Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Crosstalk, and Commenting Upon Someone Else's Sharing.

MrSponsorPants has a post about this today and it seems timely, as lately I've seen this same behavior demonstrated, on more than one occasion, by more than one person.

I find it excruciatingly uncomfortable to sit in silence while one member chastises another, under the guise of sharing. I'm intensely grateful that this was not done to me when I was new to program, or that if it was, it sailed right over my head. I was so full of self-loathing and self-disgust, that had anyone criticised me in a meeting, I'd most likely never have returned to Al-Anon. (Just considering where I'd be were that the case, gives me the willies.)

Meetings are meant to be a safe place for all, but as MrSponsorPants points out so well, we are sick people. He may be speaking more of alcoholics, but those of us who are codependent, are just as barmy in our own endearing ways.

Some meetings feel safer than others, because some meetings are more closely attuned to the Steps and Traditions of Al-Anon. I've sat in meetings where I felt that there were unspoken messages zinging back and forth across the table during sharings - and not gone back to that meeting, but found another one to attend. I've had enough of that sort of thing in my personal life, I'd rather find a meeting with a more comfortable feel for me.

In the last place we lived, meetings were few and far between, so I didn't have a choice, I had to learn to tolerate whoever attended, and "love them in a very special way." I grew because of it, in a way I wouldn't have, if I'd only ever attended meetings in which I felt relaxed and safe with all the members.

I learned that those who are critical are often lonely in their pain, and that this criticism was modelled to them in their family of origin by being directed at them from the time they were tiny children - this made me more able to see past the facade, to the person crouched behind the barricades, lobbing grenades over their heads in a furious attempt to keep all at a safe distance.

As my friend Wilson once said, "Happy people don't act that way."

Some folks can grow and change, and some can't ever take the first step onto the ladder across the crevasse - their fear is just too great. It isn't up to me to decide how they should behave, although I will do, and then catch myself. I try to be warmer to those people, in an effort both to live my program, and to make the meeting feel safer for them, as well.


  1. Oh my, this is PERFECT for me today! I am experiencing someone that is very critical at times with me but not at any of the meetings I have been attending. It works the same way in any personal relationship we find ourselves in with someone who is critical. I just talked to my sponsor last night about this issue and she sent me the resentment prayer and said to do something nice for the offending person. Not an easy task but I am working on it. I love your posts!

  2. I've interrupted people who are crosstalking at times by saying something like, "I'm sorry, but we don't crosstalk at this meeting, meaning to speak directly to one person directly instead of to the group in general."

    But I've only done so when the person was clear, specific & direct about saying something like "Jim, I'd like to tell you how to solve your problem."

    When it slowly becomes clear over a period of time that one person's topic is the criticism of another meeting member or the content of another meeting member's share, it is a LOT trickier: I must confess, I'm much less likely to interrupt at that time.

    In the few times it's happened I've myself wondered what/how/when is best to do as it's more vague than someone say, reading outside literature which is easier to define.

    Often other members of the group leap in to the attacked members' "rescue," either during or after the meeting which isn't ideal but it is a common response.

    I've found some fellowships do that type of thing more often than others, not to mention that some meetings set a pretty high bar where members aren't allowed to get away with that. I tend to attend those more.

    On the other hand, I've also been at meetings where members OVER control the shares of others, and that gets tiresome, as well.

  3. I don't want to be the Al-Anon police. But I will talk to someone after the meeting that has violated the traditions. I think that in order to keep the meetings safe for everyone, it is best to gently remind those who discuss non CAL or mention that they are alcoholics, that this is an Al-Anon meeting. It is a fine line to walk between admonishing and just simply being kind and informative.

  4. I was at a meeting in which a newcomer (1st meeting)shared and then accidentally did some cross talk in support of another member after the other member shared. An old-timer decided to take her to task in front of all of us. It was grueling to witness! The new lady stammered out an apology, turned beet red, looked down at her lap, and left after a few more shares. As long as I was there I never saw her return. What a shame that this couldn't be handled privately after the meeting. New people often aren't clear about cross-talk. Being "puffed up with program" benefits no one, and in this case I felt a true disservice was done.


    1. We had a newcomer and when it came her time to talk she was opening up when a regular started raising her hand. I was chairing and ignored her. She kept raising her hand until the newcomer finally stopped and told her to go ahead. The regular tagged onto her share and it was damaging beyond belief. Both left as soon as the group stood up and neither came back. Because those of us that run the meeting are new to Al-Anon we did not know how to handle the situation and because she hasn't come back we haven't had to. I know I have to see people where they are at in there program but where I live old timers have flat out said tagging on shares, speaking directly to someone who just shared and giving advice is not cross talk and is not against the rules. I am learning to detach while I learn to stand up for myself without anger but it is difficult at best. We have very few people who come back a 2nd time it seems a shame that one of the simplest programs I have ever seen gets taken so out of context to support egos.

  5. Hi, this was a very helpful post for me. I was in a meeting today where a lady who considered herself an oldtimer kept interupting new people and telling them what to do. Then when I shared she jumped all over me about something I said--I kept the focus on myself and what I was struggling with. I am sure she was trying to be nice and offer tough love. It was slightly humiliating being a new person and being nervous and confused and having someone seem so mean. You could tell that she dominates that meeting, she kept telling the members they needed to meet about a business meeting and being generally bossy. I am sure I am a little sensitive too. I probably won't go back to that meeting. I was surprised the chairperson let her do that so much.

  6. I know its been a couple years since this was posted, but crosstalk is something my group has been struggling with. It's a relatively newly formed group, only two people are working their steps and there are no sponsor level people who attend. The result is a great deal of crosstalk in the form of reassurance, validation, referring to others shares by names, evaluating and identifying by name with the share, responding to the share, etc. It totally rankles me and seems to encourage an increase in crosstalk. A few times I've said something about it, and the result was defensiveness on the part of the majority of those who are new. I want to avoid being the crosstalk police or holding myself up as a self-appointed leader, so I have stopped saying anything and simply try to take care that I don't do it. It seems to almost have become the norm and is feeling less and less safe to make comments that are evaluated and reviewed. I've invited folks from other more mature groups to attend occasionally, but they have a preference for their area of town. Any suggestions?

    1. I am relatively new to al anon, and am not really sure of the true definition of cross talk. Sometimes, when others share, it triggers thoughts and feelings in my own mind. When it comes my turn to share, I sometimes will refer to what I heard from a particular person, and talk about how that was/is so helpful to me. Being new to the program, it is difficult for me to recognize and verbalize my feelings, so I am grateful when another more seasoned member says something that helps me to think. Is is cross talk when I thank or otherwise recognize what someone else has said that has been helpful to me? BTW, I plan to bring this topic up at a meeting (probably a group conscience meeting, as that seems to be the most appropriate place to address this question).

  7. I am glad to see this blog thread. Our group has been dealing with the definition of cross talk too. It seems natural to build off someone else's share -- "person x's share reminded me of my childhood struggle with..." is that cross talk? Is looking stricken when a member shares a gruesome tale cross talk? Or empathy? We can all agree what is cross talk, but it seems some of these responses are on the cusp.