October 27, 2003
A safe group is one where we can be who we are and express what we think and feel without being judged and criticized. A safe group is also one where we can be who we are and express what we think and feel without judging or criticizing others. This allows everyone in the group to be themselves.
Here is an excerpt from the guidelines for "Ewail," the IPA email support group (adapted from the Primal Support Group Safe Process Guidelines):
SAFE GROUP PROCESS THEORY
• A sense of safety is of paramount importance for healthy primal process and communication.
• Primal process occurs when we stop acting out to the best of our ability and feel our own pain - when we own our triggers.
• Acting out is characterized by avoiding our feelings and attacking, blaming, "dumping", criticizing, judging, shaming, insulting, unsolicited advising, patronizing, projecting, or using indirect contempt such as sarcasm, condescension, and ridicule.
• Safety can arise when we are not exposed to such act-outs, or that when these act-outs inadvertently happen, we recognize them as act-outs in a climate of mutual caring and understanding.
• Safety is increased when members are heard and supported in the expression of their feeling issues, which are valid as their truth.
SAFE GROUP PROCESS GUIDELINES
• Confidentiality is essential. Although it is acceptable to talk outside the group about the content of your own feelings, it is not appropriate to divulge the content of what others in the group share.
• Speak of your own feelings, and feeling process - your truth.
• Accept others and their process as they are.
• If you wish to comment on another's process, be sure to indicate that these are your perceptions/views/projections.
• If someone comments on your process, you have the right to ask them to stop.
• Feeling supported is feeling heard - not being judged, analyzed, or advised.
• If you feel "dumped on," reply with your feeling, owning your trigger as best you can.
• If you are called on for "dumping," look at your feeling, and respond with your feeling as best you can.
In addition to this list of guidelines, I would like to add:
• If someone asks to comment on your process, you have the right, without having to give a reason, to say no.
• If you wish to comment on another's process, it is respectful to ask first. If the other person would prefer that you did not, honour that request.
• If you feel moved to share in response to someone else, share your own feelings that have come up for you, rather than interpretations or judgments of the other person's sharing.
• If someone asks for your view, suggestions, or advice, it is truthful to share based on the understanding that your comments are your perspective and based on your experience.
People want to be heard and supported, not judged and manipulated. If we give unsolicited advice and direction, we are implying that they are not good enough and/or do not have the innate power and wisdom to move their own process.
Groups can be organized and directed by a leader/facilitator or run by the members themselves without a leader. In both cases, safety is created by having some type of explicit or implicit guidelines and structure. In both types of groups, it is best to let the group regulate itself. If/when a breach in the safety occurs, the members involved can resolve it; if not, it is usually helpful for a mediator/leader to emerge and step in. The mediator's position is to create a pause in any dumping/projecting so that sharing - even of the conflict - can return to personal experience and feelings rather than dumping. In this way, even problematic conflicts can be resolved in a safe manner.
Groups are a powerful container for transformation and healing if they can provide "Safety First."