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Margaret E. Backman, Ph.D.

Polio Survivors like everyone else are chatting away on the Internet. This has brought many closer together and has been a great help to those who are not able to get around and feel isolated. Sharing information and support over the computer can be comforting, informative, and even exciting and addictive.

But we must use caution. We are learning each day that the Internet is not without its problems. And it is some of the etiquette and cautions that I would like to address here.

Privacy and Personal Space

Recently someone forwarded to me a printout of some computer "chatting" that had appeared on one of the Internet sites. To my surprise, there was my name--the person was talking about me. We don't usually know when people talk about us "behind our back" as it used to be called. But then it often didn't matter much as the circles would be rather limited. And anyway, the people involved often knew you and so they could make some corrective adjustment if they didn't agree with what was being said.

But in talking about others on the Internet, what is said reaches a much larger audience ... potentially the world, if you think about it. And a lot of people listening don't have a clue who you are and take what is said as truth. Fortunately, what was said about me was intended to be positive and I thank the "chatterer", despite my sense of uneasiness.

But I have talked to those who have been the subject of ridicule, complaint, and anger on the Internet ... uncensored for all the world to see. The hurt, the sense of vulnerability that this has caused, runs deep and can be painful. Opinions and your personal information can be disseminated at will without your consent or knowledge.

Trust: Deserved or Not?

Bear in mind that although there are nice people on the Internet there are also troubled people. Many with serious mental and emotional disorders use computers, and psychopathology may not be evident to you. Those with unresolved anger can lash out at anyone who crosses them and feel in control and powerful.

Often these are people who deep inside feel helpless and full of rage. They act out their anger and rage through the anonymity of the computer, feeling safe in their physical space that you cannot penetrate.

There may also be people posing as professionals giving advice, even recommending medications. Check their credentials through outside sources, such as the American Medical Association, The American Psychological Association, The American Psychiatric Association.

Just because someone calls himself or herself a counselor, psychologist or physician, doesn't mean that he/she is. Or even if they are, it doesn't necessarily mean that they know what they are talking about.

Just because you see something, in writing does not make it true. Use your best judgment. Be careful.

Manners on the Internet

Try not to engage in arguments on the Internet. What you say carries much weight when written down, Anyone who has received a shocking e-mail can appreciate the surprise and hurt it can cause. And you can't take it back once it's been sent. And it canít be easily forgotten as the other person has it in the file to read over and over. Find other more constructive ways to let out anger and complaints. Find other more positive ways to express your feelings. Try to stay logical and say things that can be helpful, not hurtful. And don't use all capital letters. On the computer that is like screaming. And be careful what you say about others on the computer. Let them speak for themselves. You speak for yourself.

The computer is not a therapist. It is not there to help you resolve your feelings. For that, it is best to talk with friends, family, or go to a trained mental health professional.

Now with these words of caution, go to it. Use the Internet. Make new connections, learn what is out there. Share what you know with others. It is an exciting world.

Margaret E. Backman,Ph.D is a Clinical Psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in New York City. She specializes in working with those who have medical illnesses and physical disabilities. Dr. Backman is the author of the book:

(Plenum Press, NYC)

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