How can we utilize Martin Seligman’s theory of learned optimism to help victims of cyberbullying?

No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.”

Helen Keller

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Cyberbullying: What you need to know

Technology allows cyberbullying to effect people all over the world (UNICEF)

In the recent decade, the world has made leaps in technological development. Unfortunately, the rise in technology has also led to the rise in cyberbullying. As its name indicates, cyberbullying is bullying that occurs online instead of in person. It appears in many forms, such as hurtful posts or messages, creating false identities to harm others, or assuming another person’s identity (Tarshis). Victims of any type of bullying may develop mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, see their grades suffer, or have a greater amount of health complaints (“Effects of Bullying”). Cyberbullying is also difficult to deal with because unlike regular bullying, victims are no longer safe from bullies in their own homes (“Bullying and Cyberbullying”).

72 percent of teens who are frequent Internet users say they’ve been the victim of online bullying at least once during the past year, with 90 percent of them saying they don’t tell their parents about the online incidents, mainly because they feel the need to deal with the problem on their own and are fearful of parental restrictions on Internet use.”

School Library Journal qtd. in “Bullying and Cyberbullying”

To put a stop to cyberbullying, Fisk recommends refusing to pass on hurtful messages, blocking cyberbullies, and telling a trusted adult about the problem. In addition, Fisk also recommends that you raise awareness in your community about the issue.

An infographic utilizing data from 2013 depicting ways in which kids experience cyberbullying (American SPCC)

What is learned optimism?

You might have heard of optimism — but have you heard about learned optimism? The concept of learned optimism was developed by Martin Seligman, who is referred to as the “founding father” of positive psychology (Moore). Learned optimism is the idea that we can learn to be more optimistic by recognizing and confronting our pessimistic thoughts (Moore).

Learned optimism means consistently challenging your negative and pessimistic thoughts through practices such as the ABC Model (Big Talker)

The 3 P’s

The way we view the world is generally driven by the 3 P’s:

  • Personalization: the belief that when something bad occurs, you are the one at fault (Moore).
  • Pervasiveness: the belief that when something bad happens, it automatically extends and applies to all other areas of your life (“3 P’s”).
  • Permanence: the belief that when something bad happens, its effect is permanent (Moore).
As optimists, the goal is to view negative events as temporary and not a reflection of our own abilities (graph from Moore)

The Optimism Library

My goal for this project was to help victims of cyberbullying shift their outlook from a pessimistic point of view to an optimistic one. Studies have shown that pessimists are more likely to develop depression or anxiety, and that optimism and depressive symptoms are inversely related (Conversano et al.). Therefore, practicing and learning optimism could also benefit victims of cyberbullying by addressing the impacts of depression and anxiety.

During an interview, I learned that it is possible victims may benefit from a positive approach to reduce the long-lasting negative effects of bullying (Maiorano). An optimistic approach incorporates this by integrating the 3 P’s of learned optimism into practices. For example, the goal is to shift from personal (“I must be the reason I’m being cyberbullied”) to external (“I am not the reason I am being cyberbullied”).

You can learn to be optimistic (Harvard Health Publishing)

What does it look like?

The idea behind the Optimism Library is to create an app for teens to use to practice learning optimism. A daily reminder to each user would suggest a practice to try that day. The practices might also have voice recordings either leading the person through the practice or giving users more information.

The practices included below are examples of ones that would be on the app. Give one of them a try (pause the video) and respond to the optional short survey below! If you attempt the ABC Method, the voice recording below is an example of what might be on the app (pause the video and play the recording).

Once you’ve tried one of the practices, please take this optional survey.

Call to Action

How can you help? You can help by spreading awareness about cyberbullying! One option is to volunteer with local organizations working to put a stop to bullying. If you are from the US, you can visit for more information on what you can do.

In addition, you can share what you know about learned optimism, or share the video below!

I would love to hear your feedback, so please leave a note in the comments section below! In addition, I’d appreciate it if you could answer these questions:

  1. How can you use learned optimism to make a positive impact in your community?
  2. What are some things I should think about adding to my work?


Works and Images Cited

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