Support even when Standing Alone

How do you connect with support when you feel alone?

We can easily fall in the role of the “outsider,” the one who doesn’t fit. Or feel alone in our journeys, which can at time feel more like exhausting battles. One that we may feel we are failing at or losing miserably. We could use a support team in these moments of exhaustion, doubt or loneliness.   

I notice this for expats and immigrants this is even more so. We may have less access to supports, or feel less understood by our new or previous contexts. It may be our situation or context has changed, we’ve changed, or others have. Sometimes we face elements of all three forms of change. Either way, we can quickly find ourselves “outside the norm,” each of us have different reactions to this. For some it is painful to sense the disconnection, for others it is a relief from the group expectations. In both cases the experience of being outside of the norm can give freedom and stress.

As we navigate our journey, it can feel very isolating and lonely, it is important to remember who is ”on your team”. By team, I mean, who supports you? Cheers you on? Has got your back? Or maybe shows the way? In the last women’s group, we explored how we respond to others, adjust or not, and how it is to be outside of the group? We then touched on the idea of a support team. What would you want from the people who support you?

In our next group we will explore this further. Who would you want in your support team? I invite you to think about:
1. Who inspires you?  this may be a writer, a quote, a person, a higher power and/or a group?
2. Who cares about you? It can be family, friends, an old teacher, neighbor, coach, alive or not. Even an old pet, character from a movie or a book.
3. What does each person/being in your team do to display their support in their unique own way?

Your support team is not about telling you what you did that is “good or bad.” You are “good enough” whatever the situation is or whatever you do. They are there to remind you that no matter what happens you are worthy so and encourage you to let keep going, dare, rest… whatever is helpful for you to be connected to life.  

Allowing yourself to receive help especially in vulnerable moments is a powerful gift. It connects us to gratefulness, joy, others and more importantly life.

Biel #MeToo Tragedy II: Steps to Healing

In my previous Blog post, I raised questions and concerns about individual and community reactions to the case of a prominent Biel Businessman and father charged and convicted of inappropriate sexual contact with an intern he was supervising. When we, as a community, allow ourselves to have conversations non-judging and non-blaming conversations about such difficult situations, it helps us with coping, healing and reconciling in the face of such situations. Such crisis situations provide an opportunity to build and practice helpful skills. We can follow several steps, such as:

1. Concretely name what happened that was hurtful. Identify the hurtful behavior, without judgment or blame of self or other. For example, Sexual contact with an intern is not allowed legally nor is it appropriate.

2. Identify the impact of the behavior for yourself and allow others to do so too. Listen to and allow space for a range of emotional reactions, yours and others, without blaming or name calling. Using I language here is helpful. I feel … “shocked, angry, sad”… that… “name specific behavior” occurred.  I hear you… feel … when that… happened.

3. Identify what is your, or the community’s, need in connection to the situation. Again, it is helpful to be specific and non-judging. From here we can build on specific agreed upon steps or interventions. For example, it is important that interns and women can be safe and supported during their work/education/training. Are the organizations supporting interns making it clear how, where and to whom interns can go to for support? What possible steps would then be taken? The same for supervisors, who can they turn to when they are having issues with their interns? Where and how can someone not directly involved raise a concern or question?

4. Ask for accountability. Those who have not followed our social and legal agreements need to be held accountable. Name specific and appropriate consequences for the behavior, and make these public. This gives clarity and structure as to who has what responsibility. It also allows people to feel seen, supported and increases the rebuilding of safety, and allows people to move on to grieving and healing. For example, those who have repeatedly engaged in inappropriate behavior in the role as supervisor should be removed from that position and made to identify an action plan to acknowledge his behavior with the intern, the system they were in and take active steps (resources, time) to correct the situation. The intern is given support/therapy to identify how this impacted her, what impacted her decision process, and how she can protect her boundaries in more healthy ways in the future. What can the systems change to provide better guidance, clarity and consequences in these types of situations? 
    
5. Look at what you could have done differently to help or improve the situation. We are all part of these situations, it may be comments we made, moments we looked away, times we did not take someone seriously, or did not want to become involved because “it wasn’t our story,” blamed the “victim”, or dehumanized the accused. Again, it is important to recognize our humanity and that we will all make mistakes. Blaming or avoiding doesn’t help, yet doing an honest inventory can help prevent further situations from escalating. For example, Are there things in this situation that may be triggering me? How can I respond when this topic is raised in a way that reflects my values and does not judge the other? How would I want someone to react to me, my friend and/or my family member in this situation? How can I use this to inform how I want to react to those who may be in this situation. Where and who could a co-worker of supervisor or employee/intern contact (even anonymously) to ask what one could do in such a situation? How and where could the colleague of the supervisor have raised concerns to him directly about the behaviors, rumors and/or complications he has noticed earlier?   
     
6. Be aware that any step forward will be uncomfortable and difficult.
The reality is that discomfort and hurt are part of life, and
already present by the nature of these situations. The level of discomfort does not reflect what is “right” or who is to “blame”, it is there to remind us … “hey don’t look away this is important.” For example, a family member complained that “the school should not have addressed the incident in the children’s classrooms. I had to spend uncomfortable time explaining this topic to my child. They are too young to be talking about this.” This is not a topic we want our children to have to be faced with, yet the statistics show it happens much more than we like to admit. It is better they hear what is and is not appropriate, and ask questions before they are faced with such a situation directly themselves. It increases their ability to react skillfully. Also, it takes the secrecy out of this situation. Questions can be answered, worries can be expressed, changes can be made. The anger at the school is misplaced. They did not create this situation. The responsibility lies with the accused who broke a clear social contract/rule, by acting in a way that impacted the community. We need to have, use, and adapt our systems to directly address these situations. Then we all can refocus on to connecting with what is important to us about life.    
       
7. Be respectful of each person’s decision as to how they cope and reconcile with these situations.
We are quick to judge one another and give advice in these situations. Yet again we do not know the other person’s history or life situation. Some may need more time, distance, or support than others. Let’s be honest these situations affect everyone involved and affect everyone a bit differently. For example, people often say “the intern should not have done that..”, or “the supervisor should not be able to…”, “how could his colleagues and family not…”… followed by judgements of how participants should act. “The intern should…”,“We should boycott..”, “The people around him should … ”, “We/you should stop talking about it.” “Move on.” These are important and valid concerns, questions and considerations. Yet, we all have different ways of finding our ways through these difficult situations. I invite us to respect how others decide to act and respond. Let’s leave the “shoulds, musts, and can’ts” out of the conversations about how to cope and reconcile with difficult situations. Instead, you can ask questions (“what is your intention with (name behavior)…?”), make requests (“Can we please not…?”), voice uncertainty (“I am not sure what to say, think or do.”), recognize multiple perspectives (“I can see others feel/want/do, and yet for me it is important…”), and take distance if needed (“I don’t want to …”). Most likely, we may need to go through the above steps multiple times.

In conclusion, it is important that we learn to name, discuss and reconcile with these situations. There are no easy answers. We can catch ourselves trying to simply the situation with avoidance, blame, and judgment. Instead, we can allow ourselves and invite others to take the space and time to … name the difficult behavior, share emotional reactions, listen, make requests, hold ourselves and others accountable, take active steps to change and be aware of lingering discomfort in doing all of these things.

Crisis equals opportunity – the opportunity to learn and grow.

Biel #Metoo Tragedy I: Questions and Concerns

Recently news about a well-known business man in Biel, accused and convicted of having had repeated inappropriate sexual contact with one of the interns under his supervision, shocked the Biel community. Unfortunately, it is not the first, nor the last such case, and raises several issues which I think are important to address for ourselves as individuals and as a community.

He was ordered to pay compensation to the victim, and allowed to continue to be a supervisor of interns in his business, with the threat of jail time if a repeat occurrence arose. Strong reactions appeared in print and social media. He eventually withdrew himself from his role as supervisor, his family business and gave a public apology for his behavior.

In full disclosure, as a therapist, who works with survivors of trauma and who knows the man, his wife and children personally, I have followed the process with concern. Others have approached me with questions and shared reactions. I will not address this specifics of this case; he has received his sentence, I have communicated my concern to the family, and the family is dealing with it personally and publicly. It is however, important for me to remind us that he, and all others involved in this case, are human and have both positive and negative attributes.

In these type of situations, we as colleagues, peers and family, often look away and/or avoid difficult conversations about it. We do this for many reasons: fear of “making it worse” and out of a sense of helplessness (“what can I do?”) or hopelessness (“I won’t be able to change anything”). We may downplay the impact (“it’s not that bad,”) or step back from responsibility (“it’s not my story,”), blame it on others (“she also did bad things.”) or try to normalize the behavior (“boys will be boys”). Often this is to avoid our or other’s discomfort. Yet, there is no way around discomfort here. This discomfort is an invitation to reevaluate what is important to us individually and as a community, so we can learn and grow from these type of situation. What can we learn here and how do we want to grow?

1. Can we work to address these difficult topics earlier and acknowledge our discomfort with them more openly? Yes, this is difficult, and highly uncomfortable. Avoiding talking about it often increases the pain. It invalidates the victim’s experience, perpetuates a message of secrecy, decreases the likelihood of healthy and effective boundary setting later, and increases the likelihood of the hurtful behavior to continue with other victims.  Starting these conversations can bridge the isolation, helplessness and sense of disorientation we often feel.

2. Can we each help create a respectful space for the range of feelings and reactions, yet choose to act from a place of wisdom and compassion?  Common feelings include shock, disbelief, denial, fear, sadness, regret and anger, all of which are very normal considering the situation. Allowing respectful expression of these feelings is a necessary part of the process. It helps us recognize what is most important to us individually and as a community. Also, the relief of “oh… you feel that too” can take the pressure off of just “reacting.” Often, when these situations come to light it is after a long period. The situation has built up and people often express extreme reactions and judgments of both parties’ humanity (the accused described as “evil”, “monstrous”, victims as “overly sensitive”, “attention-seeking.”). When we react from these strong emotional spaces, we can easily fall into name calling, raging against, threatening and demonizing either party. So we shift from not responding to over responding. This causes more harm than good. These are barriers to addressing the problematic behaviors of both. The victim who hesitates to set boundaries and report, and the accused who hesitates to acknowledge and reflect on his behavior.
 
2. Can we then, individually and as a community, clearly name the inappropriate and illegal behavior without dehumanizing the other? Clarity as to what is not appropriate helps set the boundaries and clarify where the responsibility for the behavior lies. This allows us to shift from destructive blaming and shaming, to identify what needs to stop and/or change. There are often various parties involved in such incidents, not just the accused or victim, and blaming only one party confuses the issues. Communicating clear accountability builds our sense of personal and community empowerment. We each have a role in protecting ourselves and others in our relationships. Being clear about what our roles are allows us to identify what we need and how to connect to help in these types of situations. Empowering ourselves and our communities, also creates space for grieving and healing.

4. Can we individually and as a community consistently call for accountability and consequences for the problematic behavior without judging the other?
Without calling for accountability the risk of continuation is more likely. Also, then the victims carry the burden of responsibility instead of the accused who have “crossed the line.” Our social systems need to protect and reinforce these clear social boundaries. These are not isolated incidents, nor can we “un-do” them. We need to have clarity about how we want to respond and also learn to reconcile ourselves with what happened. These are the risks and responsibilities of living in a community. Identifying accountability can clarify and provide opportunities for healing and/or reconciliation.

Changing Perspectives: How do you view your story?

How often have you felt like you’re stuck? Not moving forward? Or thought you’ve failed to obtain what you were aiming for in the time you predicted? Have you felt alone and longing for purpose and connection?

We can get lost in certain moments of our life, in stories that define how we see ourselves and how we should be in our life. These stories can then own us. We may try to escape them and prove them wrong. We may set expectations and focus on our goals so much that we can miss out on how far we’ve come, the power of our stories and what we’ve gained or lost along the way.Read more…

Non-Violent Communication (NVC): Upcoming Workshop

We all want some form of connection. Communication is one of the key ways we connect with others. Being able to give and receive form the core gifts of connection. When we are able to have our needs met in our connections it is so powerful and affirming. Yet these gifts often get lost… in critique, comparison, proving who is right and even in compliments and praise.

Non-Violent Communication (NVC), developed by Marshall Rosenberg offers a way to return to the basic gifts of connection and communication.
Read more…

Women’s Group: Setting Commitments

I am going to…learn German, lose weight, write a book, learn how to play the guitar, start a business…!

Often we have fantastic ideas and intentions of what we want to achieve. Yet struggle to reach them, and judge ourselves when we don’t.
A common one I hear is: “I am going to learn to speak German in the next 6 months!”.
We proceed to set goals as to how we want to get there.
“I will study everyday for 1-2 hours!”
We start fully motivated and inspired.
Then we may hit a snag which throws us off our plan.
Read more…

Mindful Eating – Mind over Munching?

Many of us may find ourselves falling into unhealthy eating patterns. Society places a lot of pressure on us about how we should look, what we should eat and to incorporate all this within our busy day to day schedules. It is hard to juggle it all and know how to put it into practice.Read more…

Boundaries – Too Close or Too Far?

In the Women’s Group, we continue exploring boundaries. Everyone can benefit from looking at their boundaries… some of us could say “yes” more and let people closer, while others of us could benefit from saying “no” more and take more space for ourselves. Looking at our boundaries requires us to consider who we are and what we want.Read more…