1. PUT YOURSELF IN THE PERSON’S SHOES. It’s their pain and real to them. Someone whose boyfriend broke up with them is suffering a loss that can be as painful to them as the loss of another person whose friend just died. Don’t evaluate whether they should or shouldn’t be in that much pain because this assessment will always be based on you, your life, your experiences, your personality, your coping abilities. You will be JUDGING them.
What is important is to ACCEPT and VALIDATE their pain.
2. We’ve all had or will have this experience: A chatter comes in and describes a myriad of problems. We immediately see a half dozen solutions and share them. Next day the chatter comes back and starts venting, as if we never spoke to them or offered any paths to healing. The scenario repeats itself. It seems like they are refusing to help themselves and they just want attention.
We get frustrated, lose patience, don’t want to work with the person anymore.
What we have to realize is that ALL PEOPLE WANT TO HELP THEMSELVES. Acting on their behalf might not happen at this time, or ever, because:
- They might NOT BE ABLE to help themselves. For example, there are illnesses where the person always sees him or herself as a victim and doesn’t accept responsibility for his/her actions. Blame is always placed on others. We should never form a negative opinion on someone who doesn’t seem to be taking steps forward because we are not knowledgeable about their medical conditions or other facts that can be holding the person back.
- They might not be able to help themselves AT THIS POINT IN TIME. They might lack the intellectual skills, professional mental health assistance, economic resources, support, be disadvantaged, face opposition in adverse environments, etc. We are unaware of their limitations.
- They might not “hear” what you are saying no matter how clearly you express it. The person might not be ready to hear it or may need to find it out for him/herself. We’ve all had situations where someone told us something repeatedly but it never sunk in. Then one day something happened. The light bulb went off and we saw exactly what everyone has been telling us for so long. We weren’t ready before. Also, when we discover a solution for ourselves it has greater impact and more meaning.
- Sometimes the answers are buried under many layers. Many have deep seated problems that cannot be readily addressed. It would take years of therapy to dig down to the roots. This is the job of the professional, not the host.
- You may not know that something you said helped or impacted a chatter. One day I was talking to a suicidal chatter and thought I didn’t get through to her. I was disappointed. The next day the chatter came back and said, “Thank you, Magic, you saved my life.” So, you never know.
- Don’t underestimate LISTENING. We often feel we have to say something or else we aren’t helping. Nothing is further from the truth. Allowing the person to vent, to know someone cares and that they aren’t alone can be extremely helpful, maybe more so than talking approaches. Listening is another way to supporting chatters.
3. TREAT PEOPLE WITH RESPECT, including trolls (Someone who comes into the room with the objective of disrupting the room.). Here’s an example of a successful approach that I’ve used with trolls. I bring the troll into pc so they won’t upset the rest of the chatters or be distracted. I don’t have any saved pcs so this is a re-enactment of what I have say.
(((((Troll))))) Hi, how are you? I’d like to welcome you to our room.
This room provides support for those who suffer from depression and I’d like to see you receive that same support.
Looks like there’s a problem here and I’m sure that it’s because you’re not aware of the philosophies of this room and how it works.
(I then explain the particular guideline(s) he/she broke and the reasons for it. I don’t say: “You broke a guideline!” rather, “Many of our members have said that background colors hurt their eyes and cause migraines so we made a rule that background colors are not allowed out of respect and concern for them.” I then continue to explain how all the guidelines are designed to respect and provide a safe room for all members, including that person. I finish by suggesting that he/she read the guidelines.)
About 90% of the times the person is responsive and I invite them back onto the floor. In this 90% are people that are not real trolls, but are angry or that are trolls but are floored that I treated them with respect. This latter group will then leave without incident. The last 10% are hardcore trolls and I’ve found if I keep talking and talking and talking to them they get tired of listening and leave on their own. If nothing can be done to stop the troll from disrupting the room, then it’s time to kick the person out.
I’d like to point out a few things here. First, I know that the person did something inappropriate and/or is a troll. I never mention that fact because if I say that it will be perceived as an attack and I will have lost before I even begin. They will react defensively.
I make like I know nothing, actually at times I play dumb. However, I know exactly what I am doing and I am in control at all times. I try to be:
- Friendly – Hi, how are you? Welcome to our room. I’d like you to receive that same support.
- Positive – I’m assuming the person will listen and hear what I’m saying…and it does happen that way most of the time.
- Give the person the benefit of the doubt – even, if I’m 99% sure he’s a troll – …problem…I’m sure that’s because you’re not aware of the philosophies of the room.
- Helpful – Provide explanations and refer them to the guidelines.
There are several important points that I want to make here:
- When someone attacks the first human response is to attack back. We should take a deep breath and wait a second. DO NOT REACT. Attacking brings you to the trolls’ level and will not help you achieve your goal of providing a safe room. (Even if you boot the troll they can come back. A ban would then have to be considered.)
- There is a reason for EVERY behavior. The person might not be aware of the guidelines; might be angry; might want attention, etc. You’ll never find out unless you talk to them calmly and with great respect.
- You might think, “Gee, the guy comes in here to troll and I make like I know nothing and talk nicely to him. He’s going to think I’m a jerk and he put one over on me.” Does it really matter what he thinks? Or does it matter that you have safeguarded the room? As I said, by being friendly, positive, helpful and giving the person the benefit of the doubt I am orchestrating the pc. I am controlling the flow of the conversation. If you treat people kindly, they will respond kindly. If you attack someone, they will attack back. If they attack and you respond kindly, you will disarm them. So, the troll has not put anything over on me; instead I have put something over on the troll. I have got him to talk, to calm down, to think about his behavior, etc. I’m hoping that my behavior lets him see that this is a caring and supportive room. Instead of using my brawn (the boot button) I’ve used my brain. If the troll leaves on his/her own chances are he/she won’t return. If booted, the person will be angry and return to further disrupt the room. Always talk to the troll in pc so as not to embarrass him/her.
4. ALWAYS BE POSITIVE AND SUPPORTING, especially in the beginning. First impressions have a lasting impact…but don’t stop there!
“Welcome to the chat room”
“Glad you came.”
“Good to see you.”
“Hi, how are you.”
“I’ve missed you.”
“It’s been a while, where have you been?”
You can still be positive and supportive even with an angry trollish person.
“You sound very angry.” This let’s them know that I’ve heard what they are saying and I am not being judgmental.
It’s usually followed by “Yes, I am…” and they tell me why. If they stop there I ask “What’s making you so angry?” Now they see me as an interested party and they usually unload their anger.
When they vent I tell them “You have reason to be angry.” I have now validated their feelings. They feel I understand and are not alone. I have now set the foundation for a supportive relationship.
When they describe their anger I let them (if this is in pc which it usually is) get it out anyway they can. They’ve had it bottled up (which was the cause of their trollish behavior) and when it comes out it’s like a volcano erupting. They yell, they curse, they say many nasty things. I LISTEN QUIETLY. I let the lava flow.
It’s very important to realize that the chatter is NOT directing his anger at me although it can be hard to distinguish that if he curses/yells at me. I could turn around and say “I’m not going to take that crap; you can’t abuse me like that” however, I don’t because I know their anger is aimed at the depression, at an event or at some hurt that I had no part of. When I signed on to become a host I was agreeing to support people. Support takes many forms. In this case it is being a sounding board till the person gets it off their chest. Afterwards, they will be calmer, usually apologize and will be able to talk in a more appropriate way. The person that “abused” me the most is one of the people I am now closest with.
5. ALWAYS EXPLAIN a guideline. Try not to make the request come out as an order.
Instead of: “There’s no cursing allowed” or “Watch your language!”
Try: “We have young chatters in the room so have to be careful of what we say.”
Instead of: “Change the topic!”
Try: “I’ve received several whispers saying that this topic is triggering and upsetting them.”
Instead of: “Stop using uppercase.”
Try: “Uppercase is considered yelling in this room. Can you please use lower case?”
In all these instances, the second wording takes the perception of you being a policeman/power hungry person out of the picture and portrays you as a concerned member of the chat room respectful of everyone present.
6. ALWAYS REMEMBER THE POPULATION WE ARE SERVING: those suffering from depression. Depressed individuals can be in pain, frustrated, angry, overtired, have no patience, don’t care, feel like things are out of their control, don’t want to live, etc.
While they should be responsible for their actions we also should show extra doses of compassion and be more patient with them, more understanding and cut them some slack.
Society tells those with mental illness that they are “crazy,” “lazy,””deviant.” They’re reprimanded for their illness and behavior offline; let’s try not to scold them for depression-induced behavior. They come here seeking help; many times they don’t have where to turn. Let’s treat them as adults and give show them the understanding they don’t receive from the ignorant.
If we saw a Tourettes Syndrome child continuously cursing we wouldn’t punish them because it is their illness causing that behavior. Depression causes inappropriate behavior, too.
One way to be compassionate to our members and still keep the room safe is by speaking to the offending chatter in pc.
7. First, a person is HURT. If they don’t deal with the hurt it turns to ANGER. If they don’t deal with the anger and internalize it, they take it out on themselves and it can turn into DEPRESSION. If they don’t deal with the anger and externalize it they may take it out on others by yelling, hitting or physically hurting others.
It might help to think of an angry chatter as a human being WHO IS HURT. If you can help him/her isolate the reason for the hurt you will be beginning a healing process.
8. WAIT FOR A PROBLEM TO OCCUR before intervening. The cliché, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” applies here.
- If you intervene when there is no problem you are increasing the risk for confrontation.
- The anticipated problem might never occur. Don’t throw a lit match into a pile of dry wood
- If a problem occurs the room might handle it. Intervention will be more effective if it comes from their fellow chatters as opposed to a host.
- If a problem occurs that the room can’t handle then it’s time to act.
- There are cases where experience will tell you that a volatile situation will occur if you don’t intercede. Only then should you take action before trouble begins.
9. Be aware of your WORDING. Words can make a person smile. Words can make a person cry. Words can calm. Words can infuriate. Words can motivate. Words can discourage. Words can make a person sad. Words can make a person feel great.
As a host you are looked up to and respected. YOUR words are listened to more closely because you are a host. You carry great power but with that comes great responsibility.
Always THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. I often wonder how I would feel if I were the recipient of some of my wording. Would they be receptive? Would it hurt him? Help him? Or if I should even speak because many times it’s more important to listen.
10. Do not inject your personal opinions when you host. You can share facts, paint both sides of a picture but you should remain neutral and objective.
For example, a pregnant teen comes in and wants to know if she should have an abortion. It is not appropriate for a host to give their personal opinion. She should not be told to keep the baby; she should not be told to abort the baby.
She should be:
- Given resources for family planning and abortion advocacy so she can explore both sides of the issue.
- Told to discuss this with her husband/boyfriend and family.
- Told to consult with her gynecologist/obstetrician or medical doctor.
- Told to speak to her therapist, psychiatrist or other mental health professional.
- Told that we will support her in whatever decision she makes.
Hosting is not about preaching our personal beliefs. It is about respecting a chatter enough to allow him/her to make his/her own decisions and supporting them afterwards. They are the only ones who will lives with these decisions. What might be good for you could very well be wrong for them.
Also, if you tell the person to do one thing and they do the other, do you think they’d feel comfortable talking to you again? Do you think they’d feel supported?
11. VALIDATE AND NORMALIZE THEIR FEELINGS.
Those suffering from depression receive a barrage of negative comments. They’re told that they are crazy, lazy, imagining things, not trying hard enough, to just snap out of it, etc. The depression already causes a lot of pain but to hear these barbs spoken by family, friends, acquaintances, associates and loved ones adds insult to injury.
We know what they are feeling/going through is real because we’ve all experienced it. Share this with the chatters. Let them know that they aren’t the only ones who experience these feelings or have these thoughts; that their feelings are real; that they are normal people who are struggling with issues; that they are trying but the depression saps their motivation, etc.
Let them know that their feelings are normal for those suffering from depression and validate them.
“Depression is not a flaw in character; it’s a flaw in chemistry.”
“You are a normal person who is struggling with some real issues.”
“You are not valued any less because of the depression.”
“It is the depression making you feel that way. It’s not you.”
“You have good reason to be angry.”
“I can see why you are upset.”
“That must have been very painful.”
12. Make believe you don’t have administrative powers. What would you do to keep order in the room? Probably talk more.
The point here is that sometimes we are too quick to boot when we have other options available. Kicking a person out is humiliating, can anger the individual and will not help their depression. It should be used as a last resort, when other alternatives have failed and all other means have been exhausted.
13. Always refrain from embarrassing a chatter. Be sensitive to the individual’s feelings. If there is anything that might embarrass a chatter whisper or pc with that person. It might be very difficult for the person to hear privately or the person might be more receptive but a public announcement can be humiliating. Again, be careful with the wording.
14. I can’t stress the importance of these three words: RULES ARE GUIDELINES. According to the dictionary a guidelines is “a lightly marked line used as a guide…” and a guide is “to assist (a person) to travel through, or reach a destination in, an area in which he does not know the way, as by accompanying him or giving him directions.”
In other words, the guidelines serve to assist and inform chatters about the ways and norms of our room so that can become a contributing part and benefit from it. When we take the guidelines literally and beat the chatters over the head with them they lose their original purpose. We are no longer assisting, but hurting. The guidelines were created for the safety and respect of all members. When neither of those two areas is compromised there is no need to refer to the guidelines.
Also, bear in mind that the chatters do a very good job governing the room themselves. Allow them to be the first line of defense. Compliance is greater if the request comes from a peer.
15. Do not look at yourself as an enforcer of guidelines. Instead view yourself as a friend/supporter/disseminator of information. If you host with the latter view you will command the respect of the room and find problems rarely occur. There will be very little need to enforce the guidelines.