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Is Total Freedom the Goal?

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

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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

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Turning the Tide on Toxic Teams: Introducing New Ways for Work®—Leaders Training

Turning the Tide on Toxic Teams: Introducing New Ways for Work®—Leaders Course   © 2024 by Cherolyn Knapp, B. Comm, Q.Med Have you ever found yourself leading a toxic team? When a tide of negativity is threatening the whole team, it’s confounding and confusing. Employees can be quick to identify that they work in a “toxic workplace” but how do leaders know the team has gone toxic? Reports of bad behaviour are brought to you and you find yourself thinking, “come on, we’re all adults here, can’t we just sort this out and move on?” As a leader, you are going from fire to fire and might be feeling burnt out yourself. As a leader, you might be spending most of your time dealing with “HR issues,” or dreading dealing with those issues, rather than the work of the team. When yet another interpersonal issue happens, you might say to yourself, “I’ve never seen anything like this before” or “I think I’m a pretty good leader but the stuff I normally do just isn’t working now.” When leaders find themselves in this situation, it’s time to step back, look at the whole picture and figure out what needs to happen to change deeply entrenched problem teams. High conflict teams and the individuals who fuel them Sometimes an entire team can seem to take on the characteristics of a high conflict personality: there is repeated blaming, unmanaged emotion, extreme behaviour and all or nothing thinking. Most of the individuals seem reasonable when you talk with them individually but you keep hearing about problematic behaviour like hyper-criticism, destructive gossip and chatter, disrupted team meetings, and reply-all email or text chats that take on a life of their own. The workplace culture may have become polarized into us vs. them. People are constantly upset, unfocused on work, quick to demand accountability, slow to take responsibility, calling in sick and leaving. And there so many complaints. At HCI, our knowledge and experience leads us to believe that most times toxic teams and workplaces are likely being fueled by one or two key players with high conflict personalities. You yourself have probably been involved with a work group that seemed impossible, but when one person went on vacation, the entire team breathed more easily and managed to interact productively. There are a couple of key reasons this can happen. Primarily, emotion are contagious. If there is a high conflict personality on the team who experiences unmanaged emotions and extreme behaviour, that’s going to be catchy and before you know it, everyone is regularly upset. Secondly, people with high conflict personalities tend to cultivate negative advocates. They can be convincing and they look for allies who support their distorted outlook, which fosters division and polarization on the team. None of this is child’s play. The cost of toxic teams can be high. There is lost productivity because everyone is mired in the conflict rather than the work of the team. Quality decreases. Good employees who can’t deal with the toxic culture anymore leave, taking organizational knowhow with them. People feel burnt out and their wellbeing suffers. Recruitment and retention in an already tight labor market becomes near impossible. Missteps by well-meaning leaders As leaders, our first inclination is often to talk with the person who seems to be at the centre of the problems about how their behaviour lands on others. If we lack high conflict savvy, these well-meaning coaching chats go in circles. The high conflict employee is adept at taking control of the conversation and we end up listening to them vent about everyone else. The venting never seems to make them feel better and they never grasp what we want them to change. Other members of the team say they bring forward their concerns but “nothing ever gets done.” Another possible direction these conversations go is that the alleged “problem-person” may say all the right things, which is confusing. They’ll say it’s not fair that people haven’t come to them directly – even if they have and it didn’t go well. People with high conflict personalities may say they welcome open communication but in reality they are very sensitive and even mild feedback feels like an attack. Well meaning leaders may incorrectly conclude that both people share responsibility for conflicts and expect co-workers to sort it out rather than setting clear limits on destructive behaviour. Another possible direction when leaders try to get an employee to see how their difficult behaviour is landing on other people is you become the target of blame. The employee accuses you of singling them out for mistreatment, or favouring their co-workers, or being a bully. Every time you try to inject reason into the conversation, your competence is challenged, or your ethics, or whether you actually care. Leaders who understand high conflict behaviour can avoid missteps that lead them into the above traps. We have worked with many very competent, well-meaning leaders who make these common mistakes when grappling with toxic team behaviour: Relying on the same leadership skills to work with all the people all the time Avoiding dealing with things because of leadership portfolios that are too demanding and hoping things will sort themselves out in time Giving too much benefit of the doubt to employees who are actually derailing the team and concluding that both “sides” are contributing equally to difficulties. Not realizing – or forgetting – that some people actually seem to thrive on creating chaos. Not setting clear expectations for workplace behaviour and imposing consistent consequences when those expectations are not met New Ways for Work®—Leaders At HCI, we are keenly familiar with the impact that people with high-conflict personalities have on creating a toxic team culture and the challenges that poses to workplace leaders. New Ways for Work – Leaders is a brand new course designed for people leaders in any workplace. That includes supervisors, clinical leaders, managers, directors, executives, board and committee chairs, union leaders, and elected officials. This

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