Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states
Here at Mental Help.net we discuss many controversial issues such as:
1. Is homosexuality a matter of choice or birth?
2. Is AA a cult and does it help or not?
3. Do anti depressant medications work or not?
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4. Should Clinical Psychologists be allowed to prescribe medications or not?
5. Is "Small Penis Syndrome" real or is it an anxiety and body image disorder or not?
I see these discussions in our communities and forums as a real strength. In other words, it is a postitive and healthy thing that everyone can, in a democracy, discuss their opinions on these matters. For most of the people here, their opinions are based on unfortunate or fotunate real life experiences they have. For others, opinions might be based on psychological and medical research they have done. The point is that all of our readers are bringing to these discussions valid backgrounds that we encourage them to post here.
However, a problem is emerging that has given me pause to think and now to write about. It is my observation that people are becoming so angry and passionate about some of these problems that they are resorting to attacks that are personal and insulting. In other words, they are sometimes bullying others.
1. An individual who disagrees with me about Alcoholics Anonymous went so far as to say that they would never see me as their therapist. OK, that is fine, but, why get personal. In fact, I had expressed a moderate view about the issue. As a matter of fact, I happen to agree with many of the criticisms of AA posted by our commenters, but, I do not agree with all of them. There are other options for people to explore if they want to stop drinking and I have directed people to those.
2. Then, another person accused me of working for the drug companies because I suggested they be evaluated by a psychologist or psychiatrist who might refer them for Cognitive Behavioral Therap and, perhaps medication. Forget the fact that I am not in the employ of a drug company, but, I am not an MD and hold no credentials that any drug company would ever want.
3. After I wrote an article on homosexuality I was attacked vicioiusly for being gay. Of course I am not but the person who did this just assumed that this is who I must be. What is almost comical about this is the fact that I was merely paraphrasing and summarizing an aticle that appeared in a magazine.
4. On the issue of circumcision, I wrote a couple of articles that stated some recent research done in Africa that seems to show some benefits of circumcising adult and sexually active males as a way to stem the tide of HIV infection. I was responded to by someone who accused me of attempting to spread circumcision because of my religion. That is pretty funny because I have no religiour orientation, and could not care less whether a man is circumsized or not. In fact, I have my own doubts about it when its done from a religious perspective. Obviously, the commenter assumed I am Jewish. However, "Schwartz" is a very German name and I have many people named Schwartz who are not and never were Jewish.
I do not mean to imply that I am the only recipient of hostile comments. In fact, what troubles me is when I see attacks directed at other commenters who express a different point of view. It does not matter what the topic is. What seems relevant is that if someone stronly disagrees there is a good chance they will "come out swinging."
Why is this happening and why is it potentially dangerous?
From a psychological point of view it is possible that some people feel extremely disenfranchised and devalued as individuals. After all, this is a mental health web site and many of those who are involved here have experienced every variety of child abuse and neglect, rejection, depression, anxiety, lack of self esteem and lack of self confidence with the result that they have good reason to feel unlistened to.
Actually, there is nothing worse than feeling "unlistened to." It makes one feel transparent, or unacknowledged as a human being.
The anonymity of the Internet provides a certain amount of safety that permits some people to unleash a kind of anger that they might, otherwise, keep to themselves. This would be fine except that there are other people who also have problems and end up feeling terrible after an attack.
Of course, "flaming" is nothing new to the Internet. In the anonymity of the Internet, it becomes easy to project rage onto others. Those who post can be attacked because they are easy targets for the anger of others. I am sure that those who are engaging in this bullying are not conscious of their behavior or the harm it does.
This is far from a total list of all the reasons some of our people go on the attack. I invite everyone to complete a list of reasons.
I see this as dangerous, especially on a mental health web site because it can discoourage many people from expressing their opinions for fear that might be attacked.
A Better Way?
I want to suggest that there is a better way for everyone to air their views and get their point across. That better way is to avoid sarcasms, curses and accusations. In engaging in dsicussions it is vital to remember the importance of respecting the dignity of each individual. The idea is to do no harm but to help. I am certain that those who are passionately anti AA are making an effort to protect others from the harm that, in their opinions, are caused by AA. However, it is still important to allow for others to discuss their separate opinions and experiences.
Even when it comes to religion, it is important to be tolerant. We do have people who reject the psychological explanation and treatment for mental illnesses. On more than one occasion I have received E. mails that the solution to mental illness is to turn to the Church, whatever Christian Church it happens to be. I do not agree but I must accept their right to their point of view.
Many of us do not come from backgrounds where healthy discussions and debates were allowed. Instead, what was modelled was total destructiveness or what one great psychiatrist called "Soul Murder." Well, we do not have to "murder souls" to get our views across. Remember, it is more important to have a place to air those views than have everyone agree.
Your comments, both in agreement and in divergence, are encouraged. Just state those views in ways that are respectful for everyone.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD
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