How to Take Care of Yourself When… You Mistakenly Thought You Could Have an Intellectual Discussion on the Internet

“I was intrigued by an acquaintance’s statement online, so I joined the conversation and added my perspective, only to receive ad-hominem attacks by another commenter.  My acquaintance didn’t even respond.  Is it me, or is respectful, logical, intellectual exchange no longer possible?”

All it takes is one glance at the online comments under the average YouTube video or web article- which are often unmoderated- to get an eyeful of more pointless, racist, sexist, homophobic, and crude language than you ever wanted to see.  The number of people trolling (joining conversation threads with the only intention of spewing ugly words and hurting others) is large.  While there are many reasonable and reasonably kind people online, it only takes one troll to shift the energy of a conversation towards the uncomfortable or even abusive.  

On the other side of the spectrum, many people don’t want to engage in actual dialogue online.  They may feel fine posting articles or making comments that put forth debatable perspectives, but if anyone shares a contrary perspective, they will not engage or may even delete your comment.  (Believe me, I’ve seen it happen.)  So, how does someone who appreciates intellectual discourse and wishes to be engaged with others by sharing thoughtful and respectful dialogue get his or her intellectual and social needs met?  If you haven’t guessed it yet: NOT online!  Here are some tips for recovering from your mistaken attempt at online intellectual discourse.           



“Is there anyone reasonable out there?”


Remember: What You See Online is Not Representative of Reality

As an intellectual person, you value respectful discourse.  You may even be sensitive to others’ words and intentions, which is why you are drawn to talking things out: to make sure everyone is understood, to break down barriers to communication, and to find the common ground where many parties can find agreement.  And then you witness the underbelly of our society: people spewing hateful words, for no beneficial reason, derailing actual dialogue.  This can be demoralizing.  A resilient way to respond to this situation is to accept that some places are dark and negative, and you have no obligation to go to those places.  Avoid them, if that is better for you.  I would propose that this is better for all of us, but for various reasons some people are drawn to the dark and negative and intentionally go towards them.

Another resilient response is to recognize that there is a disproportionate quantity of negativity online because the negative, trolling individuals are making their voices heard, while those who are conflict-averse are not posting at all and those in the middle are getting shut down by the trolls.  Additionally, one troll can be accountable for great quantities of vitriol.  In this This American Life podcast, writer Lindy West talks about her experience with online trolls and discovers that one person was responsible for several- apparently different- troll attacks that she sustained.  The podcast is definitely worth a listen.


Accept the Limits of Internet Dialogue

Now that you have experienced first-hand the limits of internet dialogue, it may be easier to accept those limits.  The unmoderated internet is, at its worst, wide open to being co-opted by trolls.  People who want to have intellectual discourse have no control over that (aside from heavily moderating the comments made by guests to a given website.)  Besides the troll factor, the difficulty in ascertaining tone and intention behind typed statements prevents the genuine understanding that could be possible between people speaking face to face.  This is not surprising when you consider that even speaking face to face about contentious topics with someone you know well is fraught with potential misunderstanding and communication breakdown.

Your thoughts- no matter how well-considered and reasonable you consider them- have a high likelihood of being misunderstood and negatively interpreted if you toss them into the ether of the internet.  It is silently- and silencingly– frustrating to be pedantically told how you are wrong by someone who then puts forth a position that is intellectually inferior to your own.  When you think about it, do you really want to engage a stranger in mutually trying to educate each other through written text, in a forum that is visible to and available for further comment by anyone with an internet connection?  Probably not.  That, unfortunately, is the nature of the internet: people who don’t know the experiences or education of others, interpreting their black-and-white words through one’s own flawed, limited perspective, and then critiquing others’ knowledge/logic/intention/decency.  Any expectation you have for compassionate and intellectual dialogue is misplaced on the shoulders of the person in front of the computer at another node of the internet.          


Get Your Intellectual Stimulation in Person

So, you now know that the dark side of the internet is not (entirely) indicative of the intellectual decline of the human race, and you know that you can’t expect the internet to provide the understanding, rational, intellectually curious dialogue you wish to have.  How do you meet your need for thoughtful intellectual discourse?  Look for places that foster face-to-face dialogue.  Mainstream, generic culture does not bring us into places where we can have meaningful discussions.  Most people are neutralized in their non-work time by television, passive internet usage, and substance use.  

If you crave real interactions and talking about serious issues with other people, you need to connect to groups of people that meet for some common objective.  Groups of people where you are likely to have meaningful conversations with other members would include activist groups, church / spiritual groups, debate clubs, poetry slams, Toastmasters clubs, and other places where people meet to either look deeply into things or to develop the art of communication.     

Hostility on the internet does not have to silence you; turn your attention to places and communities that celebrate dialogue and cultivate understanding.  Help build those communities, help bring in other people who, like you, are engaged thinkers looking for their tribe.


Important skills you are strengthening:



Creating Community

Share Your Experience

What have you learned about self-care through internet dialogue?  Where have you found good outlets for intellectual inquiry?  Please share about it in the “comments” section.  The internet is a powerful resource for learning from others- make your experience count!  Don’t worry: I monitor the comments.  

How to Take Care of Yourself When… You Are Feeling Stressed About Money

“I don’t have enough money to do basic things I want to do, and I can’t seem to ever save.  I’m tired of stressing like this.”


I have heard variations on this sentiment from a few bright, accomplished people lately.  At first I was surprised.  Small-scale saving and investing- in order to be able to afford what you want and not feel stressed- is not rocket science.  With deeper looking, I realized that these people were not suffering from lack of intelligence, but from psychological barriers around money.  Accomplishing steps for creating financial security- what we call “financial hygiene”- is as important as your physical or mental hygiene.  I would say that tending to one’s own financial hygiene is an act of self-care on all of the four fronts I generally discuss: physical, emotional, spiritual, mental.  If you are not tending to your financial life, the resultant lack of funds and stress will affect you in all four of those areas.  You may want to go on a spiritual retreat, but you won’t have the funds.  Your sleep might be disturbed because of anxiety about your money situation.  You may want to see a therapist to work on some emotional and mental growth, but looming far above that would be the question of where you will get enough money for rent this month.  If you are reading this article, these downsides of money problems may be familiar to you.

While I am not the person to tell you where to find great jobs, or what funds are best for investing, I can identify some psychological barriers to a healthy relationship with money that you may be experiencing.  Most of the people I have ever spoken with who are feeling stressed about money are trapped in limiting beliefs / behaviors around money, which I believe are the primary cause of their distress.  The liberating opposites to some of those limiting beliefs and behaviors are:


Awareness– as opposed to Avoidance

Rationality– as opposed to Irrationality

Congruence– as opposed to Incongruence



In order to be aware of your money, you need to pay attention to it.  In order to be aware about your debt, you need to pay attention to that.  In order to feel like you have a handle on your financial life, you need to pay attention to your assets and your debts- both of them.  Avoiding knowledge of your debts or assets- like anything that is uncomfortable- will not make it better.  Avoidance makes it worse.  The same is true for other forms of self-care.  If you have strange medical symptoms and ignore them, rather than researching them and making an educated decision about any necessary medical care, you could be putting yourself in unnecessary risk for serious disease or death.  If you avoid knowing about your money, you are not putting yourself in such grave risk- but you are definitely losing money.  Every day.  When you finally do pay attention, you will probably kick yourself for not looking sooner.      

How to pay attention?  I’m a big fan of online apps that track your assets and debts for you.  Two of them are mint and mvelopes.  These apps are logged into your accounts, so you can look at the whole picture, at once.  You decide some budgeting and saving goals, set them up in the program, and then watch what happens over time.  Simply paying attention tends to move the needle in a positive direction- this has been shown in a few other areas, such as exercise and eating patterns.  The reward pathways in the brain are stimulated every time we see something we enjoy- such as a documented larger than usual number of miles walked or cycled, or a list of nutritious, healthy foods we have been eating (rather than sedentary days and unhealthy foods.)  That reward experience is desirable, and we continue to make the choices that will give us the neurochemical reward.  Eventually, the longer-term rewards of healthy weight or clearing of physical illness symptoms kick in and we have even stronger motivation to continue our positive choices.  This is one way to build an enduring habit.  The same happens when we see the first $100 saved in our goal of saving $2,000 for a vacation.  The neurochemical reward can feel so good, we might actively look for other ways to budget our money (like forgoing the daily $5 coffee so that we can sock away another $150 each month) and reach our goal faster.

Regular asset- and debt-awareness will also mean that if something detrimental is happening, you will see it sooner.  Then you can deal with it and avoid the problem growing.                   

You Have Enough A

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh



How often do you have anxious thoughts about the near or distant future?  Have you noticed that ruminating about the potential problems of the future is not useful?  Paying attention to your circumstances and making good decisions, like I described in the Awareness section, is useful.  If you are aware, then you don’t have anything to fear.  Let it go.  Fear in the face of doing what you reasonably can is irrational.  Try a rational approach to thinking about your financial present and future.  A rational approach involves noticing when defeating or fearful thoughts are arising, and then managing those thoughts.  Either take the actions you may have let slip so that you can rest assured- or notice that you are already reasonably on top of things, and you have nothing to fear.  

Above and beyond this is one of my favorite meditations, “I have enough.”  Allow yourself to sit and ponder or write about all the material resources you have at your fingertips: how truly, fundamentally, okay you are in this moment and for the foreseeable future.  You may only have $200 in your bank account, but if you sit and consider, “I have drinking water, I have enough food, I have shelter, I have a place to sleep,” you will immediately feel relief.  Even beyond that: “If I were to come close to losing these basic necessities, I have food stamp / cash aid / unemployment benefit options I can pursue, I have friends and family who are here for me and would move mountains to help me.”  If you are suffering with significant mental or physical illness and / or do not have the support of loved ones, there are local agencies in every small pocket of many nations that have social workers who can connect you to shelters and programs so that you will have these basic necessities.  In California, they work out of the local county health and human services and behavioral health departments.  Allow yourself to bathe in recognition of all the support from far and wide that is coming your way.  From even before your birth, conditions were developing to provide you with the caregivers that kept you alive as an infant, the food you have eaten your whole life, the teachers and housing and infinite other conditions that always seem to appear.  You have enough, and you are fundamentally okay.  When you sit with this for a long time, this meditation cuts through anxiety and the illusion of separation at the level of the heart.



Congruence is when your actions and your statements are in harmony.  We can be congruent in any area of life- but on this topic, it is when we say we want financial stability, and our choices show that.  We save money instead of buying things we don’t need, choosing simplicity over materialism.  We advocate for ourselves in work, garnering the fees, the promotions, and the raises we deserve.  Noticing incongruent statements and actions in our lives is important.  Just the noticing might be enough- with the help of awareness about your finances- to change the incongruence.  However, if you see that your awareness of your incongruence is not changing your reality, you may need to work on a different level: with your subconscious mind.  If your subconscious mind is not on board with the idea of being financially secure, you will remain in a place of money stress.  Like a lot of other self-care, this situation calls for some deep listening to yourself.  What is it that your subconscious mind needs, in order to be on board with financial security?  Here is a video of Marie Forleo interviewing Dr. Cathy Collautt that breaks this concept down pretty well.  



Important skills you are strengthening:


Subconscious Mind Work



Financial Hygiene


Share Your Experience

If you have some ideas or experience in this area of addressing financial hygiene through psychology, please share them in the “comments” section.