As a Marriage and Family Therapist and Group Facilitator, I’ve already written in a past blog about the ingredients that make for amazing group therapy experiences!! In this blog, however, I want to take a moment to shed light on the ingredients that can kill the momentum of a thriving group and/or cause a group to wither and die out entirely. As you read about these poisonous ingredients, I want to invite you to also consider how some of these particular behaviors may be hurting your relationships at home and at work too. Groups, after all, are often microcosms for how we show up in our lives in general.
Like cyanide poisoning, the following ingredients that that can kill groups, friendships, romantic relationships, and chemistry on sports teams include the following:
1) Gossiping with fellow group members about each other; This can lead to group alliances and coalitions forming in addition to triangulation among group members; These relationship dynamics destroy opportunities for open, honest, and direct communication between group members.
2) Disregarding the confidentiality agreement that everyone agrees to when they originally join a group; Doing so kills trust, safety, and other group member’s willingness to be vulnerable and honest with themselves and with everyone else.
3) Shaming other group members. This includes belittling them, invalidating their feelings, emotionally abusing them, etc. Shaming can be done with words, a person’s tone, or even his or her facial expressions. Eye rolling, for example, is a physiological way of passive-aggressively shaming another person.
4) A narrow-minded intolerance towards another’s beliefs, values, goals, sexual orientation, emotions, etc.
5) Name calling: Calling someone else a name that’s intended to belittle them and hurt them threatens group safety and causes the recipient of the name calling to contract and shut down. In addition, the person doing the name calling instills fear in the other group members, so he or she becomes a threat to the safety of the group container.
5) Being defensive by talking over people, turning away from people, or digging in your heels and proving you’re take on things is right without considering other perspectives and points of view.
6) Being contemptuous of others, haughty, smug, aloof, intimidating, arrogant, and self-righteous.
7) Having a closed mind and a closed heart. If you’re unwilling to open your mind to new ideas and listen to different perspectives, and if you’re unwilling to open your heart and share your feelings, then you will get very little out of your group therapy experience.
8) Unleashing judgments on group members and/or offering unsolicited advice and feedback. The purpose of joining a group is to do your own work; it is not to rescue and/or fix other group members.
9) Breaking group agreements such as being on time, honoring my 24 hour cancellation policy, honoring the group’s confidentiality agreement, etc. When you break group agreements, you threaten group safety. In addition, you are demonstrating to the other group members that you may not be reliable, trustworthy, etc.
If and/or when a group member is out of integrity and breaks a group agreement, it’s important then to be willing to explore the unconscious shadows ( reasons or motives) that may have compelled you to break the group agreement in the first place. This exploration can turn into a growth opportunity for everyone in the group. If you’re unwilling to engage in this self-exploration, however, you’ll likely create a sense of disconnection between you and the other group members.
10) This group therapy NO-NO goes without saying: there can be absolutely NO physical abuse among group members. If you feel a charge or if you feel triggered by another group member, you’ve been given a rich opportunity to grow. The person who triggered you has been a gift to you in your life!!
11) Do not pressure other group members to share more than they are ready to share at any given moment. Everyone must feel safe and comfortable to grow at their own pace.
12) Don’t delight in stirring the pot and intentionally triggering people. Again, be in group to do your own work, and let that be your primary focus.
13) Whether it be in my Men’s group, co-ed group, or Sports Psychology group, please do not flirt with other group members or attempt to date them. Men and women may have unresolved issues with members of the opposite sex, and so being approached by another group member may cause a person to feel unsafe. Even if two group members share a mutual attraction, dating while participating in the same group can create too much drama and upheaval in the group and destabilize the group in the end. Plus, couples in groups may become less comfortable sharing their true thoughts and feelings because they don’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings.
Alas, thank you for taking the time to read my blog on Group Therapy NO-NO’s!!
If you’re interested in participating in one of my groups, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Also, please keep this list of Group Therapy NO-NO’s in mind when you’re in my group or when you’re in any group for that matter!!
John Boesky, LMFT
Marriage and Family Therapist