To a certain extent I think Community Managers, by nature of the role responsibilities, have a requirement to address the issues that deeply impact individuals and our communities as a whole.

My Position is This:
Whether or not our page or business has anything to do with that issue, if its affecting our community we should address it.

In late October and November, the discussion around health and mental health builds. HealthConnect is an event that took place in Toronto last month I’ve recommended for a number of my NFP and charity clients. Also, there is an increasing volume of activity and social media discussion around mental health, suicide, depression and bullying. It seems like Amanda Todd, the teenager from BC who reached out for help on YouTube but took her life not long after, really sparked the discussion that seems to come so regularly in the Winter months anyway.

So my question is this: Is it possible to be the first person who abuses?
There was a line in the movie “The Color Purple” where Celie says to Albert, her abuser “Everything you done to me…
…is already done to you.”
which expresses to me the knowledge that bullies have been abused or bullied themselves, makes me wonder – is it possible a bully can come from a history of zero abuse and be the first?

My Story of Standing Up To Bullies
I’ve said for a long time if we want kids to stop bullying each other we adults have to stop demonstrating that behavior for them by regularly bullying each other. After being put in the position of having to tolerate the abuse/bullying in my whole childhood, a few years ago finally I put my foot down and said anyone who bullies me or abuses me in any way has no place in my life. Especially family members who have kids – I had to stop enabling them to demonstrate to their kids that bullying behavior and abusive talk is acceptable, as they were stuck in a pattern of denial and emotional manipulation.

Since standing up to my bullies in my job, my family and my circle of friends, and even in my business, I have a lot less “friends” and a lot more happiness. When I tell my story of standing up to them, people who still feel stuck frequently ask details of how I did it, how I managed to rid those toxic relationships from my everyday life. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fast but my approach was basically this: I did my best to express how I felt when they spoke to me in an abusive, emotionally manipulative or bullying manner – with some people I had to do this on a numerous occasions and with increasing expressiveness. If they continued to treat me in a way that triggered my feelings of anxiety, humiliation or embarrassment, I cut them out of my life, with the belief they are either incapable or simply not interested in changing their behavior towards me. I had a problem with their treatment of me and I gave them the option to fix the situation and keep a relationship with me; when they chose not to or were unable to show me effort to make a change, I fixed the situation (of being in a constant state of bully-triggered-anxiety) myself, by not giving them the opportunity anymore. I feel liberated now. I could have denied that I was being bullied (first line of defense – denial) and lived the rest of my life waiting for their pattern of behavior to change (second line of defense – apathy).

If I had allowed it to continue, I would also have continued to suffer increasing depression, anxiety and self-doubt while trying in vain to live up to another person’s standard of approval for me (something I see many people do) and never actually decided what I wanted in my life for myself. I feel sad for myself for not having the supportive relationships that other people take for granted, but I know that ultimately I am not responsible for their poor treatment of me and I could not tolerate it anymore. Slowly but surely, I am finding good and supportive people firmly by my side.

At Some Point, My Standard of Happiness Changed
After much therapy and contemplation of my childhood and asking myself the question “Why am I like this?”, there came a day where my standard of acceptable treatment changed. The day I realized that as long as I tried to live up to other people’s expectations of me, I was wasting every day on an impossible task, I realized I had to stop allowing myself to be manipulated and guilted into wrong behavior, and I had to begin to live life for myself, for my unique dreams, interests & abilities.

Of course not everything is perfect and it still takes months and years of ongoing effort to achieve some of my larger goals, but I do have more self confidence and know for a fact not another day is being wasted. If I die tomorrow, I will have enjoyed the last bunch of days (much more than if I were being bullied) and truly given my best heart and efforts towards my ideas, dreams and plans.

I also recognize that some of the people reading this post aren’t able to stand up to the bullies and abusers in their life and this is why we need as a society, to stand up to bullying wherever we see it – in our homes, in our schools and in our workspaces. Those communities where we are most active and give the most of our time, energy and life.

What is bullying? Rants, accusations, guilt trips, emotional manipulation and especially denial all constitute unacceptable bullying behavior. If you turn a blind eye or ignore bullying you are enabling the bully and in many ways giving your approval of it. Worse, you are demonstrating it as acceptable for any children who admire you.

So what do we do when teens are being cyber-bullied? I don’t really know for sure, but I’d sure like to explore some of the options. It was a good to see a number of major organization this year create programs around mental health and reducing the stigma of conversation or finding help.

In 2011 I was cyber bullied by a person in business and I found the impact especially painful – when people send mean, nasty tweets on regular Twitter it can be temporarily humiliating, but it’s not that bad because I found I’m able to surround myself quickly with normal people Tweeting nice conversation with me. But when people tweet threats in a DM (Direct Message or Private Message), those tweets actually stay at the top of your Twitter DM tab for a long time (a month or more), repeating the abusive messages anytime you simply check in on your DM inbox; even when someone else tweets something mundane or friendly to you, the abuser’s painful DM is still there and nearly impossible to remove. No matter what age or sex you are, bullying is abuse and destructive to everyone involved.

So we need to have more discussion around how we treat each other, and make a commitment to consider the impact of words digitally cemented and borne from anger, frustration or with an attempt to manipulate.

I’m not sure what the solution is, but I know that I have to be quick to stand up for myself, for others and to continue to have the conversation anytime I can, especially on social media, so that I can be sure I’m moving towards my own best life and away from the people who would rather abuse and manipulate me instead of support me. I want to become more involved with the organizations and campaigns that are working to this outcome and using social media to keep the conversation on the front burner, and even work to create some programs of my own.

What do you do to support the health of the communities you’re charged with managing? Even if your community is about an event, a retail product or service not related to mental health, is the mental health of your community members your responsibility?

Please let me know in the comments below, or if you’d like to have a private conversation, email me at [email protected]

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