Life in a Bind – BPD and me

Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and my therapy journey. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by goodtherapy.org. I write for welldoing.org under the name Clara Bridges.

Negative blog comments – the risks and responsibilities of blogging

22 Comments

In two and a half years of blogging I have been extremely fortunate not to have received any adverse or critical comments on my posts – until now.

I think I would have been naïve had I believed this wouldn’t happen, and in a way I’m surprised it has taken this long. I think that if we choose to put our lives in our writing and to put our writing ‘out there’, even anonymously, we have to be prepared for the fact that some people will not only not like it or will disagree with us, but will also make that known in ways that are hurtful, unpleasant or aggressive.

The comment in question was left on my post ‘Who do you call ‘mother’?’. The comment ‘informed me’ that my therapist is not my mother and that I should ‘deal with it’, and moreover that the reader had never heard anything more ridiculous. I haven’t published the comment – not because I want to censor negative comments, but because it was also scathing about my therapist. Not only do I strongly disagree with what was said about her, I don’t feel it’s fair to publish something to which my therapist doesn’t have the opportunity to respond. Although my blog is anonymous I’m still very careful to protect her privacy in any way I can; she didn’t choose to be part of my blogging journey.

Receiving that comment was an unpleasant shock, and I’ll admit that despite the security I feel and the strength of the relationship I have with my therapist, it triggered a tiny voice which sided with the reader in accusing me of believing in an illusion. But that voice was easily dealt with by the other parts of me and by talking it through with my therapist, and the biggest effect of the comment was that it made me think again about the risks that we take and the responsibility that we bear, if we blog or if we read or comment on others’ blogs, particularly perhaps, in the field of mental health.

I have always been a firm believer in the need to protect my therapy, in the way that I might protect a marriage or a friendship from temptation or threat. I am always conscious that although blogging can be a very positive means of self-expression, processing and ‘working things through’, there are also risks involved. There is a risk from myself, that I will do something to undermine and unsettle the work of therapy, and there is a risk from others, as was demonstrated by the comment I received.

When we blog about our therapy, we are writing about the most vulnerable parts of ourselves, and about a unique and uniquely important relationship with our therapists. We are laying those things bare in front of an audience of unknown size and unknown characteristics – friend or foe, compassionate or scathing, hurting or wanting to hurt. We are fragile and yet with every post we take the risk that as well as being helped and encouraged, we could be harmed and torn down. We hope it is the former, but sometimes, regrettably, it is the latter.

I am as open and as honest in my writing as I can be, but I do sometimes hold back, and it tends to be about the most intimate and precious things that happen in therapy. Sometimes I hold back because the moment feels too new and too private still, to share – it may never be shared, or I may write about it several months later. Sometimes I hold back because of that wish to protect my therapist’s privacy. Interestingly, the post that drew the negative comment, ‘was right on the edge of what I felt able to write about. This was because the subject matter felt so precious and intimate and therefore I felt even more strongly I had to be conscious of my therapist’s privacy. Perhaps the fact that I received that comment, shows that I did in fact ‘step over’ that edge, and my worries about intimacy and privacy may have been justified.

As for the ways in which we can pose a risk to ourselves, with our writing, Alison Crosthwait, a psychotherapist, writer and blogger based in Canada, put it beautifully in her collection of essays entitled ‘What it feels like to change’. I find this section so helpful that I wanted to quote it in full:

“I sometimes think of therapy as a steam kettle  – over time, the emotions rise. If I talk about what is happening for me in therapy with someone other than my therapist, it is like taking the cover off the steam kettle. All the energy is released. The problem is that this energy is the heart of the work. So if I release it outside the room, all that potential could go to waste. For example:

My therapist tells me that she is going away for two weeks in March. I go home and I tell my partner “My therapist is going away. I can’t believe she is going away again – she was away for three weeks over Christmas. It is like she is never here long enough for our work to deepen.”

What have I done here? I let me anxiety and anger and upset bleed out of the therapy room. When I see my therapist again I am no longer so upset – I have expressed my feelings and been heard. But not by her. Something important has ben said, but it has been said outside the room. And as a result the feelings that I have about her holiday are not expressed in the context of our relationship. So I can’t learn what the feelings mean. And I don’t get the opportunity to experience my therapist’s response to my feelings. “

This doesn’t mean that we can never talk to anyone else about what is going on in therapy, or that we can never write about it either. As Alison also wrote, “There is a difference between keeping a secret and holding on to something for the place it belongs.” For me, this means being very aware never to use blogging as a way of communicating with my therapist, when I should be talking to her instead. I will sometimes hold off writing or publishing a post if it concerns material that I have not yet raised with her in session. She reads my posts, and though I’m happy for her to read about my processing of material that she is already aware of (and where I don’t feel the need to do substantial further processing ‘in the room’), I would never want to raise ‘new’ material in a post, that she is completely unaware of. To me, that is a very important part of protecting the therapy and not undermining it, as well as ensuring that I don’t miss out on the opportunity to deepen the therapy relationship itself, and to experience everything it has to offer.

For me, protecting the therapy is also about what I read, as well as what I write. There are a few blogs that I love to read but was determined to avoid over the summer therapy break. I knew I was likely to be particularly vulnerable to the parts of me that wanted to protest against my therapist ‘leaving’ and I was worried that reading about others’ therapeutic relationships, particularly if they were going through tough times, would be triggering. I have also read fewer books about therapy recently, as I know that I am tempted to look for ‘the right answer and the right way of doing things’, whereas there is no ‘right answer’ and I need to find my own way through. For example, I am for the moment avoiding reading about Schema based therapy, despite the great value I find in thinking of myself in terms of ‘parts’. I am worried that reading about it will divert the development of my own thoughts and finding the expression of this ‘parts idea’ that works best for me.

Reading about others’ experiences can be comforting, valuable and supportive, but there is also the risk that it will introduce ‘interlopers’ into our own therapy, and that we will become involved in another’s difficulties in a way that too easily provides us with an outlet for our own. Both have happened to me, and in both cases the subject matter itself was valuable and significant. However, either it interjected itself into the middle of another important thread in therapy, where it landed out of the blue and in a bit of a vacuum; or it didn’t find authentic expression in our work – that is, I was using another’s situation to act out my own feelings about the topic, rather than drawing on my own experience.

We have a responsibility to ourselves and our therapy to protect the work, but in reading and commenting on blogs, we also have a responsibility towards others. Much as I believe in protecting my own therapy, I also strongly believe in affirming and not undermining others’ therapy relationships and processes. I’m sure that sometimes I fail, and that sometimes I make less than helpful comments, even if I intend to be kind and supportive. But I try to remember that no one ‘on the outside’ can ever know what goes on in the room between therapist and client, however much detail a blogger gives in their posts. We read a tiny fraction of what is conveyed (in words or body language), remembered or spoken about, and we gain an idea of the quality of the therapeutic relationship that barely skims the surface. In addition, everyone’s process in therapy will be different, because of the individuality of the particular client and therapist and their unique interaction, as well as the client’s (and therapist’s) unique set of experiences.

I also try and remind myself that what I read about in others’ blogs is necessarily one-sided and is the view of someone taking a journey and changing as they go, and that their needs and views will vary over time. For example, it is so natural to want to soothe a distressed fellow-blogger who is experiencing a rupture with their therapist, and to want to validate their feelings and show that I am ‘on their side’. But I sometimes need to remind myself that appearing to side with them (and by implication to side against their therapist), may not ultimately be helpful and may only undermine their therapy. Though I may not understand why their therapist has done or said x, y or z, I have to trust that, in the absence of any blatant evidence to the contrary, their therapist knows them and knows what they are doing, even if I or the fellow-blogger, cannot see the rationale at that particular point in time. I can still validate without ‘taking sides’. And the lovely thing about supportive relationships in the blogosphere is that like friendships, as they develop and as people get to know each other better, they also trust and are trusted enough to even be able to kindly challenge, where appropriate. I have often found my friends’ compassionate challenges even more helpful than their words of encouragement.

But there was nothing kind or compassionate about the ‘challenge’ that I received in that blog comment. In a way though, I’m glad that I received it, as it ended up being incredibly thought-provoking. I won’t patronise the reader by speculating on their motivations or situation, or wishing them a different sort of experience. If they want to comment again, that is up to them – I can’t promise to publish it, depending on the content and who it is directed at. I’d be more than happy to engage in a discussion about whatever topic they wish – but with the proviso that we both take seriously the responsibility towards our own, and others’ well-being, and the power that our words have for good, or ill.

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22 thoughts on “Negative blog comments – the risks and responsibilities of blogging

  1. I’ve had a couple negative comments but overall positive. It’s the negative ones that really get to me I think I need thicker skin but it’s the nature of this kind of blogging we are so raw. I enjoy your blog and I’m glad it hasn’t detour you from it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! And I’m very glad you’ve had overall positive comments….I think that’s important to remind ourselves of, that even when we get 1 or 2 really negative comments, there are usually a much larger number of positive comments, and we have a choice about which ones to believe and concentrate on…..thank you so much for continuing reading and ‘liking’ my posts and I’m so glad you still enjoy my blog – you were one of my very first readers and I really really appreciate that! 🙂 x

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  2. I really like how you wrote this.. Especially the part about protecting the therapeutic relationship and doing the work within session. Really lovely.

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  3. So sorry you got a comment like that. I don’t really comment much, but I appreciate your candor as I fumble my way through my own therapy. It helps me feel less alone. I have parental transference for my male T, and it has been painful and beautiful at the same time. Hearing other people who go through similar things is comforting.

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  4. Dear Liab – I deeply resonate with the difficulty of negative comments – they seem to stick out in a sea of positive ones! It takes courage to put our work into the world. Ultimately I believe that we can say anything with kindness. But when people are brusque or even cruel in their comments or perhaps just thoughtless I recognize that they are speaking from a wound and hold it that way, trying not to conflate it with my own insecurities and shame. What a great discussion on the risks and responsibilities of blogging. So well said. Thanks for your writing as always.

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    • Hi Alison, so good to hear from you! Thank YOU for inspiring me and for your wonderful quote and writing too, and thank you for your kind words. I did wonder about what place of hurt the individual may have been coming from – but at the same time didn’t want to explicitly make assumptions about that perhaps being the case. I know that in the past when I’ve been hurting but not recognised why, it has felt extremely difficult for others to name that ‘hurt’ which felt like ‘weakness’. Thankfully, and particularly in the light of the wonderful positive comments on here, the comment didn’t trouble me too much – the biggest effect it had was leading me to write this post, and I’m pleased I did that 🙂

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  5. I’m always moved by your vulnerability and courage in sharing your therapeutic journey.

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  6. Brilliant post. I’ve had a couple of negative comments and one or two downright nasty/verging on abusive on my blog. It is really hard when you are putting your heart and soul out to the world to have it critiqued and cruelly judged. Surprisingly all though I get annoyed or slightly hurt, it hasn’t really affected me or my therapy relationship and I am able to see that that person is projecting their own stuff onto me.
    The analogy about the kettle resonated with me. But I know as part of my process I need a separate space to talk and think things through. I don’t think it detracts from the therapy process for me because I will always take what’s bothering me into the therapy room. And really, since therapist’s have peer support and supervision to talk things through, couldn’t the same be said about them taking the work outside of the relationship? I suppose there’s merits in both ways.
    I also totally understand that feeling of wanting to protect precious moments between you and your therapist. I have had many that I’ve wanted to write about yet somehow they don’t translate onto paper, the nuances of them are lost and often I know that it might spark comments/worries/judgments about what a therapist should or shouldn’t say. And sometimes I just want to keep them to myself.
    This post was so good, thank you for writing it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much Sirena for your wonderful comments! I’m really glad you liked it and it resonated 🙂 I agree with so much of what you say – sometimes I want to keep those moments to myself, sometimes they don’t translate, sometimes I’m worried about what people will think…..and as Dr S has pointed out in another comment, and as you have said too, it can’t be that absolutely everything needs to be confined to the therapy room. As you said, you take the stuff you need to into therapy as well, and perhaps we all have our own sense and barometer for what we need to ‘protect’ and what can safely and without loss be described or shared outside session. And of course our ‘therapy journey’ has input from all sorts of places including books, music, art, and the thoughts and comments of other people too…thank you again for your lovely comment!

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  7. You know? I salute you for your courage and ability to write down and express so many emotions. I am still disconnected from myself, and I can’t validate nor identify my emotions.
    I identify so much with what you write here. I love reading your posts; because they describe my emotions and what I feel myself in therapy. You actually help me in acknowledging and validating my emotion, and you give me the courage to bring up stuff in the therapy room.
    Keep this up. You are very brave.
    Thank you for your support xx

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    • Thank you so much – these are wonderful compliments, and they mean a great deal, but most importantly it’s great that you’re getting something from reading, and in particular that it’s helping you with validation and with bringing stuff up in therapy – that’s amazing 🙂 xx

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  8. You do have tremendous courage, and it’s hard to let comments like that go. Especially with a topic as intimate as mental health. I supposed it can be so damaging if you let it, and I hope you don’t. Just on a side note, I can relate. I’ve been publicly published, writing about parenting and my views on certain social topics…completely unrelated to something as personal as mental health. But I assure you, there was no absence of shaming and mean comments on my publications. I also am unable to delete/not post them because they are mainstream news sites. I choose to ignore, and it’s very hard.
    Keep doing what you are doing. I will, too. 🙂

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    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting! Your experience sounds very hard, particularly having no control over what gets posted/deleted etc……it’s great that you keep on writing and though it might be difficult writing about mental health, as a parent I think it must be also very hard to write about parenting! We give ourselves such a difficult time about not being good enough parents sometimes, and it’s a topic which gives rise to such strong opinions in so many others, that it’s brave to put parenting thoughts and experiences out there, and to then deal with negative comments. It must be so difficult not to let those feed into the guilt and hard time that we already give ourselves as parents (or at least, I do!). Glad you will keep on doing what you’re doing 🙂

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      • Isn’t that the truth…especially since there are so many out there who think they are an expert at, and perfect at, the topics we write about. I’m sure you are familiar with that, and because you are also insightful, we know that neither mental health nor parenting are something that ANYONE can be perfect at. We make mistakes, we learn every day, and as authentic writers, we are putting ourselves out there for criticism. But people in glass houses…;) So keep on keepin’ on! Sometime people just miss the point.

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  9. I’ve been following your blog for a while, and the clarity with which you view and describe your experience of therapy had been tremendously helpful – thank you for being so brave! You’ve inspired me to have a go at bloggong myself, and getting hostile comments has been one of my greatest fears. Like you, I feel it is very important to protect myself, the people around me, and my relationships with them, but I had not thought about protecting the actual work that goes on in therapy – thank you for your thoughts on this. But what I am most grateful for in this post is how clear-sighted you are about the risks of blogging. It’s simply no use to pretend that there aren’t any. That you are doing this important work anyway is a huge inspiration to me – again, thank you!

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    • Thank you so much! It’s nice to hear I inspired you to start blogging 🙂 And good to know that this post has triggered some new thoughts for you. The risks of blogging have often been on my mind, but as it’s such a supportive environment at the same time, it’s always felt difficult to write about before. But as you say, we can’t pretend there aren’t any risks, but we _can_ be thankful that the vast majority of people we encounter only want to help and be there and support, and with a bit of awareness of the things which most affect us and that we’re most vulnerable to, we can keep ourselves ‘safe’ while also enjoying that support. Thank you so much for following and commenting!

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  10. I will restrict myself to commenting on only a couple of points. 1) “Perhaps the fact that I received that comment, shows that I did in fact ‘step over’ that edge, and my worries about intimacy and privacy may have been justified.” In my own writing, I try not to take responsibility for everything others make of my words. 2) There is much benefit from sharing your feelings with a supportive friend or spouse when you are troubled by something the therapist did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say. I think the “steam kettle” analogy has its limits. Feelings about what is felt as a “therapeutic failure” aren’t so readily dispatched as to, in effect, eliminate any chance of dealing with them with the counselor because one has discussed them elsewhere first. Moreover, we must move away from believing the relationship with the therapist is so special and different that no part of our openness and risk can be generalized to the outside world: ultimately, we must make exactly that move, practicing what we’ve learned in session. Otherwise, treatment never ends and one remains like a hot-house plant that can’t be genuine anywhere but in the consulting room.

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    • Thank you so much for this! This is a ‘holding reply’ – as I wanted to think some more, and comment in a little more depth. I do agree with 1), and much of 2) though I suppose that is the area in which I need to ponder more and where I’m unsure of the extent to which I agree. As you know, I do share outside of session, and it has been incredibly helpful. I also know that looking at why I did so (and all the layers of ‘why’), has been helpful in itself. It’s not always as straightforward as simply sharing feelings to be supported, though can be the main element of what is going on. Sometimes patterns emerge; and sometimes there is something to be gained from waiting…..hhhmmm….as for generalising to outside of therapy….very mixed feelings here, though I know that that is really ‘the point’ – but recent downturns in my domestic situation have made that made that seem even more unrealistic…..

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  11. I’ve only read bits of your blog, but this post particularly interested me. A few times I’ve made comments on people’s blogs or on internet support group threads where I’ve got it rather wrong, in particular where I’ve been critical of someone else’s therapist.

    The first time I did this the person messaged me privately and I literally thought I would curl up and die of shame, because I didn’t realise how hurtful my comments had been to her, but it was also a learning experience because she brought up the idea that her original post might have been triggering for me. I only just starting to deal with the fact that my current problems were trauma related, and this was a new concept. I apologised profusely and we both moved on. Similarly, the other times I have made negative comments, often “taking the person’s side” against their therapist, it has still been hurtful for them, and feedback either to me or to multiple commenters via a new post has changed the way I see things quite substantially and given me new insights into my own therapy.

    I guess there’s no way to know for sure whether a commenter is trying to be deliberately provocative or hurtful, or whether they’re just reading the situation through the lens of their own experiences, but I suppose what I’m trying to say is that sometimes, if it feels safe for you, there is a benefit on engaging with the other person, especially if you can delete the whole thing later if you decide it’s malicious.

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