Internet Support Group - Knowing When to Walk Away

by M. E. Peychers, M.A.

You may have selected your group with great care and been very happy with it, but things can still go terribly wrong. If the place you could always turn to for advice and a comforting word no long seems so welcoming, it might be time to think about leaving.

For some people, that happens naturally when they have either conquered or come to terms with the issue for which the support group was chosen. For others, still struggling with that problem, the decision to move on might be far harder. After all, the more time you've invested in a group, and the more friends you've made there, the harder it is to cut your losses and move on.

Here are 12 good reasons to leave a group behind:

  1. You no longer feel in need of the kind of support offered by the group.
  2. You no longer trust the people in charge and/or you have become unhappy with the accuracy of the information provided.
  3. A guru figure or an in-crowd dominates the group and limits directions of enquiry to the topics they want to discuss. Topics you would like to learn more about either aren't covered, or are actively discouraged.
  4. People who express unorthodox views are attacked or ridiculed, perhaps even banned outright.
  5. The group is being whipped into an emotional turmoil by an attention-seeking member, who posts about unbelievably bizarre health dramas or highly improbable accidents (Feldman, 2000; Feldman, 2004).
  6. The group is dividing into warring factions and members are being pressed to take sides. Anyone who tries to stay neutral is cold-shouldered.
  7. You find yourself getting upset by posts, or by private messages from other members. These days, the group seems more aggressive, and you are not happy with the change.
  8. When checking for messages, you sometimes feel a sense of unease, perhaps even dread. When replying, you feel as if you're walking on eggshells.
  9. Some members appear to be using the group to hunt for prospective sexual partners, and you have been hassled to swap photos, or to agree to meet (Maheu & Subotnik, 2001).
  10. You worry that you might have given out too much personal information to other members, and feel vulnerable as a result.
  11. You have behaved online in ways you wouldn't like your family or work colleagues to know about. You sometimes wish you could just switch the group off and never hear from any of the members again.
  12. Family and friends complain that you are too emotionally involved, even obsessed, with certain members, or with the group as a whole (Suler, 1998). In your heart, you suspect that this may be true, and it worries you.

If even three or four of these statements apply to the group you're in, you might want to rethink your involvement. If more than that apply, the group is probably more of a burden than a support to its members and it's definitely time for you to free yourself.

Feldman, M.D., (2000): Munchausen by Internet: detecting factitious illness and crisis on the Internet. Southern Journal of Medicine, 93, 669-672
Feldman, M.D., (2004): Playing Sick?: Untangling the web of Munchausen syndrome, Munchausen by proxy, malingering, and factitious disorder. New York, Brunner-Routledge
Maheu, M.M., Subotnik, R.B., (2001): Infidelity on the Internet: Virtual Relationships and Real Betrayal. Naperville, Sourcebooks, Inc.
Suler, J., (1998) Psychology of Cyberspace - Addiction to Cyberspace:
Why is this thing eating my life?


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