Trish, My relatives ridicule and humiliate me on social media. The cyberbullying is really hurtful and I don’t know what to do about it. Just thinking about doing something makes me feel exhausted. How do I handle this?
Hi there, and welcome back to Ask Trish! I hope you’re all doing well and having a great June.
Thank you so much to this week’s questioner for this important question. First and foremost, I’m so sorry that you’re experiencing this harassment — it sounds incredibly stressful, frustrating, and, I’m sure, is deeply hurtful. Cyberbullying is never easy…and it’s only that much more difficult when it is coming from the people that are supposed to unequivocally love and support you. Undoubtedly, that it’s your relatives that are attacking you online complicates the situation. Indeed, while we’ve discussed cyberbullying extensively on Ask Trish, I thought it was important that we talk specifically about this type of situation because so much of my existing advice assumes that the cyberbully is a classmate or an anonymous actor. As you so rightly asked, what do you do when that’s not the case?
In this post, I answer that question, talking you through this type of cyberbullying (including various reasons why it might be happening/where it might be coming from) and offering you some advice on how to take it on. Please keep in mind that — particularly where cyberbullying is concerned — every situation is different. I don’t know the particulars of your situation, so keep that in mind as you consider this advice…and when in doubt, always prioritize your safety and wellbeing. As I’ll discuss below, your wellness can and should never be up for negotiation.
Let’s get into it:
First, let’s take a step back — and think and talk through this type of cyberbullying. Where might this be coming from? Once again, while I don’t know the specifics of your situation, a couple of possibilities come to mind. The cyberbullying may potentially be inadvertent or accidental — maybe a sibling or aunt thinks that a certain joke, picture, or line of commentary about you is hilarious…when you find it extremely disparaging. This is not unlike when our friends do or say something online that they think is “just a joke,” but we think is actually quite hurtful. On the other hand, the cyberbullying may be purposeful. Maybe a sibling is mad at you for other reasons…and taking it out on you on Instagram. Maybe the harassment is paired with other harassment that you’re experiencing in your home, offline. While both types of cyberbullying are serious, this latter form is especially serious, because it arguably presents a greater threat to your wellbeing. It may also be that you’re not sure where the cyberbullying is coming from; that is, you can’t tell if it’s purposeful or inadvertent. Maybe it feels like a mix of both. This is totally valid, too…and, I’m sure, very frustrating. No matter what, the reason it’s important to do this assessment is because it might inform both 1) how you feel about the cyberbullying and 2) how you might want to respond to it (more on that below).
Before we get into responses, you might be wondering (and I sense this in your question!)…Trish, why do I have to do anything at all? This seems like it’d only make things worse/be a big headache. Why take action, especially if it’s just family members perpetuating a running joke that (at least, for you!) has gotten old? You can excuse them, right? Why make a big deal out of it? The answer is simple: your safety and wellbeing, online and offline, is more important than anything else. Research finds that cyberbullying is linked to a number of mental health challenges and can lead to victims experiencing feelings of shame and worthlessness. No one deserves that! You may feel like you’re burdening your family by taking action, but the truth is that you are not. In fact, their harassment is the burden — a burden you can or should not bear. And after all, if the cyber-harassment is truly inadvertent, your relatives should be more than happy to change their behavior (and apologize to you!).
Now that we’ve established that responding definitely is the right thing to do, let’s talk about those responses. What, substantively, should you do? Below, I lay out several potential approaches with some guiding context. Remember, when in doubt, you should always do more, not less, to protect yourself.
- Talk to the family members attacking you. Depending on how comfortable and safe you feel, you may consider talking to the family members cyberbullying you. This is especially a good option if you feel sure that the harassment is accidental and not ill-intentioned. On the other hand, if you’re not sure or otherwise feel unsafe, do not pursue this option. But should you feel comfortable, you can sit the family members down and explain why the content they’ve been posting or sending has been hurtful. Here, it’s helpful to use “I” statements, e.g., “I feel targeted by the joke.” You can also make a clear ask, e.g., “I would like you to stop posting these messages immediately.”
- Talk to another family member that can be an advocate for you. Maybe, for whatever reason, you don’t feel 100% comfortable talking to the family members cyber-harassing you…but you’d still like to convey how you’re feeling to them. A great alternative is to ask another family member to do so. Once again, if you fear that that might put that other family member at risk, do not pursue this option. But this can be a great way to get the message across. Your “advocate” can note that they are uncomfortable with/disappointed by the cyberbully’s behavior and explain that they know that the cyberbullying is hurting you. They can also ask the cyberbully to stop.
- Report the cyber-harassment/block the cyberbully and potentially shut down accounts. If you don’t think the above options will work — especially if the cyber-harassment is purposeful — as in all cases of cyberbullying, definitely report the cyber-harassment on the platform. You can also block the cyberbully. And to defuse the situation, you may also temporarily shut down your social media accounts. The goal here is simple: to protect yourself.
- Talk to an adult at your school or law enforcement. In addition to Step 3, I would also strongly recommend that you talk to an adult outside of your family — perhaps at school — about the cyber-harassment you’re experiencing. They can potentially intervene/advocate for you and even get you to resources (like therapy) to begin healing from the cyberbullying. If you’re under 18, you can also potentially talk to law enforcement about what you’re experiencing. If possible, document the cyber-harassment — take screenshots, etc.
- Take care of yourself. As a victim of cyberbullying, you’re experiencing harassment no one ever should. Remember how important, valuable, and loved you are — if not by your family, then certainly by me! Never forget that the cyberbullying is not what defines you — and that you shouldn’t see it as definitive. You will get through and grow from this! As you heal, invest in resources, like therapy, to assist you. Again, an adult at your school can help you find those resources.
Thank you all so much for reading this post/engaging with this important topic. To this week’s questioner, I hope you found this advice helpful. Again, I’m so sorry that you’re experiencing cyber-harassment, and I hope you’re able to resolve the situation (via whatever pathway makes the most sense for you) immediately. Again, remember — your safety and wellbeing is foremost. Though it can be scary, please don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and take action. It’s the least you deserve!
For all my readers…maybe this post has left you thinking about a similar situation you’re experiencing…or led you to wonder about another internet-related topic entirely. Either way, you can continue the conversation by sharing any Internet-related questions, thoughts, or perspectives here. Your question may be featured in an upcoming TikTok/blog post. Remember, anything goes — no matter the topic, know that I’m here for you! This is a safe space and a judgment-free zone; my only goal is to help you to be as safe, smart, and responsible as you can be online. So whatever’s on your mind, ask away. 💙
Thank you, and have a great rest of the week,