March 02, 2010

Choosing a Safe Cyber-Community

Les Muses, Maurice Denis

< ------------ This was my initial vision of a recovery forum

Members would bask in one another's company as if we were having a lovely picnic in the woods where diverse personalities could overcome differences, affiliate, tend and befriend through compassionate conversations, expressing tender affection for one another's fragility. We'd share sob fests and mutual tear sessions and conclude an afternoon of honest self-disclosure with generous hugs and cheerful adieus: "Au Revoir, mes amies! Tomorrow Will Be a Better Day than Yesterday, or Today!"

I think my state of mind at the time could be called: idealization; naivet√©; blissful ignorance; pseudillogical fantastica. Whatever we wanna call it, it wasn't Reality.

Inexperience may describe my callowness managing a community-anything, much less a recovery group where people's emotions are on edge, distrust alienates people from one another including themselves, projections fly back and forth like ping-pong tournaments on the poop deck, and narcissism is spotted in potted plants, not to mention the forum manager. If a manager wasn't exactly NPD per se, she at least had some form of psychopathy or mental brain disorder. That much was obvious by her greedy-needy-sheety desire for power and control.

This picture tells the real tale behind the WoN message board:

The Web of Narcissism Recovery Forum
Organized 2005

Before describing a healthy recovery group, let me say right up front that creating a support group is a complicated undertaking when forum members are reeling in the aftermath of abuse, trauma, rejection, abandonment, family-or-origin issues, and Oreo Cookie Syndrome. Now that the Internet sponsors thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of message boards, it's important to educate yourself as a consumer before getting caught in the cross-fire. Or being forced to walk the plank when pirates throw cyber-chums to circling sharks. If there's one thing a victim does not need, it's re-victimization by a support community.

My opinion about healthy support is based on my cyber-journey starting in 2002, coupled with participation in a 12-step group providing a template for Doing as Little Harm to Others as Possible. 

A gentle environment is conducive to healing. 

That's the guiding principle underscoring my beliefs about healthy versus unhealthy cyber-support. If you like chaos and bickering and high anxiety, mutinies, paranoia, criticism, smear campaigns, in-fighting, out-fighting, snide remarks slighting anyone daring talk about themselves, then read no further. You won't agree with my philosophy and you'd really hate the WoN message board anyway.

For those who might be looking for support because of a narcissistic relationship: Be aware that you may be drawn towards replicating the dynamics you were ‘used to’ in the N-relationship. That means chaos will feel familiar. Bullying or attacking members (or watching leaders bully and attack members) will feel familiar. Idealizing a leader as having all the answers will feel similar to the narcissistic relationship. As you become aware of how you reacted in the narcissistic relationship, you will be better able to spot dysfunction in all relationships, even recovery groups.

There are scads of groups on the web where members walk on eggshells, paranoia runs rampant and yet, leaders are idealized as being ‘strong’ and ‘competent’. This also replicates false notions about strength that we were groomed to accept in the narcissistic relationship.

The reason I believe we need a gentle environment for healing is because our 'healing' will not be distracted by board member’s disputes and arguments. We’re likely looking for a way to avoid anxiety (and lordnose, anxiety is at an all-time high when we’re healing) and message board disputes distract. We might ‘like’ or ‘enjoy’ intermittent chaos but it’s not conducive to restoring trust, feeling safe, increased comfort with self-disclosure and brutal honesty about our feelings, thoughts and behaviors.

Fundamental to healthy support, is the group’s understanding of emotional trauma and forum member’s empathy for people who are coping with crisis. This is why I believe recovery from emotional trauma ought never be confrontational. This opinion is based on my cyber-experience in numerous groups. Some were soft on confrontation, allowing me to progress comfortably and others were dedicated to shattering defenses like a Dr. Laura Radio Show. Now that might be entertaining to lurkers and it might even satisfy a leader’s aggressive instincts, but ultimately, this approach harms fragile people. Tenderness, patience, kindness, empathy, sympathy, and yes even love for wounded people is a prerequisite to healthy recovery in a cyber community. If a leader cannot tolerate victimization because she has not done her own recovery work, she will be prone to attacking anyone triggering her fear of vulnerability.

So no, I don’t believe there is such a thing as "puppy dog and rainbow forums" enabling members to stay stuck in their muck. When it comes to breaking down ego defenses, it's time to call in the professionals. I find it wholly arrogant for a lay-person (or a support group) to destroy a board member’s defenses and then justify aggression as beneficial. I’ve argued this point innumerable times and sometimes got myself banned, pathologized, or dismissed as an codependent enabler; but you see, I knew from direct experience, that breaking through defenses was potentially dangerous. It's like stealing somebody's clothes when it's hailing outside and then expecting them to 'thank you' for exposing their nekkidness to the neighborhood.

Here's the thing: The safer I felt, the more I was accepted within the community and valued as a contributor, the quicker my defenses diminished on their own. I did not need someone to use a golden hammer to knock sense into my head. I needed to trust my own psyche to know when the time was right---and the right time always comes faster if we’ve established safety for ourselves.

Aggression ought never be justified nor interpreted as ’strength’. It is not. It is aggression and it is counterproductive to healing. When vulnerable members are attacked, this is not compassion---no matter how bullying leaders may try to justify their lack of compassion.

Respect, Dignity, Inclusion, & Collaberation

Am I respected, treated with dignity, included?

Am I willing to collaborate with others?

1-Protect your anonymity and make sure your name is not recognizable. Never include actual places, schooling, children’s ages, real names, or other identifiable information that might be traceable. This does not mean fabricating a personal history that isn’t true. Healing demands rigorous honesty, so being honest with yourself means disclosing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Yours. The person who benefits the most is yourself, and it really doesn't matter if you call yourself Calamity Jane or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

2-Lurk to see if forum members jerk each other around. Lurk to see if forum members know one another as friends, not posts. Lurk long enough to witness at least one altercation so you can see how management deals with ‘disputes and/or differences of opinion’.

3-Avoid GroupThink. That means allowing for alternative ways of coping. If there is one-way and one way only (and the manager or group leader has all the answers), run the other direction. Do another google search. People are complex. Narcissists are complex. There is no one way to solve a problem or reduce human beings to ‘templates’.

4-Avoid groups pushing a time-table. True recovery is s-l-o-w.

5-Be wary of confrontational groups encouraging leaders to confront board members perceived to be In Denial. ARGH! People have ego defenses for a reason: to protect themselves from insupportable pain. It is irresponsible to shatter defenses without being there to support them afterwards. Respect the limitations of cyberspace.

6-Avoid groups pathologizing partners, parents, or children of narcissistsBe cautious whenever there’s a suggestion that narcissists attract the weak-minded, the co-dependent, the fragile, the insecure, etc. There may be precipitating factors to the N-relationship or even mental illness of some kind; but so far, research has not proven a direct correlation between preceding mental problems and a subsequent relationship with a narcissist. Again, people are complex.

7-Avoid the excitement of chaos on a message board (it’s tempting, I know!). Reading a forum because it’s exciting to witness confrontation distracts us from our own process.

8-Be cautious about groups with a financial incentive. This doesn't mean pay-for-participation is a bad thing. It takes an enormous amount of time to manage a forum and most people do not have the luxury of donating their time without financial compensation. However, there are lots of volunteer groups on the web that are free (or supported by donations from active board members).

9-Avoid groups that delete, ban, and cancel memberships without warning. This creates a paranoid situation again, frightening members to tow the mark or lose membership.

10-Stay away, I repeat, Stay Away from groups encouraging retaliation and vengeance.

11-How much do you know about the ‘leader’? In a group, that may not be important but in a community, self-disclosure is essential. The less we know about a leader, the more our imagination ‘fills-in-the-blanks’ and in the case of narcissistic victims, idealization overrides reality.

12-Learning about pathology is important but the belief that we can overcome trauma and tragedy is vital to a supportive community. Recovery is possible; recovery skills can be learned; recovery skills are best taught by those who have integrated them in daily life. (link)

13-Narrative, narrative, narrative. Self-disclosure is crucial. Be willing to make mistakes, to admit problems and issues, to ask for help and receive help. Use the message board to write about yourself and integrate the whole of your experience. Putting experiences into words makes them real. We get to know ourselves and other people do, too. What we generally discover is that "we are good enough, nice enough and gosh darn it, people like us."

Remember: Self-Help should make you feel stronger, more confident in who you are as an individual, and more aware of what you think and believe. Self-help ought never increase dependence on external authorities, nor heighten hidden fears and increase suggestibility. 

During the self-help process, here are a few questions you can ask yourself:
Does the forum provide an array of information rather then relying on a single ‘expert’?
How well does the forum broaden discussions without limiting them to one 'right' perspective, or one 'expert'?
How inclusive is the forum? Does the forum depend on exclusivity to define itself as unique or even superior to other groups? 
Does the group collaborate in problem-solving, allowing members to determine right answers for him or herself? 
Do discussions encourage introspection? Are you gaining a deeper awareness of who you are? 
Is your self-identity becoming integrated with your past and are you becoming comfortable in your own skin? 
Does the group encourage the “I” pronoun?

Daring to use the capital “I” is important for people who might be unsure of themselves. Our task is to ‘claim’ our experience, define for ourselves who we are and become familiar with what we believe. Any group that pathologizes someone for using too many "I"'s lacks awareness of the fragmentation of trauma and abuse. Speak up and tell yourself who you are. Claim “I” as a means for defining what’s important to you and who you are as a person. It’s not easy eliminating the false notions we have accepted about ourselves during the N-relationship (whether as a partner, parent, or child). Being comfortable with yourself means being comfortable saying ‘I’.

If anyone would like to contribute experiences and thoughts about cyber support, please add your comments to this post. I'd very much appreciate hearing from those who have participated in cyber communities. This is a new way to reach people who might be unable to find group support in their community. Learning how to provide safe and reliable cyber support is an ongoing process.
"We know the rules of community; we know the healing effect of community in terms of individual lives. If we could somehow find a way across the bridge of our knowledge, would not these same rules have a healing effect upon our world?
"We human beings have often been referred to as social animals. But we are not yet community creatures. We are impelled to relate with each other for our survival. But we do not yet relate with the inclusivity, realism, self-awareness, vulnerability, commitment, openness, freedom, equality, and love of genuine community. 
"It is clearly no longer enough to be simply social animals, babbling together at cocktail parties and brawling with each other in business and over boundaries. It is our task--our essential, central, crucial task--to transform ourselves from mere social creatures into community creatures. It is the only way that human evolution will be able to proceed." ~Howard Rheingold



Narcissistic Continuum: Online Support
Narcissistic Continuum: Group Versus Community
Narcissistic Continuum: The Democratization of Knowledge
Narcissistic Continuum: Judith Herman on group recovery


  1. Such a wonderful article as always. You're blog always brings me such peace, humor, caring, etc. A few years ago when I was in so much pain, I had joined some blogs that made me feel so awful. This one NEVER did, and I am grateful. I have found the most healing here. I thank you from the bottom of my heart!


  2. You've Made My Day, anonymous!

    A few years ago, I was still kinda funny but my humor was mean-spirited and rude.

    At least that's what my husband's girlfriend said about my messages.


    Life is so weird. You simply have to start laughing at the absurdity or go full-on nutz yourself!

    I'm so pleased you find comfort, caring, and peace reading my blog. That's the nicest thing a woman like myself could ever hear!


  3. CZ -- will you marry me? It's obvious we are meant for each other!

    Tee hee.

    Ok. so that's not going to happen but I just so love you. And I so love your wisdom and ability to share it with both forthrightness and humour.

    Fabulous article. Great steps and advice and insight.

    You are a WoW!!!!!!!!! :)

    PS -- and yes, we will be labelled but those who truly know, who read your words and see the beauty and spirit and honesty and love in each syllable -- they will always stand beside and with you.

    I am so blessed to have shared this journey with you. You are a gift in my life.

  4. Thanks for posting that. I'm a victim of what appears to be some kind of unethical and quite disturbing non consensual experimentation. When I looked up resources for this, there was lots of misleading information on the internet. Worse than that, there are groups set up for victims apparently by the experimenters themselves. Many of the victims have been misdirected into rather useless political action, a re-working of terms, and conspiracy theories that far outreach the scope of what this is. Apparently the trauma of the victimization and the lack of justice (I have a case with evidence that is being stonewalled) leads victims to higher suggestibility - and the wolves are right there on the internet to convince victims that this is something other than what it is. I ended up believing things to some extent, and was polite to others about absurd theories as to what this is, but finally figured out that the groups themselves are a way of further damaging victims - keeping them socially isolated, increasing paranoia and keeping them busy with causes that won't solve this problem.

    The groups always had a more vocal person or leader who wouldn't respond to simple questions (e.g., one suggested victims sue "the government" - I ask - "What part of the government? We don't know who is generating it," and got a typical deflection. Others in other groups don't allow for real dialogue. I suspended any sympathy I might have for real victims among them and simply cut off.

    I'm not dealing with an individual narcissist, but the narcissism of involuntary experimentation involving trauma, but what other readers might take from this is that indeed groups are dangerous for recovery - many can try to take advantage of victims in their weakest moment. Thanks for posting this. Victims of controlling individuals need to be more careful than most.

  5. Ok. I'm a novice, I don't even own a computer. Don't have email and I have never "blogged"(?). Cant understand some of the shorthand used.
    I've just found myself here!
    Been looking and trying to find somewhere to "air" my problems/feelings. Would like to get answers and change a few things.
    To make things a little clearer, I think I have n.mother, maybe I am n. My partner and I have lots of difficulties that need ironing out (not sure if thats ever going to happen, but....).
    Can any one direct me?
    Thank you anyway X

  6. Hi Pennywell,

    Please visit our community here:

    Paste the link into your browser and you'll be connected to our forum where you'll find the help you need.

    We have several people who are dealing with narcissistic mothers, so you'll find good support for yourself while you learn about narcissism


  7. Excellent article-I especially liked the guidelines you outlined.
    I've witnessed a handful of forum implosions, in the last few years, and it's a sickening thing to witness.

    I hate seeing someone who's already been through an emotional wringer get further traumatized, when they thought they'd found a safe place.Considering that many of us survivors turn to online support, because we don't have safe place IRL, the online support groups can feel like the last safe refuge. So, yes absolutely, shopping carefully is very sound advice.

    1. Hello anon!

      Is the group learning together? Or is the group reinforcing dysfunctional behaviors? That's important to look for.

      I make no pretense about being a perfect forum manager. There have been a number of situations that blew up in front of my eyes, overwhelming me with making good decisions that respected everyone in the group.

      I've made mistakes. That's why the only people who join WoN are those who are willing to forgive their fallible leader who tries, imperfectly and clumsily, to do the right thing. Say the right thing. Make peace.

      I've participated in some not-so-great groups with high scores in yucky narcissism; and I started out on a midlife crisis forum with little to no moderation.

      When dealing with victims of narcissists however, it's very important to select a group that is gentle. Pixie dust and rainbows gentle. This is taking care of ourselves---being in a group that allows essential connections between the traumatized self and others, to grow.

      My goal since organizing WoN has been focused on people with Complex PTSD, protecting the environment on WoN to re-connect them to the good part of human nature: compassion, empathy, altruism, and love.

      We still, despite our mission statement and focus, have occasional upsets. But my goal even then, is protecting the most fragile among us who actually THRIVE once they feel accepted by the group.

      The rest of us tough ol' birds can write blogs if we wanna argue and fight. ha!

      Thanks for your comments...they're very much appreciated!


  8. Hi CZ,

    This article should come in a "starter pack" for Acon bloggers. Having spent now close to nine months being in a cyber-community I have learned that love, kindness and a safe space are the only way to heal. Knowledge and truth are good for validation and do help you to ground yourself, but to really heal the wounds, you need the other three.

    Lots of love,


    1. A Starter Pack isn't a bad idea, Kara!

      I have learned by direct affiliation with angry groups that love, kindness and safety are IMPERATIVE. Drama and chaos prolong (or prevent) healing.

      If people hope to 'Live the Gentle Life', hugs and loves and all that yummy stuff making life WoNderful, they need a safe place where they can lay down their armor and weaponry. We try, as a management team, to provide the safest forum possible.

      Love back,


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...