There are many pros of joining online support groups, but there are also some cons you better be prepared for. Here are examples of both and most importantly, some helpful tips on how to deal with the cons.
The main benefit of online group meetings is the exchange of emotional support and empathy among the members of the group. People who are going through the grieving process themselves are often better able to understand and help you; they can comfort you and share useful advice.
Becoming a member also gives you the opportunity to talk about your feelings freely and openly, which is something that can be hard to do with your friends and family. For the most part, joining a support group is a good thing, but there are also a few pitfalls that are better avoided.
Pros — online support groups
- 24/7 access — you can post your message or read those from others at all times, day or night. This means that you can reach out to the group members whenever you are in need. Even at 3 a.m., when everyone around you is fast asleep, the chances are that at least some members of the group will be around and will respond to you.
- An outlet for expressing your pain and sorrow —while it can be hard to openly talk about your feelings with family and friends, it is much easier to share your feelings online with a group of people who might not know you in person but are nevertheless connected to you through sharing similar experiences. Talking about your feelings is an important part of the healing process, and online groups are perfect for that.
- Great source of empathy and support — people most capable of empathy are those who are going through the same thing and can therefore understand you best; they know what to say and can provide emotional support when you need it most. Even people closest to you can be incapable of understanding the depth of your pain, but it’s very easy to find those who know and understand exactly how you feel in support groups. At times, this can be life-saving.
- The safe way to express your grievances — sometimes friends and family members unintentionally act and respond in hurtful ways. While you might not wish to confront them in the midst of all the sorrow and confusion that came with the loss, talking about this and sharing your emotions with a group is a great way of getting it off your chest.
Cons — online support groups
- Trolling — this is nothing new in the online world, and it can happen in support groups too. The issue here is that you are already emotionally hurt when you join the group and the last thing you need is to be picked on, treated with disrespect or have someone take their anger out on you to make themselves feel better.
- Exclusion — most of the support groups are only open to people who are dealing with a specific type of grief, and you may not be eligible to become a member if your loss is of any other kind. There are groups, for instance, devoted to a loss of a child, a marital partner, or a sibling. There might, however, be no groups for the type of loss you are going through.
- Watching the suffering of others — this can be a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it can be helpful to see that you are not alone and that there are others who are going through the similar experiences, on the other, it can be painful to see others suffer. If you spend too much time in the group, it may begin to seem as if the whole world is in mourning and there is nothing but loss all around you. Instead of finding a way out, you might get dragged even deeper in.
- It can be hard to develop close personal friendships — online groups members come from all over the place and it is hard to find someone who would live near enough to meet in-person and develop a close personal friendship. It can happen sometimes, though.
- Adopting a new identity as a griever — while many members post about experiences that helped them overcome their grief, there are also those who end up developing and building their new identity based on grieving. Some members reject all attempts of help that could lead to transformation of their pain. Watching their grief is heart-breaking, for there is a way out of grief and it can be found.
Tips — how to deal with the cons
- Trolling — resist the temptation to argue and avoid power-plays. You are not in the group to get hurt or to hurt others. You are there to give and receive help. If anyone in the group makes that hard for you, simply block them and do not engage in clashes that lead nowhere and can only make everyone feel uncomfortable. You can block a member and remain a member of the group while sparing yourself the pain of having to interact with a troublesome individual.
- Exclusion — find a general grief support group and/or opt for individual sessions with a grief support professional. It can be very painful to feel excluded, especially at times of loss and even more so if that happens based solely on the type of your loss. I recently started Transform the Pain Facebook group that is open to everyone who is going through any kind of loss. You are most welcome to join.
- The suffering of others — if seeing the pain of others is too much for you to bear, opt for individual sessions and grief counseling instead. Do not try to force yourself into staying in a group or enduring anything that hurts you even more. You have been badly wounded; you need to heal, and there is no need to suffer more when that can be avoided.
- It can be hard to develop close personal friendships — but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Especially in the initial stages of grief, you might be too wounded and weak to be able to built-up a new friendship from scratch. Taking some time off before proceeding with in-person social activities may be best until you feel stronger and better able to cope.
- Developing an identity of a griever —this is not uncommon in cases of complicated grief. Complicated grief is a form of maladaptive coping with loss. It can happen when a problem isn’t just loss, but, for instance, unresolved issues in the relationship with the deceased that can now never be repaired. You might feel guilty and unable to forgive yourself for what you think you did wrong or feel anger because the person who died left you. If this is going on for years with no improvement, you need to get professional help. Try to understand that staying in this state indefinitely and using a support group to build your new identity around your grief can have a negative effect on your mental health and close relationships.
Feel free to connect with me if you are in need of counseling and individual support. Going through a loss is hard, but it can get easier if you have someone by your side. I’m now offering a free online session so that you can see if that would work for you. Join the Transform the Pain Facebook group to contact me or send an email at email@example.com.
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Thanks to Justine M Dunn for editing.