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5 Problematic Support Group Personalities (and How to Avoid Being One)

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For those of us who are chronically ill, one of the most common resources used today is the support group. Generally, this is a good thing but sometimes, support groups can become a clash of personalities.


Here are the most common yet problematic support group personalities and how to avoid being one of them:

1. The Debbie Downer

OK, support groups are designed for people who are experiencing problems. In this case, chronic illness or pain. Debbie Downers are the epitome of this. Every post is a litany of complaints and questions of “will this ever end?” and “why me?”

The problem with people like this is they have nothing to offer the group. Their posts are only drains on the group mentality as they don’t even want advice or suggestions. Every comment is met with “I tried that” or “I can’t take that because…” Debbies only want to hear, “I’m so sorry for you” or “You’re so strong to keep going through all that.” They want pats on the back. And don’t ever look to them for support or advice on anyone else’s posts. That’s not their style.

2. The Hijacker

Do you remember as a kid playing the card game War? The high card wins? There are people in support groups who, for some reason, jump in on threads for the purpose of hijacking it all while denying that’s what they’re doing. They just mention that they too have A and B but they also have C, or their version of A and B is so much worse. Then they’ll state that they don’t mean to shift focus (which they have obviously just done) but they want to note that many of the suggestions offered have not worked for them. Really?

Hijackers are a subclass of Debbie Downers. They will immediately get the “I’m Sorrys” and the “We’re here for yous,” all while denying that was the reason for their comment.

3. The Nature Goddess

These people usually post to be helpful but do so in a very forceful way. Their opinions are handed out attached to 100-lb. bricks of granola laced with references to different articles they view as proof of their point. The problem with them is they typically use aggressive wording when stating their opinions. Goddesses give the impression that the research out there on diet and natural remedies is as good as that done on drugs and pharmaceuticals in treating disease.

Some Goddesses also tend to use language that would scare anyone off taking a pill by calling them “poison” and making blanket statements about side effects. Understandably, they are passionate about their lifestyle and about treatments that work on certain parts of chronic illness, but Goddesses are good at causing confusion in support groups by the very nature of what they present.

4. Pill Pushers

Opposite of Nature Goddesses, but just as harsh, Pill Pushers strongly believe in medication as the only way to ward off flare-ups and progressions of these diseases. The problem with them is the fact that Pushers tend to believe in a certain medication over all others and will go to great lengths listing all the bad things and side effects of any other medication to get their point across. To them, the concepts of medications working differently for different people, or that what’s best for them isn’t necessarily best for all, are inconceivable. The fact that the side effects they list may never have happened or that there may be people in the group who have had great success on a medication they think is bad doesn’t matter to them at all.

5. Long Termers

(Yeah, me.) These people have been fighting these diseases so long that they have experienced almost everything people can throw at us. They have also tried so many medications, supplements, weird treatment options, exercises and whatnot that they can fall into the trap of thinking they know it all. Certainly, Long Termers know more than the average bear. They have seen a lot work and have seen a lot more fail. They tend to want to make sure the “correct knowledge” gets out there. Which is problematic in itself because “correct knowledge” is actually different for each person. So Long Termers end up taking on more people than they should by trying to correct them and telling them the right info. And people don’t always take that well.

With these five personalities found in pretty much every support group I’ve been in, the only way to combat them is to be aware of your own behavior and reactions. Avoid being a Debbie or Hijacker by watching the number of posts you write about your negative stuff. Yes, the group is there for us to vent and complain, but in truth, the more we offer help and support to others, the better we feel! In reality, a group that is designed to offer us something we may not have in real life is actually an alternative treatment itself! And let others have the spotlight if they started the thread. It’s their pain, their issue. We can have our turn in a different post.

As for our Goddesses and Pushers, they both need to take a step back. I have seen way too many posts from both go very wrong. And I am not above admitting I have been involved in some of those because I have taken offense at some of the claims made. It has always come down to wording. There is no cure for us, only times of remission. None of us should present our path as a cure. We should also avoid fearmongering by labeling medications as poisons or as things with side effects worse than the disease.

Long Termers need to watch their words as well by withholding comments at times and also realizing there are lots of new treatments out there that weren’t available when we were diagnosed. In this situation, we don’t know it all! We all need to realize that presentation counts because no one likes a know-it-all! (Yeah, kinda directed at me…) We can only present what we have taken or are taking and how it has affected us. Period.

By keeping our posts diverse and our language neutral, we allow everyone to stay involved and open-minded. We also give them the ability to research their own choices and make their own informed decisions. And really, isn’t this what we all want anyway? Info and tips we can all research and make our own decisions on? I know it’s what I want…

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Thinkstock photo via Rawpixel.

Originally published: August 11, 2017
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