Is Total Freedom the Goal?

Happy man with backpack jumping on top of the mountain

Is Total Freedom the Goal?   © 2024 by Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Setting Boundaries in Relationships at Home, at Work and Online As we celebrate Independence Day and the freedoms that we enjoy, the question of “how free can we be and still get along” keeps coming up. This applies to relationships in families, at work, the online world, and politics. While there is a lot of talk of freedoms and rights, there also has to be talk of boundaries and responsibilities. One thing is clear: Where there are no rules, only bullies will rule. Unfortunately, boundaries in today’s world can be very fuzzy and often need open discussion. In years past, roles were clear and everyone knew what the basic boundaries were. Today, boundaries are more subject to negotiation, so people need skills to assert themselves enough to feel safe while also feeling free as much as possible to grow and be themselves. This article addresses setting boundaries in various settings and how we can do that with confidence and mutual respect. Romantic Relationships It used to be obvious that romantic relationships only work when people mutually agree that they won’t date other people once they have committed to a partner. Yet this isn’t always clear-cut today. Some people have “open marriages,” in which they date other people. Nowadays, some people are “polyamorous,” which means they each may have two or three people who are ongoing “part-time lovers.” There is also the “Big Love” of a polygamous family with one man and several wives and all of their children. Then there are some people with narcissistic personalities who believe that they need to go out and get more love from several people, while their partners should stay home and only need them. Overall, this means that people need to be clear about what their needs and expectations are and need to say them out loud at some point when developing a romantic relationship. It also means that people need to know themselves and their own needs before taking big relationship risks. Multiple partners often turn out to be fantasies that can’t be sustained and sometimes people get hurt deeply. On the other hand, research shows that young adults today are avoiding sex, marriage, and children more than prior generations, which isn’t good either. Assertive skills can help make the world and relationships less scary, as explained below. Young Adults (and High School) Sex Young people have to navigate a far different world today from their parents and grandparents. While no sex before marriage was the standard decades ago, the issue of sex comes up early in dating or “hooking up” without even a dating relationship. Unlike in the past, young people have to learn to protect themselves because the culture, religious communities, peers, and even families are less involved in these very individualized decisions today. Two key boundaries seem important here: Know what you want and don’t want. These are boundaries for yourself. If someone doesn’t want what you want or doesn’t respect what you don’t want, then they aren’t for you. High school and college students should never feel so desperate for love that they sacrifice their sense of self, what they want, and what they don’t want. They still have lots of time to find what they are looking for in today’s wide-open world. Finding like-minded groups of people who share beliefs and interests is one of the best ways to meet people who will respect you. Say what you want and don’t want. Only “Yes means Yes!” It used to be that you could do whatever you wanted with a partner unless they said No! (the old “No means No!”) But that turned out to be insufficient because people (often girls) felt pressured to do things they didn’t want to and they didn’t feel comfortable saying No. Instead, “Yes means Yes” means that you have to get permission first before you engage in each form of physical contact. Without a Yes, there is an automatic boundary. The problem is that not everyone knows this or follows it, so you have to be ready to be very assertive about saying “Only Yes means Yes!” Abusive Relationships Unfortunately, some relationships include physical (and sometimes sexual) violence. This catches many people (primarily women) off-guard and they come to believe that this is a part of most relationships—but it’s not. All partners should respect each other’s health and safety, and domestic violence is a violation of one person’s body for another person’s freedom to abuse. In today’s society, there is a generally accepted boundary against domestic violence (it’s illegal), but it still occurs in approximately 20% of couple relationships, with perhaps half of them including what is called “coercive control,” in which one partner lives in fear of the other partner. Early in a relationship look for warning signs and even discuss agreed boundaries against all of these behaviors and more: no slapping, hitting, pushing, shoving, knocking down, blocking from leaving, taking a phone away, choking, cutting off from friends and relatives, controlling finances, etc. If you can’t discuss this and agree to such boundaries, then the relationship may already be unsafe. Divorce and Parenting This is an area where all the rules are changing in terms of roles, parenting time, and responsibilities when a relationship ends, but the parents continue on as business partners in the business of raising their children. For a detailed description of relevant boundaries, see the article “Top 12 Tips for Co-Parent Boundaries” in the May 2024 High Conflict Institute newsletter.  Workplace Rules Boundaries in the workplace can be particularly confusing nowadays, especially with dramatic changes within companies, with employees and managers coming and going regularly, and with both genders working closely side-by-side. Much of today’s work world needs to be negotiated, so assertiveness skills are critical. From the start of employment, companies and employees should feel free to itemize what the expectations, behaviors, and responsibilities are for everyone. It helps if there

How Adult Bullies Find and Encourage Each Other on Social Media

How Adult Bullies Find and Encourage Each Other on Social Media   © 2024 by Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Adult bullies have traditionally been kept on the fringes of society by families, communities, and legal systems that won’t tolerate their bullying behavior, as I explain in my new book Our New World of Adult Bullies: How to Spot Them – How to Stop Them. However, with the advent of social media, they are finding like-minded bullies and encouraging each other in their negative behavior rather than encouraging each other to use more positive behavior. This article addresses three ways in which I see this happening. Dysfunctional Interpersonal Behavior of Bullies As I describe in the book, most adult bullies appear to have traits of three personality disorders: narcissistic, antisocial, and borderline. This means that many of them have dysfunctional interpersonal behavior with tendencies toward being domineering, vindictive, and intrusive. (Wilson, et al, 2017) In the past, most of these potential bullies would have learned that their bullying behavior is undesirable and, in most cases, unacceptable. They may have received consequences for their behavior that made them try to restrain themselves to the extent possible. Social media has changed all of this. Now isolated bullies have found other people who share their interpersonal dysfunction and formed a sense of community around it. Rather than supporting each other in a process of positive behavior change, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, some are supporting each other in defending and justifying their undesirable behavior instead. For example, author and psychotherapist Alexander Kriss believes that many people with borderline personality disorder can improve and that the diagnosis itself is unhelpful. He is particularly concerned that online communities are forming and reinforcing the negative behaviors of the disorder. For example: Such communities, Kriss fears, can “pervert” B.P.D. into a self-serving justification for misconduct. He cites the musician Abby Weems’s posts about her relationship with the podcaster Dustin Marshall: “He made it so easy to rationalize his behavior, telling me ‘that’s just what happens when someone has BPD.’ His personality disorder made up so much of his identity that any abusive behavior fell under the umbrella of his condition. (Singh, 2024, 24) Of course, this is not to say that all people with a diagnosis or self-diagnosis of borderline personality disorder behave this way. There are many who are working hard at recovering from this disorder, including treatment groups such as those using the skills of DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). (Dimeff & Koerner, 2007) Political Polarization and Bullies One of the big concerns around the world today is: Why are we so polarized politically? The same media and social media dynamic appears to be taking place. Traditionally, political power was something that grew by building relationships with many differing people who were able to agree on enough shared values and policies to hold themselves together. There is a pro-social element to such political power. It is built around the middle ground that brings the most people together. This has been the nature of political parties around the world—in the past. Today, through the influence of high-emotion mainstream media—which constantly promotes conflict, crises, chaos, and fear—everyone is more anxious and open to more extreme policies and more extreme groups. As I explain in my book, when people in polarized groups just talk to themselves they become more extreme, not less. Social media enables groups of extreme and anxious people to find each other and join together and strengthen their extreme thinking. So, in a two-party system, such as in the U. S., the parties used to be center-left (Democratic) and center-right (Republican) in order to get anything done. With social media, they are pulled farther and farther apart by the most aggressive people and get very little done beyond getting attention and reinforcing each other’s extreme thinking and behavior. This is happening worldwide. The extreme groups are getting more attention in the high-emotion media—mostly mainstream media and social media—because bullies have the most emotional personalities and the biggest drive to get attention. These social connections legitimize their behavior as ordinary and necessary politics, with bullies as “ordinary” leaders. The result is that the more extreme players can form the strongest bonds with each other and are able to energize each other as they promote more and more extreme values and positions. Politics has become a process of finding your support group in extreme opposition to others rather than finding your support group in agreement with others who may disagree on a lot but are willing to work together on a larger common agenda. Mass Shootings I used to think that individuals who committed mass shootings (three or more deaths) were lone wolves, isolated from society. Recently, however, those who study such shootings say the shooters tend to be between the ages of 18 and 21 and belong to social media groups. Apparently, they encourage each other. As one researcher said: “These are young guys who feel like losers, and they have an overwhelming drive to show everybody they are not on the bottom,” he said. “In the case of the Buffalo shooter, it was about trying to impress this community of racists he had cultivated online. In the case of the kid in Uvalde, it was about going back to the place where you felt disrespected and acting out violently.” (Thrush & Richtel, 2022) While it is hard to believe, such behavior seems to have a social purpose in the distorted thinking of the shooter. When such young adults connect with other like-minded young adults, the potential for danger can be very high. Peer pressure and the drive to belong are very powerful at this age. Ideally, they would have pro-social activities to engage them and give them a positive sense of community and purpose. Unfortunately, when left on their own to fill their time exploring the internet, their social needs may get met by social media of the most negative type. Conclusion Social media

SLIC Solutions: Setting Limits and Imposing Consequences in 2 ½ Steps

SLIC Solutions: Setting Limits and Imposing Consequences in 2 ½ Steps   © 2024 by Bill Eddy, LCSW, JD We live in a rapidly changing world, with rules and standards frequently in flux. However, most people are sufficiently self-regulated to maintain civility and cooperation in the midst of vagueness and uncertainty. Not surprisingly, setting limits on those with misbehavior has become one of the most important skills to have in today’s world, especially in high conflict situations. This is especially true since the pandemic and the increase in high conflict behavior worldwide. But in today’s world, Setting Limits is often ineffective if it isn’t combined with Imposing Consequences (thus the acronym: SLIC). People often say: “But I told him to stop!” Or: “I’m sure she’ll come to her senses.” As I describe in my new book—Our New World of Adult Bullies: How to Spot Them – How to Stop Them—some people really do lack the ability to stop themselves, so others have to do it. While most of us dread imposing consequences, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Since 2008, High Conflict Institute has been developing and teaching simple techniques for managing high conflict behavior. These skills can be learned by almost anyone with practice. SLIC Solutions is the last of four simple techniques that we teach for any conflict situation in our overall CARS Method® of conflict resolution: CONNECTING includes a simple EAR Statement® for calming upset people and connecting with them. ANALYZING options includes Making Proposals in 3 Steps™ for making decisions large and small. RESPONDING with a BIFF Response® can be used with emails and other written communication when someone is hostile, demanding, or misinformed. Now, for SETTING limits. we suggest SLIC Solutions™ which can be applied in 2½ steps. This article will explain how you can gain confidence in setting limits and imposing consequences in any situation. Step 1: Setting Limits Setting limits simply means defining the behavior you want or don’t want another person to do. It’s good to emphasize the positive—what you want someone to do—although sometimes saying what you don’t want may be just as important. For example: “Please be quiet in the hallway or move your discussion somewhere else. We’re trying to have a meeting in here.” This is always better than yelling “Shut Up out there.” It helps to set limits in a matter-of-fact or just slightly-raised tone of voice, even if you’re upset. When you vent intense emotions on another person, it tends to trigger their defensiveness and they may react to your tone rather than thinking about how to fulfill the limit you requested. Try not to make it personal, so that the person doesn’t feel that their life, reputation, or credibility are being challenged. Instead, make it clearly about the specific behavior you want. “Please refrain from discussing with Fred the confidential information I gave you yesterday.” This is much better than: “Shut the “f” up about what I said yesterday, you a—hole!” People often confuse being aggressive and profane with being firm. Showing that you are in control of yourself, and that you can be calm and reasonable are usually much more effective and you will be respected more for it. Including a Credible Threat of Imposing Consequences Setting limits without the credible threat of imposing consequences is often pointless when serious behavior or high conflict people are involved. They don’t like being told what to do. At first, when you are setting limits, you might put it as a request or an order, if you are a parent, a judge, or administrator. But if it is important to you and it is ignored, then the second time you say what the limit is it helps to notify the person of what the consequence will be. “If you keep talking about my mother in those terms, then I’m going to have to end this conversation.” “If you keep interrupting me in front of my supervisor, then I’ll have to meet with him without you.” “If you keep scheduling events for our child during my parenting time, then I’ll have to talk with my attorney about next steps.” “If you keep talking after your three minutes are up at this community meeting, then I’m going to have to turn off your microphone and have you escorted out of the meeting.” Amazingly, a credible threat of serious consequences may at least give a high conflict person pause to think about their behavior. They really don’t routinely think about consequences as they are so emotionally preoccupied in the moment. It can be especially impactful if your tone of voice and history of setting limits show that you are very likely to impose the consequence if necessary. Step 2: Imposing Consequences If the person continues engaging in the behavior you set limits on, then it’s time to impose the consequences. Sometimes you may decide to go more quickly to the consequence or give the person a third chance. But be careful not to continue to make empty threats. That’s the surest way to teach the person that you do not mean what you say for now and in the future. Setting limits without imposing consequences can make things worse. When you are imposing the consequence, make sure it is something you have control over. Telling someone that they should feel guilty or ashamed of themselves for their behavior, or telling them that they are being inappropriate, is not effective limit-setting. Yet people say this all the time as a substitute for real limit setting. It just doesn’t work because you don’t have control over how another person thinks or feels. With high conflict people, they may believe that their behavior is normal and necessary even when no one else does (because it has been part of their personality possibly from birth or at least early childhood. Think your consequence through ahead of time, especially before you announce it. Don’t be surprised when the other person argues with you and resists