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Who Stole My Money?

June 19, 2011

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Ok, so let's review: We treat everyone with respect, we forgive past transgressions and start over again, we create a welcoming committee, have meetings, set up a voting system, create agreements, and essentially change everything related to our attitude with one another, and possibly send our relationships in a better direction.

Then we hope that with everything going so well on the intrapersonal level, everyone will respect the agreements, after all we're working pretty hard respecting them, and this is a group project.

A couple tips: be very careful about shaming headmates. Shame is a huge issue in trauma work, do your absolute best not to add to it directly. Exhaust other avenues whenever possible so that system trust is not damaged in the process of enforcing boundaries or getting buy-in to group agreements. And on the mention of buy-in, you are much more likely to gain buy-in when you allow someone to participate and have ownership in a group, project, or undertaking. So if you want folk to respect the agreements, have them participate in coming up with them.

All that said, while we hope that folk in our head will voluntarily follow the agreements, and there are a lot of things we can do to try to get their buy-in without having to turn to any form of discipline, there are usually some folk who are in need of enforceable boundaries. Maybe these are folk who didn't opt in to become residents, who have refused to participate in meetings and votes, thinking it wouldn't work. Maybe they were there but had a bad day, and their self-discipline needs work. Maybe you don't know what happened, a perfectly compliant resident seems to have done something wrong, but it seems a little out of character or off somehow. That one's tricky, and there's many good reasons not to point fingers or be intolerant with each other, because we don't know whether someone else has been hiding from us and using one of the more vulnerable residents as a scapegoat. You also don't know when someone is a veil for several other guests. They probably don't know themselves, so asking is not likely to work.

If the behavior is dangerous to yourself or others, please seek immediate assistance. This is not for dangerous behaviors, this is for simple agreement violations and repeated bad behaviors that don't require intervention from trained professionals.

We all get tempted to give out huge punishments especially when our patience and trust wear out. We just want an end to the behavior as quickly as possible. Sometimes this encourages us to be extra-heavy handed in the hopes that the grand piano on their head treatment will make the undesirable behavior stop. I don't think this is a good idea. If you pull out your big punishments for smaller incidents, then you will run out of leverage in the case that something even bigger happens. You want to use the smallest disciplinary measure needed, up to ones that are the same size and weight as the incident, and no more.

If the behavior is happening that frequently that the correct sized disciplinary measures seem to have no effect, see if you can have a talk about why they do what they do, and keep at it over time until you figure it out and find something new to replace the undesriable behavior with. Are they lying for attention? Are they stealing? Violating the speed limit? Drinking too much? Make sure that you sit down and discuss why they don't have, or want to have, self control under these situations. Do they really understand the consequences of their behavior?

Suffice to say, I've had some very interesting moments when people in my head weren't following the agreements. I suggest you consider some of these examples of things I have done as reinforcement. First perhaps, I should mention things I've found work well for me and my children:

First, I work on a principle of "natural consequences" so I make them clean up their mess, as best as possible once it's age appropriate. Now, an example might be that one of my kids drops an egg. It's not a crime, so why yell at them? But I'm also not going to clean it up for them. At first, I might direct them on how to clean it up, make sure it's all off the floor, clean and disinfect the floor after. I'll remind them to be more careful, and if it happens again, I'll remind them of what they have to do to clean it up.

But what if I stepped in a broken egg on the floor and I ask my child if they did it. I know they were cooking, so it's reasonable to ask. If they say they didn't, and I know they're lying to me (you can learn how to tell!), there's two wrongs. One is leaving the egg there hoping someone else would clean it up, the other is lying in the hopes of escaping punishment. So I give natural consequences, perhaps inflated to mopping the kitchen floor, for having made the egg mess and abandoning it. Then I have to dish out a punishment for lying. Perhaps extra chores, writing an apology paper, removing privileges, etc. In my house, lying isn't tolerated and it's one of the few times I think explicit discipline is best -- and I always point out the multiple layers of "wrongs" that were committed -- for example "You're cleaning up the egg because you dropped it. You're mopping the floor because you left it for me to step on. You're losing your electronics privileges for 24 hours for lying about it."

With a little reluctance I'm going to make a disciplinary suggestion despite my reluctance, knowing how difficult it can be to find a foothold in a multiple system. To do this correctly, make sure to take some care not to make it seem like they're an unworthy person, or their feelings don't matter, and with no name-calling: you might shun them. Not vilify, just shun. A simple "Right now, I don't want to talk to you until you apologize" might work. That's not to ignore them, but simply say that you're not comfortable with them, because they are putting your life in danger, or because they're violating the trust that you're working so hard to build up. Be specific about what exact behavior they committed that is unacceptable, and what is an appropriate change in their behavior. This is your way of taking a time-out from them, so you can straighten your own feelings out about them, and so that hopefully they think about what they've done and re-consider whether it was wise and what to do about it.

So what do you control that can work in your case? I will say it again, almost everyone wants respect, to have trustworthy friends, to contribute, etc. You might have to figure out what works for your system.

There's little things and then there's big things. Big things I've used in my system: "sit" on people so they couldn't come Front -- sometimes for days at a time. Simply being disappointed in them -- that's huge, they say that one should never tell one's kids that you're disappointed in them (hey, I didn't know at the time). Denial of privileges, such as "no Facebook" or taking away a computer game. But make sure the punishment is really necessary as such, and that it is in proportion to the problem.

This is a perfect topic for a session with a therapist, a coach, a counselor, or a member of the clergy, if you have someone you can trust. They may be able to help you get to the root of the problem -- not the history of it, but what is it that this guest wants from what they're doing, and what other behaviors can take the place of the undesirable behavior that will still get the guest something like what they want -- or even better get them what they actually need.

Other Posts in June 2011

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