.

But it's also worthwhile, and if you can practice listening and incorporating people's suggestions, instead of reacting to the emotional panic your brain is throwing out to try to protect you from feeling vulnerable, you will probably find that your reaction to being corrected has also diminished. In reality, it's nice to learn things, and it's nice to learn things from people. Rarely, RARELY, is anyone actually mad at you, or thinking you're a huge jerk or anything. You just didn't know something yet, or made a mistake, and you're receiving information on how to not make that mistake next time. Think about how often little kids have to deal with this! It's constant, it's just that we haven't practiced this skill and mindset as we've aged and mostly knew the right answers.


ps: the quotation at the top of my comment is not a quotation, I was going to say "here is a mantra I like" and then I wasn't sure if I should say "mantra" because maybe it's a misuse of the idea and felt like a bit of cultural appropriation? I'm telling you this so you know you're not alone, I just said I was GOOD at this skill and then I noticed that I also avoided being called out instead of letting someone correct me. So like, we're all in good company at least during our updating processes <3
posted by euphoria066 at 2:10 PM on December 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

In this very thread, just now, I learned - which I should have already recognized - the problem with "white paper". I am sure I say the phrase occasionally, as in my industry it used to mean a specific kind of technical write-up, and my reaction here is a slightly self-deprecating sigh and then figuring out something to say instead. Oh well, I didn't think and now I have and so I will do better - what else can I do? Is me feeling terrible going to help anyone?

Reminding myself that I don't get any extra credit for self-flagellation is useful to me, because I think - especially if we came from toxic or abusive criticism, or a lack of education in emotional regulation - there is a brain function that says "if I'm miserable enough about it, that shows I really care/will satisfy or assuage a highly-demanding Other" but honestly the people who are harmed by my mistake don't get anything from me engaging in ritual agony, and they certainly should not have to spend their time monitoring my response or comforting me about it. They would most benefit if I stop doing the wrong thing and help others stop when I'm able, so in a practical sense it's best to skip the high-fidelity remorse. I feel bad enough about it that it won't be terribly hard to change the words I use, and that is sufficient.

My ability to do that, though, is extremely dependent on my mental health. On my resilience, to use I term I saw above and often apply to my general ability to cope. I have strategies I can use to respond appropriately, plus medication that keeps enough serotonin in my system that it is easy to be sorry and move on planning to do better without it literally derailing my day, which it might have done 15 months ago.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:15 PM on December 2, 2022 [6 favorites]

I don't react well to being told I was wrong/bad/offensive either. I go down the shame spiral too. But you have to accept that sometimes we're all bad, wrong, and offensive even if we didn't mean to be.

I apologize, flag my comment as being offensive so a mod can delete it (here at least), leave the conversation forever and probably not use whatever website for some period of time, and then punish myself/feel like shit about it for awhile so that I'll remember to never do that again. I'm not saying that last bit is good, but I need to remind myself NOT TO DO THAT AGAIN AND THAT WAS BAD AND I WAS WRONG a lot so that I won't do it again. Then tread gingerly once I return, if I return.

The last bunch of years have taught me that it's extremely easy to offend others and that I am naturally offensive in general (probably just by being weird), so this is just gonna keep happening. You feel like shit for awhile, then you creep back, then you get comfortable again, then you piss someone off again when you didn't mean to. It's the cycle of the internet in the 2020's.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:21 PM on December 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Origins of "white paper." One can decide for oneself whether that is a phrase one needs to invest one's energy in avoiding.
posted by praemunire at 2:32 PM on December 2, 2022 [13 favorites]

I think private correction is more effective than public humiliation if the goal is positive learning.

there's no particular reason to assume that whoever is objecting to something is always right, and whoever is being objected to is always wrong. you can disagree! if due to trauma you instinctively feel yourself to be in a subordinate/student/inferior position in such circumstances, all objections are going to feel like shaming, correction, discipline, etc. but the person doing it probably thinks they are simply expressing disagreement or some degree of offense -- peer to peer, equal to equal. taking someone aside for a very special talk would feel intolerably high-handed, even parental, to me, which may be why people don't do it.

that is - you have your personal history and your personal reactions, and you're entitled to ask your friends and acquaintances to approach you as an individual, making allowances for this reaction you know you will have. but people who do not know or share your specific internal patterns will not have any of the motives you are imputing to them.

that all goes for people who publicly and directly disagree with other people on political and ethical topics, who are, I think, included among those who upset you. people who engage in "call-outs" are another matter; they are universally insufferable unless they are attempting to literally call you out, like to a duel, in which case they are insufferable in a different way. caller-outers don't have the authority to issue corrections in any setting. other people, though, normal progressive people are honestly saying what they honestly think, not trying to pull rank or do a disciplinary action. they aren't calling out, they're just saying things. if they're right, they're right, but if you choose to accept a correction, that makes you right, too.

anyway, I don't know that you can think yourself into not being triggered. but I do feel very sure that the decent people who are saying these things that make you feel horrible are not saying them in order to make you feel horrible, or because they believe you deserve to feel horrible. they think they are either informing you of something you didn't know or reminding you of something you forgot. it is very hard to feel like someone is doing you a favor when they are making you feel horrible, but they may think that they are.
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:56 PM on December 2, 2022 [12 favorites]

I think some cognitive behavioral therapy including thought records could help here because I think the shame you are feeling is based on a subconcious moralistic belief that you may be able to change or shed.

That belief would be something along the lines of " i feel intense shame, therefore I must have made an awful immoral mistake. I am a bad person who deserves to feel awful."

I would then evaluate the logical validity of that belief by coming up with evidence for and against it.
The evidence against it being logically valid is really strong.

Firstly, by virtue of being a mistake, the action in question was not something you did with will or intent. People make mistakes , and while the lack of intent doesn't mean moral responsibility is abdicated, the acknowledgment of the mistake as a mistake indicates regret and remorse which are both sentiments indicative of a sound moral consciousness. Therefore, you are not a bad person, you are a good person.

Secondly, a having an intense emotion is not indicative of your moral status. Feeling instensely bad is due to your existing psychological vulnerabilities reacting to an outside event. It's normal to look inwards for the cause of that feeling, but the fact is feelings don't necessarily have a direct relation to truth. Using feelings to determine someone's moral status is not logically sound just as it's not logically sound to use feelings to come up with scientific truths.
Therefore the feelings are just strong feelings. They do not need to be managed, prevented or acted upon, they can simply be felt, acknowledged, and nursed.

This whole schpiel might not be useful in itself, but it provides an example of how analyzing the taken--for-granted beliefs that exist behind automatic thoughts and thought patterns, can quite quickly reveal that the negative beliefs and absurd or illogical and can thus be discarded.
posted by winterportage at 3:12 PM on December 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

I dunno, if the examples you gave resulted in harsh reprisals rather than a gentle "hey, I'm sure you didn't mean harm, but in the future you may want to avoid saying that for [x ]reason" than I really think the simplest solution is to not hang around in such judgmental spaces. And in the case of your third example, I say this as someone who has experienced antisemitism first-hand and like your friend, I also wouldn't really care - I find the overuse of 'Nazi' as an adjectively vaguely annoying at most.

Some people will disagree with you in life, and that's ok. I agree with people here saying it would be worth talking to a therapist about how you struggle to handle disagreement without feeling bad about yourself. But also take a clean break from social media and/or whatever these online spaces are that are causing you stress.
posted by coffeecat at 4:35 PM on December 2, 2022 [7 favorites]

The "second reaction" idea Lyn Never mentioned was on MetaTalk recently at the end of this post with source/citations links in the comment thread.
posted by brainwane at 5:09 PM on December 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Sometimes it helps simply to have a ready reaction in hand to throw out there as a kind of anchor while you are tossed about on stormy emotional seas. In any situations where feedback is given and especially in situations where that feedback really, really hurts (and might also be wrong or unfair), it can be useful and de-escalating for you and everyone else to say something simple like: "Thank you for that feedback. I will take it into consideration."

This response renders no judgement in any direction about how you feel or how you will act in relation to the feedback, but acknowledges that you heard it and thought about it. That could be enough in fraught moments for you (and others) to go on safely until you get to a more comfortable and grounded place.
posted by desert exile at 5:51 PM on December 2, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a white autistic woman in my 30s, and I've made the choice not to participate in unstructured online social justice spaces. A few different factors led me to conclude it wasn't productive or healthy for me to be there: 1) Post-based discussions are terrible for developing nuance, gauging commenters' experience with a given topic, or making room for mistakes and corrections (i.e., types of comments that, in person, would be handled by a quick "Oh! That word is actually a slur against X population" met with "I'm so sorry, I didn't know that. Thanks for telling me!"), 2) Moderated groups often don't cultivate connection and trust between members, so the person doing the callout and the person being called out probably don't know each other, 3) Callouts often devolve quickly into pile-ons, doubling down, and group members leaving or being banned, rather than positive outcomes, and 4) Text-based group discussions generally seem much harsher than in-person conversations or even one-on-one text-based interactions.

When you're called out by a stranger in a moderated group, you're naturally going to feel attacked and triggered because accountability in a group really doesn't work without community. It's easy to develop a false sense of safety and familiarity when you've chosen the group based on your values, answered the same membership questions as everyone else, and get excited about the interesting posts you're reading. But that's not enough to form the kind of community where callouts work well. There's a huge difference between a stranger saying, "Your language is harmful," and a member of your community saying, "Crunchy, did you know [term] is offensive to [group]?" or, "Crunchy, you've used [term] again, even though we talked about its meaning--what's up with that? It's hurtful."
posted by theotherdurassister at 5:54 PM on December 2, 2022 [11 favorites]

Public humiliation where I am told that I'm acting against my personal values is the most painful thing I can experience

Just wanted to add...Hi! we have the exact same worst fear!

And it's the textbook symptom of a person with social anxiety disorder. If you do seek therapy of some sort, it might be helpful to start from the angle of "I'm looking for help with social anxiety" and go from there because there are proven methods to deal with that exact set of signs and symptoms. For me, attending a group therapy CBT course that specifically targeted to those with intense social anxiety was a very powerful way to tackle the problem.
posted by winterportage at 7:16 PM on December 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

So for context: I'm autistic, and also PoC, and the combination of that often means that anything we say that is along the lines of "hey X thing is actually pretty harmful for us/please reconsider this approach because Y" regardless of how gentle or fair we're being is automatically parsed as us being Angry and Mean and Personally Attacking. One common consequence of that has been people using their activated mental/emotional response against us, saying that it's not right that we triggered that in them, and then we end up being held responsible for that person's emotions - while having to disregard our own as though we can't possibly have had an emotional or mental response ourselves. Even now I'm trying to be really careful in my phrasing of my answer because past experiences have sometimes gone awry.

I wonder how people are phrasing those call-outs towards you, because they're not all created equal, but it feels like from your post (and from just my general observation) that any sort of criticism that may challenge someone's personal viewpoint of them being a good person is equally as bad and hurtful. Which is unfortunate, because a lot of times we're talking about what doesn't work for us in the spirit of care. We care about this relationship or community, we care about each other, that's why we're pointing out things that go wrong - so that we can learn and grow from it and improve the relationship.

Do some people take it too far and/or in an unhelpful direction? Yes. I've had my own tussles with that. But are all of them like this? No. Plenty are valid and reasonable, but they all get lumped into one call-out pile and nobody gets listened to because it's seen as worse to state harm being done than to cause harm.

Yes, please bring this to therapy, especially since this seems to be a recurring concern with other parts of your life. Therapists are much more equipped to handle this level of rejection sensitivity, and can help you discern between people just picking fights for no reason and people who have valid points and want to connect better.

The people saying to lose the concept of good person vs bad person are spot on. We are all capable of hurt and harm, just as we are all capable of doing great good. Not everything we do is correct or helpful and that's ok! But we learn from that, make whatever amends we can, and move on. Yes it can be upsetting to learn that something you did wasn't great, but there's not really much use being stuck in that moment. We can't make everyone happy, and hell there are plenty of times where what works for one group of people absolutely does not for another group! But life doesn't work by suck strict universal rules of conduct. We have to get comfortable with ambiguity, with getting it wrong sometimes, to own that, and to move along.
posted by creatrixtiara at 8:46 PM on December 2, 2022 [12 favorites]

But learning that by being corrected in a group feels really lacking in compassion and awareness of how people learn best.

I think it's sadly not that clear-cut. You have given a lot of reasons why it's often better to talk to someone in private and they are all good points. But there's also this idea that feedback works better if it's as immediate as possible, closely linked to a specific action still fresh on everyone's mind, because that strengthens the link between action and consequence. Sometimes you can't have both, and people prioritize differently.

I'm afraid this is one of the scenarios where the golden rule kinda fails and you really can't always go by what you yourself would prefer. There are quite a few situations, where I for instance would prefer a quick "Hey, not cool" in the moment to being taken aside later, which to me often seems like making a bigger deal about it than necessary. If you wait for the feedback till you catch that person alone, you have to spend quite a bit of time of recounting the offending incident. You have to have a whole converstion about it. "Hey, not cool" in the moment is faster, and therefore often less painful to me.

(I'm also sometimes almost more at ease with people who immediately cry Outch when I step on their toes, because when they seem fine, I can reasonably conclude that they're actually fine and I don't have to worry so much that they're stoically hiding their pain and secretly upset with me.)

I think private correction is more effective than public humiliation if the goal is positive learning.

I don't think public correction automatically equals public humiliation. Sure, sometimes people violate the rules of constructive feedback. They don't stick to a description of observable behavior, they make it about your whole value as person, they include all kinds of presumptions - and the resulting message really sounds like "You're a POS". It absolutely happens. But you yourself write that it doesn't happen that often - it's your trauma that makes you add all that destructive implications about your value as a person in your own mind.

We probably all do this to some degree or another, but that still doesn't make the connection between public correction and public humiliation as automatic as you present it here. Because one can absolutely learn how to not do this as much! And again, most people really have to actively learn this; few people are born with the ability to gracefully handle criticism. I certainly wasn't and I'm definitely still embarassed/humbled when corrected in public, but you know, embarassed/humbled is not the same as humiliated. "Wow, I didn't exactly cover myself in glory here" is not the same "I'm a POS". It still feels unpleasant, but it's not going to ruin my entire day.

What really helped me is giving myself more time to process the feedback. I remind myself that I really don't have to react immediately - I don't have to accept it, I don't have to reject it - I just have to register it and I can file it away for later, when I can think about it in peace, maybe get a second-opinion, see if others also have this issue, if there is a pattern or if this is a more idiosyncratic complaint and then I will decide how valid and relevant I find this feedback, and if I have to adjust my behavior - maybe just with this particular person, or maybe in general. I don't have to decide this right now. I can do this when I feel less upset.

Then I try to distract myself for a bit, and when I feel sufficiently okay about myself again, I don't actually find it that hard to think about my mistakes. To err is human! Man errs as long as he lives. Often the error is easy to correct! My standard for myself is not that I never make mistakes, but that I will make a good-faith effort to learn from them, and I'm doing that right now, so my sense of integrity is restored. Not all people will give me that margin of error (and they surely have their reasons - maybe they they never got much of a margin of error themselves, maybe they can't afford to give second chances), but a lot of people will, and it's okay for me to stick to those.

So, I disagree that public criticism has to amount to public humliation, and while I agree that private criticism is often preferable, I don't think that public criticism never has any didactic value. I really liked the way one of my college instructors handled the feedback on writing assignments - grammar errors are easy enough to mark and easy to correct, but stylistic problems, clumsy phrasing, etc. often requires longer explanation, you might have to write entire paragraphs to explain why a particular choice of word doesn't really work in this particular context, and of course with the usual teaching load of the average college instructor, you can't always do that. So what she would do instead is just add a comment "Ask me in class". And then there would be a section at the start of each class devoted to answering these quesitons and you could get extra-credit for class participation if you actually asked. You could also go to her office hours to ask her in private, but she really encouraged people to ask in class. A lot of these mistakes are very common after all, and if you personally hadn't made them in this assignment, you might have very well made them in the next one, so it's really not just a good learning opportunity for this specific student, it's a good learning opportunity for the entire class. This was maybe one of the most valueable classes in college for me - you probably learn the most from your own mistakes, but you can also learn a lot from other people's mistakes!

But yeah, there's no denying that learning outcomes for the person making the mistake are not always the top-priorty of public criticism. Still, that's okay too. There are other worthwile goals in some of these situations. For instance, when one of my students makes a joke that could read as homophobic, I don't necessarily assume malicious intent. But I will definitely call it out on the spot, so that the entire class can hear, because I can't assume that everyone in my class is heterosexual, and I need those potentially hurt by the joke to know that I will have their back.
posted by sohalt at 12:19 AM on December 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

(I wrote my comment before reading the entire thread, and now I think I'm a bit off-topic. Public criticism in internet-spaces can have its own dynamic; I was reading your question too generally).
posted by sohalt at 12:36 AM on December 3, 2022

Ok I was thinking about your question a bit more and it occurred to me this might be helpful for you to hear:

I relate to the part of your question where you say that your history of painful social rejection continues to make you sensitive to social critique. Me too. What has helped me more than anything has been the fact that I ended up in a job where I could not function if I took all of the negative feedback flung my way personally. I teach in higher ed, and while college students are generally easier than K-12, they can also be pretty cruel. My first job was in an institution with a large proportion of marginalized students, and then there was the pandemic - I constantly had to remind myself "Any negativity being directed towards you right now likely has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the trauma experienced/being experienced by the student."

My first semester teaching I had a student who, for whatever reason, was quick to peg me as a mean authority figure. This student would do things like roll their eyes at me when I asked them to put their cell phone away, regularly had to be told to take group work seriously, etc. At one point, they got the better of me and I raised my voice with them - something I regretted. Again, my mantra was "Don't take it personally" and so I continued on, treating them just like I'd treat any student - i.e. with kindness. Fast forward a little over the year, the student opted to take a second class with me, and let me know I was one of their favorite professors. Why did this student initially decide I was "bad"? Who knows, but I'm pretty confident it had less to do with me personally, and more to do with their previous relationships to teachers/authority figures.

This is sort of a round about way of saying - being a teacher, where students more or less have to spend time with me for a few hours a week over the course of a semester has helped me see how common it is for people to negatively react to me for reasons that have either very little to nothing to do with me. This is true for everyone. That's easier to realize in a situation where there is a regular community, like a classroom. It's really hard to experience that online though. But another mantra I encourage you to throw in the mix is "It's probably not personal"
posted by coffeecat at 10:23 AM on December 3, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: People think in ideologies. ‘My country, right or wrong,’ is an ideology. ‘People can be classified by race, and the race I belong to is undeniably the superior one’ is an ideology. ‘People should be valued based on how productive they are’ is an ideology. From the outside looking in, these ideologies are easy to see, and the problems with them easy to critique.

We don’t think about the ideologies we believe in as ideologies. To us, they’re common sense, the only morally acceptable choice, or objective truth. ‘Every human has unchangeable, inherent worth’ is also an ideology — and it is acutely uncomfortable to me to even imagine holding a different opinion.

I feel like you hold a set of ideologies that are common in the kinds of spaces you want to be in, among the kinds of people you want to be with:

- Racism / sexism / ableism / homophobia etc. is prevalent and harmful, and should be fought
- Everyone, especially white people, holds problematic attitudes as a result of living in a racist / sexist / ableist / homophobic world, and it is a virtuous act to investigate and change these attitudes
- Believing in racist / sexist / ableist / homophobic ideologies is wrong

I believe these ideologies myself. However, for people like us who overthink everything and feel things so intensely it can be debilitating, I do think it’s important to consciously identify them as ideologies, and to understand how human behavior and incentives come into play.

‘Investigating and changing problematic attitudes’ is part of this shared ideology, and yet public humiliation and shame is a lousy, counterproductive way to go about actually changing people's minds. Because it’s what people are doing, you then go on to assume that it must be the right thing to do, in some way that you can’t see, because everyone’s shared goal is the same. But the problem with that is that people subconsciously act emotionally and selfishly, causing them to actively sabotage the very thing they say — and even truly believe — that they most want. That is to say, you’re asking ‘Why do people do this if it doesn’t work?’ and there are several answers:

- They want to be seen as the purest of them all, thereby gaining status within the group and / or bolstering their own ego
- They want to avoid criticism of themselves by proactively criticizing others
- They enjoy feeling righteous (I think a lot about this tweet from Alexandra Erin: "Righteousness is the name we give to the feeling when you get an amazing dopamine hit out of being absolutely vicious in a way that you can feel good about. I don't know what sensation is more addictive to the human brain." I have never seen a situation where she wasn't spot on the money with this.)
- They enjoy being cruel, in a way that’s sanctioned by their community and hard to deflect
- They want influence and control over others (not just the person being called out, but the community as a whole)
- They feel frustration about the state of the world, and take it out on an accessible, softer target that they know they can ‘win’ against
- They don’t have the life experience, ability or desire to understand shades of gray, a sense of proportion or how to empathize with people who don’t share their beliefs (this often dovetails with being young, but certainly not always)
- They really, really, really want the world to be the way they think it should be, and firmly believe the beatings should continue until morale improves

What I’m saying is, people are motivated by things that aren’t their belief in their ideology, people act in ways that don’t make objective sense because of their emotions, and their actions bring them benefits that they and others feel uneasy about acknowledging openly.

I think the other big dynamic at play here is the idea that, because you believe an ideology, you're inclined to trust and want respect from other people who believe the same basic ideology — and if they proclaim a ‘purer’ version of the ideology, they must therefore be 100% correct. This is how people go from ‘ableist discrimination is harmful’ to ‘using ableist language as insults, such as calling someone blind when they’re being obtuse, is harmful’ to ‘using any language that could be possibly construed as ableist, such as an ‘all hands’ meeting, is harmful’ to ‘internalized ableism in your thoughts indicates that you’re morally suspect and unsafe to be around disabled people.’ Or, for that matter, how ‘we all have a responsibility to improve ourselves, even if that’s occasionally painful’ becomes ‘even if a community is harmful to you, it is so problematic to leave it and focus on yourself or other aspects of your life that you are immoral and selfish for even considering it.’ This is classic all or nothing thinking: the idea that anything adjacent to what you believe must also be true and correct, just because someone whose beliefs you generally share says it to be so, or because you can see some validity in the idea yourself.

My brain works in a similar way as yours, I suspect. And I very often imagine myself as a fountain. When I am taking care of my physical and mental health, when I feel balanced, when I have good people in my life, when I am treating myself as if I have value and deserve care, when I am doing things to make myself happy and my environment feels good to me, when I am limiting my exposure to things that unbalance me, that’s when I feel like a beautiful fountain, with plenty of fresh, clean water spraying into the sky, available for people to come drink from or admire as they please. The better care I take of myself, the bigger and grander the fountain is. This is when I’m able to take good care of the people around me, produce creative works, fulfill my responsibilities and be a positive force in the world.

But when I’m treating myself as if I don’t matter, when I’m feeling like I need to be perfect and approved of by everyone, when I’m not taking care of my own needs, when I’m spending a lot of time in my own head or reading stuff online that upsets me, when I’m not keeping up with the cognitive-behavioral exercises I do to manage my depression and anxiety, when I’ve been dealing with people who make me feel crappy, then I feel like one of those terrible school fountains where you have to push down the button as hard as you can and put your mouth right up to the fountain because only the tiniest little dribble of water is coming out. Seen in this way, it’s not virtuous to martyr myself. It’s a waste. It sounds paradoxical, but focusing on myself is the most basic part of adding something positive to the world.

What I hope you will take the time to think about is the way that your communities make you feel. Do the other people value you for yourself? Do you feel secure that when you screw up, they’ll still care for you, empathize with your feelings, and see the entirety of the person you are? Do you feel like people have your back, and if you’re being targeted unfairly, they’ll speak up for you? Do you feel good feelings when you’re with your group, and come away from it feeling good as well? Do people in your group produce things and feed off of each other’s creative energy, inspiring each other, or does your group as a whole do productive, meaningful work and have a greater meaning outside of itself? If you left the group, would anyone really notice or care?

If you’re answering most of these with ‘no,’ it is a healthy and good thing to leave, not problematic and cowardly. If you don’t feel ready to leave, though, you can at least start seeing the community as a collection of egos, ideologies and social games, populated by people with their own issues and agendas, rather than a space where your inherent worth is always at stake.

I got to a point in my life where I felt balance for the first time with David Burns’ books Feeling Good and Feeling Great. Feeling Good is comprehensive and specifically helped me work on issues such as feeling like I needed everyone's approval and not being able to let go of shame and guilt from tiny, long-ago events. However, it is showing its age. (I might even call the anger chapter -- ironically one of the most useful chapters to me -- problematic!) I think Feeling Great is a better book to start with, especially because of its focus on how the things that cause you the most misery are often the most noble, admirable things about you, not the things that need to be changed about you for your own good. I cannot imagine where I'd be without Dr. Burns' work. Since you already have a therapist, I also hope you'll talk about this with them. It's not a little thing! It's worth the cost and effort to help untangle your thoughts.
posted by shirobara at 11:46 AM on December 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

I was just talking to a friend who had experienced a somewhat upsetting message board pile-on over a deeply felt but reasonable disagreement - a genuine disagreement about approach where reasonable people could reasonably disagree.

What struck me was:

1. Internet messaging allows things to become a pile-on really fast without the pilers-on fully understanding that there are now, like, eighty similar responses to something.

2. Writing one message feels like one message. Receiving eighty feels really bad.

3. The internet makes it easy for legitimate intra-left differences of belief to get framed in moral terms rather than gamed out in a "you believe this, how will that work; now you the other person believe THIS, how will that work" way.

4. Internet spaces give a spurious impression of honesty - one person may feel confident in being really transparent about their situation, experience, etc, and another may not, but we tend to assume that unless someone says I HAVE X EXPERIENCE that everyone in the group has the same experiences. Not everyone wants to share really personal stuff with strangers on the internet, but that doesn't mean that people who don't share don't have an experience.

5. People feel pressure to perform, especially in moralized situations - people feel that they individually must distance themselves from what they disagree with, because they feel that they need to perform their internet persona since no one knows each other or can even see each other in the flesh to judge mood, body language, etc.

The other thing I was thinking was that the internet sometimes feels like One Big Forum - that is, if you have a really shitty experience in Toxic Message Board A, it's hard to turn that off when dealing with Serious Message Board B. If someone has been aggressively shitty to you because you typed "trans*" instead of "trans" and it generated a whole thread about what kind of moral monster would not know that "trans*" is bad now, then when you go to Message Board B, you still carry all that anxiety and all that emotion, and when someone says "hey, please don't say X, it's a common but offensive figure of speech", it can feel like the same old shitty trans*/trans thread.

I think this is also part of why people have such different responses to tales of internet bullying - some people are hanging out in Toxic Forum A and having terrible experiences, and some people are hanging out in Serious Forum B and getting a lot of privileged fragility pushback when they try to make gentle, courteous asks for respect, so when people whose experience is driven by shitty times in Forum A talk about it, people who have been insulted for just asking for the minimum courtesy and thoughtfulness in Forum B are really skeptical, because they have been told that it's "bullying" to ask that people not use historically bigoted language, etc.

But my point is that if you are experiencing a lot of toxic shaming and bullying over bad, moral-posturing stuff, it is probably coloring the way you experience gentle and legitimate criticism because it's all one internet. Especially if you really care about this stuff and really do try to act right, it can be hard to separate out all the strong feelings and manage them.
posted by Frowner at 7:51 AM on December 5, 2022 [6 favorites]

People are giving you feedback.

I mean people are giving you feedback here, obviously. And also people are giving you feedback that's precipitating the issue. The feedback here mostly seems aimed toward helping you, at your request. The feedback you're describing was, I imagine, not requested, and ranges all the way to the opposite end of the spectrum, I'm sure: people not aiming to help you. Some of them are prioritizing creating/maintaining a safe space for discussion. Some are angry with you, likely having made unfounded assumptions about your meaning and motives.

Probably something like a majority of the people giving you unsolicited feedback are more toward the middle: not prioritizing helping you, exactly, but also not acting in bad faith. Some think they're informing you, and probably hope you'll be appreciative of their feedback, because, I imagine, they're sure they handled things deftly, leaving only pure message.

That's key to resolving the issue you have here, I think. I think to be very online, we need to be able to separate the well-intentioned from the rest, and to discount what needs discounting. To the extent that these common online interactions can be healthy at all, they're healthiest when we can identify whether we're getting good feedback in good faith, good feedback that's not ideally executed, or bad feedback from what for our purposes we can just dismiss as a troll. But you're experiencing at least the first two types of feedback too similarly (and I imagine the third type doesn't make your day either.)

Obviously my trying to reframe this as just feedback -- in some important ways similar to the pain we feel when we touch a hot pan on the stove, or yes get honked at while driving -- isn't some magic finger click. I can't imagine my trying to work through this without a therapist. But that would be my approach, I think -- to learn not to get any madder at kindly correction and then at even inartful correction than I would get at the pan on the stove. In both instances, you're getting information that is valuable to you. I'd be looking for ways to keep my focus on the information, and in most cases to discount the execution of the delivery. Part of that, as mentioned by others above, is to recognize that a harsh delivery likely is more about the other party than it is about you or what you did. I find that with arbitrary groups of people, good luck getting more than like four of them together without one of them being an asshole (present forum excepted, of course). I would hope a therapist could help me learn to say, as appropriate, 'well *that* guy sucks at this, but i do see his point,' as well as 'troll; where's the Block button on this site, anyway?' and then to move on. Meditation also might be useful; it can help you train yourself generally to act instead of react, to put some temporal space in between the thing and what you do about it, which really can help with emotional reaction that's so forceful that it ruins your day/week/life.
posted by troywestfield at 12:57 PM on December 8, 2022

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