News Opinion

Monday 24 October 2016

Bressie: Meet anger, abuse and hate with empathy

Reacting with kindness and understanding when confronted with misguided negativityis the smartest move, says Niall Breslin

Published 01/03/2016 | 02:30

React with kindness, is the advice from Bressie.
React with kindness, is the advice from Bressie.

'For every action, there is an equal and opposite re-action". I remember staring blankly with a contorted expression of confusion as our science teacher in secondary school declared Newton's third law in the hope it sunk into the heads of his semi-conscious pupils. Only now, years later as an equally confused adult, am I beginning to comprehend what this actually means.

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An unfortunate but common side effect of my job is that I tend to receive quite a regular amount of abuse and misguided negativity on social media. In the past I used to let that acidic feeling of anxiety creep up from the pit of my stomach into my throat as I read some guy's deconstruction of my identity, ripping me to shreds and cultivating profoundly personal attacks on my character.

I would find myself over-analysing my own behaviour and trying to comprehend this random person's perception of me.

The energy I would commit to situations like this drained me and I would develop a toxic environment and an ideal breeding ground for my general anxiety disorder to blossom in all its torturous glory.

Any person that tells you this type of online interaction and abuse has no impact whatsoever on their self-esteem and mood are, in most cases, not being truthful.

The volume of young adults and teenagers in Ireland that have to sustain relentless and suffocating abuse from their peers and strangers online is truly staggering and quite a complex issue to decipher.

Something I have found that really worked for me in allowing me to cope with the poison of trolling and abuse was to alter my emotional response, a practice I learned through cognitive behavioural therapy. I began changing my perceived 'anger' to 'empathy' - even if every cell in my body didn't believe it.

The first question I would ask myself after a trolling is 'I wonder what that person must be going through that they feel they have to attack me, I hope they are okay'.

In many cases, people are being nasty as an insecurity defence mechanism, but there are also many cases where that person is merely trying to mirror their own struggles away from themselves, and the ability to do this anonymously online can be a crutch and a liberating relief for them. This does not make it okay, and it is not something we can fix easily, but what we do control is how we react to situations like this.

So when you are met with anger, abuse and hate, try hard to react with empathy, kindness and understanding. It can be a powerful ally in allowing you embrace the realms of a positive and healthy mindset.

It's been a sincere pleasure to connect with you guys over last few weeks on how we can all invest more in our minds to allow us cope in this often chaotic world. I'm really looking forward to running, walking, or even crawling with you for the run in the Phoenix Park on Saturday and chatting along the way.

* Vhi A Lust For Life 5k/10k Phoenix Park Run takes place on Saturday, March 5 at 10am. Entry is €20 and you can sign up at

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