Health social networks can be a tremendous support for the chronically ill, but they can also be a source of many hurt feelings. How do we prevent this?
By Lisa Copen
The Internet has provided us with a support community environment of online health social networks that are unique and always available. In the illness community, it is no surprise how helpful it can be when you are awake at 3 AM and there is someone online who is also awake due to pain.
However, with this easily accessible health social networks of people also comes the frustrations that typically occur with our in-person relationships. Add to this, the fact that many people are not feeling well and may be moody, in addition to the likelihood that people are much more likely to hit “send” then they are to say something to someone whose face they are looking into.
Hurt feelings are bound to happen eventually. How do you resolve these emotions of feeling hurt within health social networks?
First, step away from the computer
When someone writes to us something we don’t like, our instinct is to immediately start typing out a rebuttal. And the faster we type, the more angry we can get. Pretty soon we are reading it back through our email and adding bullet points.
Proverbs 12:18 says, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” I have seen many conflicts occur over a lack of understanding and people misinterpreting what has been written. Make a point to re-read what you send or post before clicking “enter” so that your words are not rash.
Admit your mistakes
If you are the one who did or said something inappropriate in a forum for example of health social networks, fess up and ask for forgiveness rather than just avoid the person online and hope it goes away. We have all said something without thinking, and when we don’t feel well and we are up typing at 3 AM we don’t always think about how our comments can hurt the feelings of someone.
James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. . . “
It is understandable to make a mistake, but you need to show that you recognize it was a mistake and that you need forgiveness–and will try to do better next time!
Use loving words. When I have had emails going back and forth between myself and another person, and they have become hostile and angry with my responses, misinterpreting everything I am writing, I always try to reach them by phone and take it out of the online world. Sadly, they will rarely answer my call. They would prefer not speak to me, but instead fire back with their written word so there is no conversation.
At this point, I tell them that if they are truly concerned about the situation we are referencing, to print out all of our correspondence and take it to their pastor or a counselor and see if they can help them understand. I have yet to hear from someone who has done this. But the benefit is that as I type every word, I make sure that I am representing my Lord and Savior, Jesus, and that I am accountable to the words I use and how I use them.
Luke 6:45 reminds us that our heart is what speaks. “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Be careful and conscious of the words you use in health social networks where many people are sensitive and dealing with rejection of even family.
Consider how well you know this person
Before crying all night about something a person in one of the many health social networks said, think about what kind of relationship you have with the person.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Toni Birdsong and Tami Heim, co-authors of @stickyJesus, explained in “10 Godly Ways to Handle an Online Conflict”:
Match the worry to the relationship. Were you close to the person or were they a stranger prone to spar with anyone? Go read their feed/wall/blog to get a full picture. Cyberspace is huge and words are dangerous. If you angst over every person who disagrees with you, you won’t last long. Pray and determine if the issue is worthy to pursue, if not, let it go and move on. Read 2 Timothy 2:23-25.
Be accountable to God rather than pleasing man
Remember that you are here to please God, not man. We try to please the men and women we serve through our online ministries, but we will always fail to please everyone, and that is something to accept sooner rather than later to save yourself a lot of grief.
There will be those who may insist your motives are sinister, your faith a sham, and many more. I have been accused of all of these many times. And yes, it does hurt. But ultimately, I have always known that God knows. God knows my heart, my motives, the money I have invested to keep my ministry going, the late nights I have sat up answering emails, and more. God knows what you have invested too. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone if you feel you are right with the Lord.
2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” Do not let fears of what people say make you change your accountability to the Lord.
Prayerfully assume the best of people
Everyone has their own distinct personality and the way someone words something online may not best represent her feelings or intent. Prayerfully consider when to ask someone to be more specific. Before getting defensive or assuming the worst, assume the person was having a tough day or in a lot of pain. Online health social networks are filled with illness communities. These are places people feel free to show their real selves and sometimes it is not pretty. Give loads of grace.
James 3:17,18 shares, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”
Know when to give over the person to God completely
If you are in an online “battle” with someone, talk to God about if you need to block the person’s access to your email or profile. Don’t allow this relationship to cause risks to your health. Sometimes you will need to disengage from the person and hand her over to God to care for.
Every worthwhile relationship is based on more than just the good times. Conflict is normal. But if you see a pattern, try to find the balance between guarding your heart and allowing yourself the joy of friendships.
Proverbs 17:9 says, “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”
Lisa Copen is the founder of Rest Ministries and she lives in San Diego with her husband and son. She is gradually learning how to balance motherhood, family, illness, and ministry, but she still knows it will be a lifetime lesson. You can see the books she has written, including, Why Can’t I Make People Understand? at the Rest Ministries shop.