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support group woes

(17 Posts)
springyhope Thu 18-Oct-12 09:54:18

I have been attending a support group for some years, on and off (recently very 'on' - haven't missed a meeting for about a year). I turned up to the meeting last week and the facilitator, a guy, was deep in convo with an attractive young woman when I arrived. They were deeply into eachother. No-one else was there and the room wasn't set up - I assume becuase they had been talking - so I went about setting up the room (teas, coffees etc), all the while entirely ignored by them. The woman immediately started talking in a low voice to him when I came into the room.

The group is user-led in that everyone is or has been in the same boat, including the facilitator, who is trained to facilitate but 'shares' along with everyone else. I was finding the exclusive nature of their convo off-putting but, as she was new, I reasoned she didn't know the ropes. Howeve,r the facilitator should know the ropes and I was feeling uncomfortable that he was so enmeshed with her that he didn't even look my way, greet me or introduce me to the woman.

No-one else turned up (drat - this may have broken their exclusive talking) and the meeting commenced. I took the opportunity to introduce myself to the woman but she didn't have eyes for me at all, clearly didn't like that someone else was in the room. No matter, I chattered a bit with her and it turned out we have the same (unusual) job. I asked where she had trained and she went into detail about that and what she is doing now, but didn't ask me anything about me. I again reasoned that she was new, probably distressed, and not able to be outward-looking at that moment. I chattered to her to welcome her, put her at her ease but also to flag up that I was there too.

The meeting got underway and they were still sitting very close to one another, with me on the other side of the 'circle'. I wondered about moving. They were still almost besotted with one another, which is not the ticket. I kept calm. We were studying some material and she was talking (she clearly needed to talk, which is fine) and I asked her a q about what she had been saying - and she directed her answer to him. Which he lapped up. We were about 10 minutes into the meeting by now and I was decidedly the spare part in their exclusive bond. As they leaned towards one another to talk I said 'I am here guys!'. I thought that was a mild thing to say in the circumstances, thought it flagged up that they were being exclusive and I was being left out. It happens, people can get a bit exclusive sometimes (though never as bad as this!). I was exasperated but not aggressive. It was said in an 'amazed' voice.

They both jolted and, after a few moments, with chin and voice wobbling, she directly addressed me - the first time she had looked at or addressed me properly - and said 'I can't take this, I'm going to leave' and got up to go. He leapt up, held the door for her, then scuttled out after her without addressing me at all. They were gone a long time (me all the while sitting there on my own, confused). He eventually came back and laid into me that I was aggressive, that she was new and 'had been crying; came early especially to talk'. He was very, very angry, saying I had 'driven away a new member'. I could have said a lot more than I did but I limited it to, in essence 'you were both being very exclusive'. He flatly denied this.

I've had a very cold email from him that 'they' (? I don't know who 'they' are) have reached the decision to 'issue me with a formal warning' regarding my 'behaviour'; which I am to 'read carefully to avoid misunderstanding in future'. I haven't had the courage to read the attached letter - the email was so cold and punitive, I can't face reading it. I am devastated.

He is employed by the org, the representative in our city (all other facilitators are voluntary), so he's the top boss. I have emailed to ask who 'they' are and for email addresses so I can copy 'them' into my reply.

apologies for minutiae.

DioneTheDiabolist Thu 18-Oct-12 10:09:48

Springy, your post sounds very critical of the woman at the meeting when all the fault lies with the facilitator.

pushitreallgood Thu 18-Oct-12 10:11:28

do you have a crush on this guy? though there behaviour might have been a bit off putting it seems like you were reading a lot of signals in to it. maybe that was the case and maybe it wasn't. maybe before you turned up she had been in a right state and he was trying to talk her through it. it is probably a bit of a hazard of some on in that position that he could have people getting fixated on him if he is being kind and listening be it her or you. his behaviour may say that he wasn't being massively group orientated at the time but perhaps he though that it was important to help her chat through her issues. you reaction was very extreme I probably would have just left if i was being made to feel so uncomfortable.
all you succeeded in doing is making someone else in a vulnerable position feel very uncomfortable.
perhaps it was the status quo you didnt like being disrupted and he should have stopped talking with her to set up then again perhaps he felt that would have ruined the flow, i presume that this support group deals with some private and sensitive stuff hence her speaking in low tones when a complete stranger enters the room.
or maybe you are right and the were just getting it on really inappropriately in front of you.

foolonthehill Thu 18-Oct-12 10:13:29

sad springy. horrible and wrong.

Hope you can find the head space to reply appropriately and i would definitely make sure your reply (and maybe this post...obviously in a different format) gets copied up the chain of command. The fact that you have been at this group for a long time should count for you and his behaviour is unacceptable, not only to you, but also to the new "vulnerable" member of the's not his right to have exclusive access to vulnerable people for his own ego's sake. Have been on MN long enough now to know he needs pulling up short on this!

Also can you discuss with one of the other voluntary facilitators??

foolonthehill Thu 18-Oct-12 10:15:10

PS it is HIS behaviour that was wrong, hers was only inappropriate/rude/needy. He needs to facilitate the whole group (even if only 3 of you) and make the discussion inclusive and supportive.

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 18-Oct-12 10:15:53

Oh dear. I'd have thought that, by definition, a support 'group' is supposed to include everyone in the group and not be a one-on-one session between two people with the third person excluded. hmm A faciliator who allows a group to be dominated by one person is not a good facilitator. He should have introduced the new person and given you chance to introduce yourself. If the new person had been crying and needed to talk he should have flagged that to start with. 'I am here' after 10 minutes of monologuing is not unreasonable. He accuses you of driving away a new member and yet the new member could be accused of driving away an existing member. Maybe the other members of the group have had similarly offensive treatment and that's why they don't show up any more?

I would write back in that light and copy it to whoever 'the org' is. Would also be tempted not to go back to an help facility so rubbish that it thinks issuing a formal warning is the way to encourage openness.....

pushitreallgood Thu 18-Oct-12 10:20:39

yep you guys are right i was concentrating on the tone which seemed to be suggesting that the woman was doing something wrong. my eyebrows raised at the formal warning bit which made me think someone is trying to protect themselves.
however i do agree it is the guys fault that he didn't lead the group well and not the new members issue. he should have done his job properly even if he though he was helping.

springyhope Thu 18-Oct-12 10:39:25

Thanks for your replies - phew, they are helpful. It's hard to think straight in situations like this (eg me sitting there confused while he was out with her). I did consider leaving but it seemed an aggressive, flouncy thing to do...

I've had a reply to my email. quite breezy reply. It turns out the 'we' is actually 'I' (him). He has directed me to copy my reply to the 'trustees' , specifically addressing the 'chair'. I have emailed asking who the trustees are and who is the chair.

I don't have a crush on him though with any support group dynamic, the 'leader' takes on almost a parental role ie someone who keeps the dynamic healthy and fair. I thought I had specifically avoided making too much of the woman in my OP though, in reality, she was indeed 'needy/inappropriate/rude'. That can happen, fine, but it is the facilitator's job to manage that appropriately. As it was he was practically in her lap, and she in his. it was insulting to me, the only other member in the room.

DioneTheDiabolist Thu 18-Oct-12 10:48:07

It wasn't just insulting, it was highly inappropriate and possibly unethical of him. The woman was needy, yes, that is why she is attending a support group. She is vulnerable and her mental state is, most likely very self centred at the minute, but that is pretty normal when starting out in recovery. As you have said yourself. It is the facilitator's job to manage this, not feed into/take advantage of this.

I think you need to concentrate on the actions of the person in power here, not the woman seeking help.

springyhope Thu 18-Oct-12 10:56:21

I think I have Dione? I have tried to present what I was presented with iyswim. I too think she was needy (par for the course) but that the fault lies with him, as the facilitator (and also the project leader of the entire city-wide org!). She was mighty irritating mind but that isn't the point - it was his job to manage it/her. There is absolutely no question that if she were eg 65 (or a 'he') he wouldn't have been quite so enamoured. I can't say that though, but it was obvious.

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 18-Oct-12 11:06:32

Whenever I've been attacked the way you currently are being my first thought is that I have hit a nerve. I suspect, therefore that he knows he has behaved inappropriately and is 'trying to get his retaliation in first' by making you out to be an unreasonable character. If you want to give this guy a scare I would include in your e-mail, therefore, some reference to the conversations you witnessed being rather 'intimate' and how it made you feel uncomfortable and excluded ... which is true... because it'll have klaxons going off all over the place.

springyhope Thu 18-Oct-12 11:36:24

yes, I don't want to be nasty but this does have a 'protest too much' flavour about it.

I still haven't had the courage to read the letter but I'm going to have to if I pursue this any further; though I'm dreading it. At least I can draft an email first without reading it; detailing what I was presented with, what I said and did - what he said and did.

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 18-Oct-12 11:40:26

Definitely read the letter. I don't know what the support group is specifically supposed to be supporting but facing fears and dealing with conflict is a great way to grow as a human being.

springyhope Thu 18-Oct-12 12:09:26

I have had a reply to my request re trustees/chair and it is bristlingly officious. Or it seems it to me. He has set out how I can challenge the decision and how I can make a complaint - which is good and proper on an official footing, he's done his job properly, but it has set me back iyswim. I find the coldness of all this very brutal, particularly as the attack has been so personal.

springyhope Thu 18-Oct-12 12:13:51

ha, I've just tried to open the attachment and can't! He's sent it in a format my pc can't read, or download (or whatever!). Perhaps I'll just get on with drafting an email of what happened and go from there. Step at a time...

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 18-Oct-12 12:16:49

Assuming your version of events is accurate, the response seems entirely over the top. Try to see past the officiousness of the letter, take the information on how you can challenge the decision and make a official complaint. When you are attacked coldly, respond in kind....

springyhope Thu 18-Oct-12 13:03:12

I have tried to be as accurate as I can be. They - or he! - seems to be being very officious and cold. As a citywide org we do meet socially now and again, so it is not an anonymous support group. Perhaps this is why boundaries can end up getting blurred?

the attachment I attempted to open is the letter, the one I was dreading opening. So I can pat myself on the back that I at least gave it a go - half the battle.

I am glad to report that some steel is beginning to enter my soul on this <glint>

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