It is well-known that spiritual communities of all creeds and sizes, even the mainstream ones, are plagued with drama.This is just part and parcel of being a leader in any spiritual group. If you choose to be a leader you will need to learn to identify and handle it.
Drama can come in many forms in any community, even, and unfortunately, from within. So here's what to look out for.
Dealing with Drama
Group drama usually boils down to one or more of the following four things:
Dealing with Drama - Sex
In general, Pagans are a lusty bunch. We celebrate the freedom and liberation of our sexual and personal power. Rites of fertility and rites of pleasure are celebrated and sit at the heart of many Pagan religions.
So, why do we need sexual ethics? As a leader within Western culture you are held to a higher standard. Sexual relationships between Clergy and the members of their congregations are largely frowned upon, if not viewed as downright criminal in Western culture, this is just the world we live in today.
The truth of the matter is that societal norms are often in conflict with the norms of our faith. We are not talking about having absolutely no sexual relationships at all within your faith group. What we are discussing is the ethics of being a good leader, protecting your membership, preventing yourself from ending up in jail, and causing yourself or your group to be sued for sexual misconduct.
Clergypersons have been sued or jailed for inappropriate sexual relationships. An inappropriate relationship has the potential to exist any time a leader serves in the capacity of both leader and at least one other role with the same group member.
Most commonly the secondary relationship is a social one. It can be a professional, financial, sexual, or romantic. None of these has as much potential for damage as the sexual or romantic relationship.
Power differentials have the potential for exploitation and harm. When a professional in a position of power carries on more than one type of relationship with another individual, this is often called a dual relationship.
Dual relationships can erode and warp the professional relationship, they can create conflicts of interest that can compromise the professional judgment of the leader, and they can create situations where the leader is faced with putting his or her own personal needs above the needs and welfare of the group member and the group itself (Pope and Vasquez 193-195).
Not all dual roles are unavoidable. In small communities, dual relationships are really unavoidable and are not necessarily considered inherently unethical. (Brownlee 497-503; Schank and Skovolt 44-49). However, as a leader it is your responsibility to take some steps to minimize the harm that can be caused.
Gottleib’s ethical decision making model (41-48), which is based on three dimensions; power, duration, and termination could be useful here. Assess the current relationship in relation to power, duration, and termination. Assess future relationship in relation to power, duration, and termination.
Evaluate the role incompatibility of these relationships. Seek professional consultation, from a colleague or a supervisorv. Discuss the possible ramifications before embarking on a romantic or sexual relationship.
- Step 1. Assess the current relationship. Look at the relationship from your potential sweetheart’s perspective. How great is the power differential, how long has the existing relationship been in effect, and is it still in effect? If the current relationship falls in the high power, high duration, indefinite termination range, the potential for harm is very high.
- Step 2. Assess the potential relationship. Again, examine the relationship you are contemplating in the same way. If it would result in a high power, high duration, indefinite termination range relationship, the potential for harm is again very high. This is why ongoing sexual and romantic relationships can be of particular concern, they almost always fall into the “high” category.
- Step 3. Examine both relationships for incompatibility. Role incompatibility increases when there are great differences in expectations between multiple roles. The greater the divergence between these expectations of these roles: the greater chances of harm to yourself, your potential sweetheart, your group.
- Step 4. Obtain consultation from a colleague or supervisor. You may not be in a position to be very objective in this situation, consulting with an unbiased colleague or supervisor could be very helpful in this case. In fact, it should be routine because we are not always aware of our own biases in our decision making process especially when it comes to love or sex.
- Step 5. Discuss the potential relationship openly with your potential sweetheart. If you have decided to pursue a relationship with this person, discuss openly the potential risks involved. Talk about how to minimize conflicts of interest and ways to prevent your judgment from being affected in situations involving them within the group.
Dealing with Drama - Money
The best way to solve financial issues is to avoid them in the first place. Do not take on the debts of the group just to keep it afloat. Encourage a culture of giving. If it won’t make it without you, the group is not sustainable anyway.
Do not appoint someone you don’t trust to handle the finances.
Just because they make the most noise about the accounts does not make them the best person for the job.
Do not ignore warning signs. If your treasurer doesn’t have reports available at your monthly meetings or fails to follow through on a request for information, do an independent audit of the account.
Establish bylaws, policies and procedures. Enforce these policies. If a request goes unheeded three times, they are likely embezzling or over their heads. Assign an audit committee or hire a professional to audit the accounts.
Dealing with Drama - Antagonists
Passive communication is when a person tends to avoid conflicts and does not risk upsetting the people around him. This communication style can create feelings of loss of control or victimization.
Aggressive communication is when a person uses power, manipulation, control and intimidation to get what he wants. These people are often disrespectful and may even be hurtful to others. This results in feelings of superiority in the aggressor.
Passive-aggressive communication combines elements from both of the previous mentioned styles. They tend to procrastinate, forget things, and work inefficiently. They cannot communicate directly but will behave aggressively especially if he feels he can get away with it. They often has a ton of excuses for why they can’t participate or why his work is late and often blames others for their mistakes. They will also use sarcasm, inappropriate jokes, rumor-mongering, and sniping to make their feelings known.
Indirect aggression can be stopped. The key is how you respond. The best way is with a process statement. Indirect aggression is not usually about what is said but how it is said or how the person behaves.
Statements about the actual behavior rather than the words being said is more effective. Process statements should be well timed, point out the process of the incident rather than the actual words that were selected, and point out the “elephant in the room” (i.e. their behavior).
Respond assertively and do not imply that you approve of or agree with his behavior by failing to respond. For example, “you know I really don’t like to hear about the personal problems of other people unless that person is sharing them with me directly, it feels a lot like gossip.
Communicate your confusion about the mixed messages that they are sending. For example, try saying something like, “that sounded sarcastic, is that the way you really feel?” or “wow, that sounded like a gibe, was it meant that way?”
Ask questions about the true motivation for their behavior.
For example, “I just noticed that this is the second time today you have made a joke about Jerry, is that because you are having trouble communicating how frustrated you are with him?”
Pay more attention to what they do than to what they say. For example, notice if they often walk away from the group whenever a certain person approaches, if they cut certain people off midsentence more than others, or if they frequently speak for other people when a question is directed at that other party. If you can, make a statement about it. For example, “you may not realize this but you seem to interrupt Julie quite a bit, could you try to be aware of that next time she is speaking?
Hold them accountable for results. For example, “you know I’ve noticed this is the 5th month in a row you’ve been late in filing your reports, we really need to have these on time, if that is something you can’t manage right now we can give that duty to someone else.”
Call them on their lies, gently. For example, “I could have sworn you posted that your kids were sick again so you couldn’t make it to our park cleanup last weekend, now you are saying that you were at a conference that weekend instead; am I confused?”
Passive-aggressive people rely on your silence. Silence indicates tacit approval of their behavior. They may be confused by your (perceived) sudden betrayal when you begin using process statements to point out their behavior.
If you let them know that you will not be manipulated, you can stop passive-aggressive behavior in your group. You may have to repeat these techniques several times before they take root.
You may also have to deal with fallout if the passive-aggressive person is also an sociopath (which they very well may be). Always make your process statements with witnesses around passive-aggressive people are likely to deny an incident or to blow it out of proportion.
Do not respond to passive-aggressive behavior with more passive-aggressive behavior stay calm if they get upset or become more aggressive. Also, keep written records of any communications you have with passive-aggressive people they often embellish past events and their memories are not always accurate; having facts on hand can help refute their statements.
Remember, that all people behave this way at some point. While you can use these tactics with people who only do it occasionally, it is far more effective with those who do it habitually.
Also, be aware that sometimes a person who is routinely late actually has valid reasons, or perhaps suffers from ADHD or other condition that affects him in matters of timeliness. While the person who leaves the group whenever a certain individual joins it may simply have an issue with that individual’s body odor.
Using questions to clarify your observations might provide them with the opportunity to share what is affecting their behavior and give you a chance to help them. The upside to facing a passive-aggressive person is that others will become brave and follow suit.
You can create a drama-free culture in your group by modeling appropriate conflict and encouraging others to follow suit. Other passive-aggressive people in your group will recognize that their behavior is not tolerated and modify their behavior or leave; and your group members will have a safe haven to honor the spirits together.
Dealing with Drama - Sociopaths
If the actions suggested previously do not work and the person, instead, amps up their attacks or becomes openly hostile or even physical, they may be a sociopath.
Sociopaths are not few and far between. They make up a significant portion of our population possibly 1 in every 25 people you meet.
Sociopaths lack a conscience. They do not and can not experience any other kind of positive attachment to their fellow human beings. This deficit, which is hard imagine for empaths (non-sociopaths), reduces life to an endless game of attempted domination over other people.
Sometimes sociopaths are physically violent. Often they are not, preferring to "win" by exploiting people and organizations.
Sociopaths are dangerous. They believe themselves superior to others and may believe they are smarter than anyone else. They have entitlement issues and think that rules and laws don’t apply to them. They can harm you physically if they think they will get away with it. They can harm your social or professional life by slandering you or winning over supervisors and coworkers with their lies.
- Acceptance. Accept that some people literally have no conscience. These people do not often look like Charles Manson or Freddie Krueger. They look like us.
- Go with your instincts. In a contest between your instincts and what is implied by your professional role, go with your gut.
- Practice the Rule of Threes.Three lies, three broken promises or three instances of neglected responsibility are pretty indicative that you are dealing with a sociopath. Do not give your money, your work, your secrets, or your affection to a three-timer. Your gifts will be wasted.
- Question authority. Just because your High Priestess says it, doesn’t make it so. You should always question a leader’s authority when you have the feeling that they are abusing power, people, or the authority of their office.
- Suspect flattery. Don’t buy into a sociopath’s agenda just because they have flattered you with special treatment, kind words, favors or gifts.
- Redefine your concept of respect. Too often, we mistake fear for respect, and the more fearful we are of someone, the more we view him or her as deserving of our respect. To mistake fear for respect is to ensure your own victimization. In a perfect world, respect would be an automatic reaction only to those who are strong, kind, and morally courageous. Dealing with Drama.
- Do not join the game. Intrigue is a sociopath’s tool. Resist the temptation to compete with a seductive sociopath, to outsmart him, to psychoanalyze, or even banter with him. In addition to reducing yourself to his level, you would be distracting yourself from what is really important, which is to protect yourself. Sociopaths know that decent people will not be able to overcome them because we generally do not use the same tactics as they do. The best thing you can do is to refuse to be a piece in the sociopathic chess game.
- Avoid him. Refuse any kind of contact or communication. The only truly effective method for dealing with a sociopath you have identified is to disallow him or her from you life altogether. Sociopaths live completely outside of the social contract, and therefore to include them in relationships or other social arrangements is perilous.
- Question your tendency to pity too easily. Pity is another socially valuable response, and it should be reserved for innocent people who are in genuine pain or who have fallen on misfortune.
- Do not try to redeem the unredeemable. This is the hardest pill to swallow for many spiritual leaders. You will never change them and your responsibility to yourself and your group is to keep them from hurting you- which will only be accomplished through expulsion, or simply totally ignoring them and limiting their influence in every way possible.
- Never agree, for any reason, to help a sociopath conceal his or her true character. Think about how many children were molested because a Bishop felt sorry for a subordinate clergy person and hid their true proclivities, even to the extent of moving them to another place to conceal their behavior.
- Defend your psyche. Do not allow someone without a conscience, or even a string of such people, to convince you that humanity is a failure. Most human beings do possess conscience. Most human beings are able to love.
- Living well is the best revenge.
Dealing with Drama -Burnout
Burnout is particularly high among spiritual leaders. So, don’t let it happen to you.According to the Texas Medical Association, people with certain traits are more likely to burnout than others. A leader with the following traits has an increased risk for burnout (“Pathways to Burnout”):
- Need for control
- High need for achievement
- Exaggerated sense of responsibility
- Need to please everyone
- Difficulty asking for help
- Excessive, unrealistic guilt
- Believes that to reveal emotions=weakness
- Difficulty taking time for oneself
What can you do?
- Foster an environment of trust.
- Give others an opportunity to lead.
- Promote open communication.
- Cultivate creativity.
- Stay positive, it’s a process.
- Deal with BS or drama immediately and effectively.
- Do not let your members get taken advantage of.
- Protect your people and yourself.
- Talk to someone. Don’t get burned out.
- Have fun. This isn’t supposed to be all hard work.