Thursday, July 21, 2011

Setting Boundaries - Again.

Mr. SponsorPants has a post today on how to deal with unwanted attention from a member of the opposite sex, in a 12-Step group.
I've learned that for me, in this situation, direct is best. In one town in which we lived, a man began attending my home group meeting of Al-Anon, which was composed largely of women; it was a small group at the time, maybe 8-10 regulars. This gentleman had recently moved to town.
At his second or third meeting, as we sat chatting before it began, he spoke up to say that where he used to live, everyone hugged goodbye after the meeting, and that he missed this, and wanted to suggest that we adopt this custom. Some women at the meeting blanched visibly at this suggestion, and an uncomfortable silence fell. Finally someone spoke up to say that she was willing to try this, and see how it went, and the rest all half-heartedly agreed. This guy made every woman in the room uncomfortable, but he was forceful, and somehow he contrived to suggest that by not hugging him, we were being unwelcoming to a newcomer to our meeting, and none of us wanted to do that. (This is sooooo co-dependent!)

When the meeting concluded, and the last word of the Serenity Prayer was said, half the people in the room leapt for the door - it was like one of those old comedies, where a clot of people are all fighting to be the first out the door, arms and legs waving madly, then poof! they all disappear. Those of us left were hugged by this guy, who plastered himself against us, and hugged us for far too long. Out in the parking lot, I said to my sponsor, "I am NOT going to do that again. Ever." She fervently agreed.
At the next meeting, when he came in, he came over and wanted to hug hello, starting with me - I held one hand up like a traffic cop, and said, "I'm not comfortable hugging you, and I'm not going to." Every woman within earshot turned and said the same thing, one after another. We all took our seats, and when it was his turn to share, he brought this up, and spoke of how he felt slighted, he felt unwelcome, he felt emotionally distressed by this, he felt...
The chairperson gently interrupted him, saying that this was not an appropriate topic for the meeting, and perhaps we could discuss it afterwards, if anyone else wished to.

This time when the meeting ended, he sat back down and announced that he wanted to discuss the hugging issue. Everyone else sat down also, and there was a feeling of anger simmering in the room, from him, and from some of us.

When it was my turn to speak, I said that I was not comfortable hugging a man I didn't know, and that I didn't have an obligation to hug him simply because he was attending the meeting. I tried to be as courteous and kind as possible, but I made it clear that if he was upset by this, it was his problem, not mine. Every woman at the table gave her own version of this message.

The one man attending that night, said that he'd be happy to give the guy a hug, if he just needed a hug. (For some reason, this was not received with gratitude.)
This guy never did come back to our meeting. Even so, we decided we needed to have a group conscience to deal with this issue. The woman who had originally spoken up to say she was willing to try the hugging thing was apologising like mad to the rest of us, but we knew that each and every one of us had put aside what we wanted, and acquiesed to something we didn't want, in order not to have to deal with the discomfort of saying: "No."

I'm not responsible for anyone else's feelings. I have a right to safety in my physical and emotional life. In order to achieve that safety, I must be willing to take whatever action will accomplish this for myself, and not wait for someone else to save me.


  1. I am okay if someone wants a hug. But to make it a "rule" seems contrived and weird. Spontaneous hugs are good--everyone needs that at times. Most of the time, at the meetings I attend, we don't do a lot of hugging which is okay with me too. I think that it is important to feel safe at a meeting and not creeped out. Glad that you expressed your boundary.

  2. Thanks for this share. Learning to speak up with good intentions
    is important for me. In the past I would get my needs met by
    withdrawing, or somehow harming myself so they felt they could not ask again....This was an unconscious move on part but full of mixed messages.