Monica Lewinsky has opened up about her experience with “self-bullying”.
To raise awareness for her new campaign called “Stand Up to Yourself,” Lewinsky penned an essay for Today, in which she examined the role of self-bullying and self-shaming in her own life, and ways she’s tried to combat negative self-talk.
Lewinsky began her essay by calling herself “patient zero” of internet bullying, referring to the massive backlash and ridicule she received for her role in former President Bill Clinton’s 1998 scandal.
She wrote that although she “lost her online reputation” before the digital age, she was still met with a “tsunami of hate”.
“It might have been before social media, but trust me that news websites, comment sections and chat rooms could do a lot of damage,” she explained, adding that the internet amplified bullying for the worse. “It was a different kind of bullying than what I experienced when I was in grade school and high school because, back then, there was no internet.”
She went on to note that social media took internet bullying to the next level, and even those “with stories more private and anonymous” than Lewinsky’s were not immune to the dark side of social media.
Lewinsky cited the 2010 death of Tyler Clementi as a cautionary tale of how “public humiliation and shaming” in a digital space can affect people. Clementi was a young college student whose roommate secretly filmed him being intimate with another man, and posted the video online. At 18 years old, Clementi ended his life.
After talking to her mother about Clementi’s death, it struck Lewinsky that “we were living in a world where people who were completely private (and completely innocent) were finding themselves as victims of public shaming”. In light of Clementi’s death, she found herself motivated to launch an anti-bullying campaign: “I’d hoped that in this new, shifting landscape, maybe my own experiences of surviving public humiliation and shaming could be of value - and help me give a purpose to my past.”
In honour of bullying prevention month, Lewinsky wanted to spotlight a different kind of bullying. She explained, “Our campaign is looking inward, at the bullies we all know too well - and the ones who may be our harshest critics: ourselves.”
Many years ago, Lewinsky shared that she had attended a seminar asking those attending to write a list of negative comments that their inner critic told them. The exercise made Lewinsky realise that she was not only being cruel to herself but that she was also “internalising the cruelty”.
“We can be our own worst enemy,” Lewinsky wrote, acknowledging how “unhealthy” self-hate can be. “We’ll never fully eradicate that negative voice in our heads, but we can shift it. We can quiet it at times and even begin to see subtle changes in how we automatically talk to ourselves.”
She added: “Our most intimate relationships are valuable because they remind us of who we really are. And our most intimate relationship is with the person we talk to our entire lives: Ourselves.”
Since the 1998 scandal, Lewinsky has gone on to become a producer, social activist, and a global public speaker, and went on to produce a popular TED Talk called “The Price of Shame,” which has received over 27 million views.
In the past eight years, Lewinsky has been dedicated to anti-bullying efforts. She was the co-executive producer for 15 Minutes of Shame,which dives into public shaming, and was also the executive producer of Impeachment: American Crime Story, a 10-episode series created by Ryan Murphy that shone a new light on the 1998 scandal.