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

Bullies At Work

man placing eggs with faces drawn on them into an egg carton

Bullies at Work   © 2016 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.   Workplace bullying is a growing international problem. It is more than a one-time incident. It is a pattern of behavior between a bully and another worker that can demoralize, isolate and trigger illness in the target of the bully. What is bullying? Who does it? Is it increasing? What can you do to protect yourself? And what can employers do to promote a safe environment for employees? This short article attempts to answer some of these key questions. My perspective is that of a therapist, mediator, and attorney handling “high conflict” disputes in a variety of settings.   What is Workplace Bullying? In many ways, it is similar to playground bullying; except that as adults it should no longer be an issue. It is aggressive behavior that should be personally contained, but for some reason is not. Bullying involves more than one incident of aggressive negative behavior. It is a repeated pattern of negative behavior that usually involves a bully with more power or the convincing appearance of more power. Bullying can include acts that are intimidating, humiliating, and isolating and can be verbal or physical, blatant or subtle, active or passive. (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006.) The underlying message is that the bully can and will keep engaging in unwanted, negative behavior which you are powerless to stop. This sense of powerlessness grows and the target begins to feel bad about himself or herself, as well as frightened of the bully. Bullying appears to go on in an environment that tolerates or rewards hostile behavior without intervening. The effect on the “target” of bullying can be devastating, and there is substantial research that shows that targets can experience a wide range of related illnesses, from depression and loss of sleep to intestinal disorders and increased risk of heart disease. Productivity drops, teamwork suffers, good employees leave, and employers have increased medical and legal claims. (Yamada, 2008.) Research even shows that workplace bullying has a more negative effect on employees than sexual harassment, perhaps because there are more procedures in place for dealing with sexual harassment nowadays. (Bryner, 2008)   Who Are the Bullies at Work? From my experience and interdisciplinary training, I strongly believe that bullies at work are High Conflict People (“HCPs”) with high conflict personalities. By this, I mean that they bring this behavior with them, rather than that they are reacting to an external “issue” or that other people “make” them behave this way. I believe that bullying is part of “who they are”—their life-long pattern of thinking, feeling and behaving. This began before they took this job. From my observations, there are four personality types most often engaged in workplace bullying. Each of these types is trying to overcome a sense of weakness or fear in themselves, although they are usually not aware of this. (And don’t try to point it out to them!) They are unconsciously driven to find and attack what I call their “Targets of Blame,” because this helps them briefly feel less anxious and helpless themselves by feeling able to hurt others. Their targets can be anyone. It’s not personal. It’s about the bully, not about the target. “I’m Very Superior” type: These bullies are stuck trying to prove to themselves and others that they are superior beings. They are really afraid of being seen as inferior, but this fear is not conscious and they will become very defensive if you suggest that they are worried about being seen as inferior. They show frequent disdain and disrespect towards those closest to them. This is mostly verbal, but they may engage in humiliating jokes, tricks or maneuvers to make you look bad (to make them look good, they hope). This is automatic behavior for them. “Love-You, Hate-You” type: These bullies often seek revenge for perceived rejections from those they thought were very good friends. Once their fantasy of friendship fades, they retaliate. Even if you did nothing, they don’t check out misinformation—instead they act on it. They may spread rumors and make claims that you are an extremely uncaring or unethical person. If there was a conflict, they want others to believe it’s all your fault. They have a lot of all-or-nothing thinking and they jump to conclusions. “You’re with me or you’re against me.” They can easily fly into a rage, and sometimes they become violent or stalk their Targets. “I Need to Dominate” type: These bullies go beyond just wanting to appear superior. They enjoy hurting other people. They fear being dominated, so they try to find someone, somewhere, who they can dominate. As long as they are harming someone else, they feel less vulnerable. They may say hurtful things, but they often do hurtful things, including stealing from those they are closest to, manipulating you into doing favors and then stabbing you in the back, and being willing to destroy your career for some short-term goal. You may feel that you are being manipulated or in danger. Be skeptical of strange schemes. They are con artists. “I Can’t Trust Anyone” type: These bullies are highly suspicious of others and may believe that you are taking advantage of them, when you don’t even know them personally. They bear a grudge and will attack you before (they think) you are going to attack them. They can spread rumors that you want to harm them, and they believe it themselves. They often create high conflict situations because of their excessive fears of everyone else. All of these bullies feel that they are victims. They think that you are a danger to them, and so they believe they are justified in attacking you. While it may seem that they are enjoying bullying others, it is not true enjoyment. They enjoy the momentary feeling of being in power. Most people don’t need to have power over someone else in a negative way. But for these bullies, that is the only satisfaction in a daily struggle