A while ago a psychologist said that we all require three feet of personal space. So what would the equivalent of three actual feet be in cyber space? Many of us maintain our most trusted and personal of friendships online. But with random strangers following you on Twitter and adding themselves to your MSN and Facebook Friendships, we have to guard our uploaded set of cyber social networks, cultivate and maintain the friendships we value and weed out the rest with reverent spring cleaning. However, this might not be enough to protect ourselves from emotional predators that exist in the virtual world as much as they do in the real one.
There are steps to building and rebuilding lost and found friendships via the internet. Let’s go through the steps of forging new friendships. One of my old friends warns that people need to remember that we don’t know exactly who is on the other side of our computer screens. We don’t know their motivations, intentions or what tone to take when we read what their communications. This can cause problems later on when we realize that we’ve been reading their thoughts and words wrong the entire length of the new found relationship and thus have built a relationship around a personality not even skin deep? We are laugh out loud to our new friends jokes without hearing their overly serious voices regarding a comment you found so offensive, you’re SURE it must have been a sample of their sarcastic humor. This is why steps are important. You can end up actively ignoring someone or being actively ignored yourself, and that is never fun.
If you start communicating with a random person with possible friend potential, it is important to know what kind of friendship potential there is. There is nothing worse than getting to know someone in a public way, such a posts on your Facebook wall, that cause you to smile and laugh all the time because your senses of humor are just oh so simpatico, taking the friendship to the another level, a phone call, and realizing that the way the person breathes through the nose when you laugh makes you want to slap the *&^% out of them. Once that happens, you can never go back to the way it was, never read the daily humor on the walls without hearing that damn voice in your head. If only you had gone through the PROPER friendship development steps, after all, even cyber friendships require chemistry: after public chat comes private chat.
Using Facebook chat, Google Hangouts, Threema, Kik or other various sorts of direct one on one chatting, you can get to know the person as a individual, without the pressures of having to entertain a following of personalities who read the public walls of cyberspace communication regularly, aka your new friends already-been friends list. After a few spontaneous conversations, you will get a better idea of if, and if so, where, your new friend fits into your life. What do you have in common, how often (if ever) to they drunk-im you, can they spell (no, they weren’t just typing too fast, they really are that stupid), do they use punctuation properly, what kinds of entertaining links do they provide you with, etc. I have found that by having people in different parts of the world on my IM lists, I can get things translated, get different opinions and have people to meet me at the airport wherever I go. These friendships also cut back on the cultural faux pas made when I visit a new country for the first time. I am also never at a loss for an online spades partner. I have people to talk to when I can’t sleep, and, in turn, have maintained some sort of trusted relationships with people I have never met in real time. I have been saved more than once by people I have never met, or have met for the first time after years of just IMing. **More on this later…. Popular dating apps like Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, Grindr, Hinge and eHarmony.
If you and your new found friend feel like enjoying some fun together, you can binge watch a much-loved TV show, play a variety of games, view pictures of the world, adopt a pet or move in together in a sim-world or whatever you find fills the need of the human condition to be social in whatever way you feel comfortable. And the best part about that three feet of personal cyber space is: you can delete the person from your life in less than 10 minutes whenever the need should arise…. BUT BUYER BEWARE!! Just like in life, online you can be just as vulnerable to toxic tactics of someone’s behavior. Online environments can foster a feeling of intimacy that isn’t real, nor experienced the same by both participants. Suddenly the person you have come to trust to be there for you isn’t. This is known by the term ghosting, which people not only do online, but in real life as well. The online Urban Dictionary defines ghosting as The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date. This is done in hopes that the ghostee willjust “get the hint” and leave the subject alone, as opposed to the subject simply telling them he/she is no longer interested. Ghosting is not specific to a certain gender and is closely related to the subject’s maturity and communication skills. Many attempt to justify ghosting as a way to cease dating the ghostee without hurting their feelings, but it in fact proves the subject is thinking more of themselves, as ghosting often creates more confusion for the ghostee than if the subject kindly stated how he/she feels. Do to the inability of our real communities and selves to hold people accountable for their actions, or even just to staisfy your own piece of mind and seeking closure can be dangerous. This can often spiral into an abusive situation involving what is known as gaslighting, an attempt to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight(1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind.
According to one article in Psychology Today, people who gaslight typically use the following techniques:
1. They tell blatant lies.
You know it’s an outright lie. Yet they are telling you this lie with a straight face. Why are they so blatant? Because they’re setting up a precedent. Once they tell you a huge lie, you’re not sure if anything they say is true. Keeping you unsteady and off-kilter is the goal.
2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof.
You know they said they would do something; you know you heard it. But they out and out deny it. It makes you start questioning your reality—maybe they never said that thing. And the more they do this, the more you question your reality and start accepting theirs.
3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition.
They know how important your kids are to you, and they know how important your identity is to you. So those may be one of the first things they attack. If you have kids, they tell you that you should not have had those children. They will tell you’d be a worthy person if only you didn’t have a long list of negative traits. They attack the foundation of your being.
4. They wear you down over time.
This is one of the insidious things about gaslighting—it is done gradually, over time. A lie here, a lie there, a snide comment every so often…and then it starts ramping up. Even the brightest, most self-aware people can be sucked into gaslighting—it is that effective. It’s the “frog in the frying pan” analogy: The heat is turned up slowly, so the frog never realizes what’s happening to it.
5. Their actions do not match their words.
When dealing with a person or entity that gaslights, look at what they are doing rather than what they are saying. What they are saying means nothing; it is just talk. What they are doing is the issue.
6. They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you.
This person or entity that is cutting you down, telling you that you don’t have value, is now praising you for something you did. This adds an additional sense of uneasiness. You think, “Well maybe they aren’t so bad.” Yes, they are. This is a calculated attempt to keep you off-kilter—and again, to question your reality. Also look at what you were praised for; it is probably something that served the gaslighter.
7. They know confusion weakens people.
Gaslighters know that people like having a sense of stability and normalcy. Their goal is to uproot this and make you constantly question everything. And humans’ natural tendency is to look to the person or entity that will help you feel more stable—and that happens to be the gaslighter.
8. They project.
They are a drug user or a cheater, yet they are constantly accusing you of that. This is done so often that you start trying to defend yourself, and are distracted from the gaslighter’s own behavior.
9. They try to align people against you.
Gaslighters are masters at manipulating and finding the people they know will stand by them no matter what—and they use these people against you. They will make comments such as, “This person knows that you’re not right,” or “This person knows you’re useless too.” Keep in mind it does not mean that these people actually said these things. A gaslighter is a constant liar. When the gaslighter uses this tactic it makes you feel like you don’t know who to trust or turn to—and that leads you right back to the gaslighter. And that’s exactly what they want: Isolation gives them more control.
10. They tell you or others that you are crazy.
This is one of the most effective tools of the gaslighter, because it’s dismissive. The gaslighter knows if they question your sanity, people will not believe you when you tell them the gaslighter is abusive or out-of-control. It’s a master technique.
11. They tell you everyone else is a liar.
By telling you that everyone else (your family, the media) is a liar, it again makes you question your reality. You’ve never known someone with the audacity to do this, so they must be telling the truth, right? No. It’s a manipulation technique. It makes people turn to the gaslighter for the “correct” information—which isn’t correct information at all.
The more you are aware of these techniques, the quicker you can identify them and avoid falling into the gaslighter’s trap.