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Psychological Safety

Psychological safety includes the ability to protect ourselves, to exert self-discipline and self-control, to be able to direct our minds where we want it to go, to know ourselves and feel reasonably good about our abilities and accomplishments. Trauma deprives us of this because try as we might, we could not prevent the traumatic experiences from occurring. We came face to face with our powerlessness and helplessness, which defeats a sense of psychological safety and robs us of our ability to be in control of our lives.

Helplessness is a learned behaviour and can be unlearned.  Overcoming it can lead to positive or negative actions. Negative actions include trying to retrospectively control traumatic past events by over-controlling people in the present. Positive actions are directed at mastery, building capacity, promoting resilience, and helping others; all of which can be learned through participation in the core activities of the Baha’i community.

To create a psychologically safe environment our Baha’i communities must:

  • provide information and resources
  • be secure from “terrorists” – those who can only manage their own overwhelming emotions by venting their rage onto others.

Baha’u’llah has given us a standard to reach for, when He says:

Beware that thou allow not the wolf to become the shepherd of God’s flock, and surrender not the fate of His loved ones to the mercy of the malicious.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p.233)

Both the threat and fear of violence must be removed before effective consultation can take place:

Addressing domestic violence has nothing to do with “resolving differences,” which implies a relationship in which all opinions are valued equally and where true consultation may occur and produce a beneficial outcome. According to guidance in the preceding passages, both the threat and fear of violence must be removed before effective consultation “animated by awareness of the need for moderation and balance” can take place.   (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 101)

Abusers are frequently successful manipulators and may seek to discredit victims or by portraying themselves as victims in the situation:

Assemblies must not allow themselves to be misled by abusers, who are frequently successful manipulators and may seek to discredit victims through accusing them of exaggeration and misrepresentation or may try to engage sympathy on their own behalf by portraying themselves as victims in the situation.   (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 105)

Rather than being taken in by manipulation, Assemblies should provide a balance of encouragement for such of their qualities as are commendable combined with firm and unequivocal guidance concerning violations of Bahá’í standards of conduct:

Rather than being taken in by such claims, Assemblies should endeavor to provide a balance of encouragement for such of their qualities as are commendable combined with firm and unequivocal guidance concerning violations of Bahá’í standards of conduct.   (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 105)

 It’s OK to stay away from those who have the power to harm you:

Such an attitude (forgiveness and insight into their actions) does not preclude your being prudent in deciding upon the appropriate amount of contact with your parents. In reaching your decision you should be guided by such fac-tors as their degree of remorse over what they inflicted on you in the past, the extent of their present involvement in practices which are so contrary to Bahá’í Teachings, and the level of vulnerability you per-ceive within yourself to being influenced adversely by them. In the process of reaching a decision, you may well find it useful to seek the advice of experts such as your therapist.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 9 September, 1992)

 Social Safety:

Social support has long been recognized as an important factor contributing to resilience. People who can draw strength from other people, who can establish meaningful and sustained social relationships do better under conditions of normal and traumatic stress. Although the Baha’i community is uniquely able to provide it’s members with a sense of safety with other people; we haven’t yet learned to  draw fully on these mighty forces of love and strength and harmony generated by the Faith:

Indeed the believers have not yet fully learned to draw on each other’s love for strength and consolation in time of need. The Cause of God is endowed with tremendous powers, and the reason the believers do not gain more from it is because they have not learned to draw fully on these mighty forces of love and strength and harmony generated by the Faith.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 93)

Social safety means that negative behavior in all its many forms – any violation of physical, psychological, social, or moral space – needs to be immediately confronted and responded to, but without ever humiliating or shaming the people involved.

It means bullying must be defined, mutually understood, and responded to as a sign of violence. And it means creating an overall environment of understanding, respect, and compassionate regard for the other – an environment that gives the other person the “benefit of the doubt” and that minimizes blame while still emphasizing responsibility and accountability.

For more information, you may find this helpful:

Mental Health is at Risk when Love and Justice are Absent

Disruptive Behaviour

When someone is being disruptive in a Baha’i Community, it’s best to not judge and condemn.  We have to learn to accommodate and assist those who, may or may not be mentally ill but, nonetheless, have negative, unpleasant or disruptive personalities:

The institutions as well as individual believers will have to learn to accommodate and to assist those persons who, may or may not be mentally ill by medical definition but, nonetheless, have negative, unpleasant or disruptive personalities.   (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 24)

For more information please see:

Dealing with Borderline Personality Disorder in the Baha’i Community

Being of Service Even When People Drive you Crazy

Understanding our Tests at the Hands of Other Baha’is

Disruptive behaviour can be caused by heredity, environment, nourishment and our own treatment of them:

Our appetites and inclinations are strongly influenced by the condition of our physical makeup, and our bodies are in varying degrees of health, depending upon factors such as heredity, environment, nourishment and our own treatment of them. Genetic variations occur, producing conditions which can create problems for the individual. Some conditions are of an emotional or psychological nature, producing such imbalances as quickness to anger, recklessness, timorousness, and so forth; others involve purely physical characteristics, resulting not only in unusual capacities but also in handicaps or diseases of various kinds. (Universal House of Justice, 11 September 1995, to a National Spiritual Assembly)

It may be due to the effects of illness or disease:

In some cases, disruptive behavior may be due to the effects of illness or disease. The person’s behavior may become extremely unpredictable, over-emotional, even aggressive, regardless of his or her normal personality.  (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 23)

It may be due to an adverse reaction to prescription medication, drug interaction with other substances, environmental exposure to harmful substances that produce biochemical imbalances in the body, allergies and food intolerances:

In some cases, problems in behavior may be due to an adverse reaction to prescription medication, drug interaction with other substances, or environmental exposure to harmful substances that produce biochemical imbalances in the body. Other medical conditions, for example certain allergies and food intolerances, may also result in mood or behavior problems, some of which may be mistaken for mental disorder, substance abuse, or deliberate abuse of others, especially if the condition is undiagnosed and occurs repeatedly. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 23)

Assemblies have 3 responsibilities:

  • Suggest a thorough evaluation by a competent physician
  • minimize the negative aspects and protect the community from disruption and divisiveness
  • help them face their challenges and develop their God-given spiritual potential

It is often appropriate to suggest that someone with a behavior problem be thoroughly evaluated by a competent physician. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 23)

When a believer has emotional or psychological problems which render him incapable of behaving responsibly, the Local Assembly must, to safeguard the welfare of the community, consider what it can do to minimize the negative aspects of the person’s influence and protect the community from disruption and divisiveness. On the other hand, it must endeavor to help such persons face their challenges in life, which may be considerable, and develop their God-given spiritual potential. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 24)

 If the Assembly suspects that someone may be in danger because of the psychological problems of a believer, it can appoint a representative to contact a mental health crisis unit, adult or child protective agency, and/or the police about its concerns:

If the Assembly suspects that someone may be in danger because of the psychological problems of a believer, it can appoint a representative to contact a mental health crisis unit, adult or child protective agency, and/or the police about its concerns.  (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 23)

Moral Safety:

Harder to define, a climate of moral safety is an environment within which Baha’i Institutions model the very behavior that they want believers to emulate. It’s about “walking the talk”, being sure that our words and deeds are consistent. It is a climate within which it is safe for people to have discussions and disagreements about ethical dilemmas, right conduct, and value systems, all within the framework of the Baha’i Writings.

Creating a climate of moral safety, is more challenging than creating any other kind of safety because it drives us to confront the heart of the matter – even where we come together to plan, execute and reflect on the elements of the core activities and the framework for action.

It compels us to examine our motives and actions; to confront our own hypocrisy and define the kinds of communities we want to develop.

Great vigilance is required on the part of the institutions, to monitor their responses when providing guidance to believers:

Assemblies should also recognize that it may be challenging for members of the institutions to maintain a proper perspective in dealing with the behaviors of individuals with mental disorders. Members of Spiritual Assemblies are not exempt from the influences and dysfunction of present day society and are, for the most part, inexperienced in dealing with matters of mental disorders. Therefore, certain behaviors of some believers may provoke inappropriate responses from members of the Assembly. Great vigilance is required on the part of the institution itself to monitor its own responses when providing guidance to believers.  (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 23)

Trauma survivors need environments that are safe and compassionate in every way and that can tolerate and contain emotional expression; that promote belonging, participation and involvement; that encourage empowerment, personal responsibility, achievement and social commitment; and that place an emphasis on resilience, mastery, and productivity.

A safe culture is one within which

  • painful emotions of anger, grief, shame and guilt can be tolerated, managed, and redirected rather than suppressed, ignored, denied or punished
  • negative behavior is confronted and conflicts resolved before they escalate into any form or perception of violence
  • there is consistency; and people can be counted on to do what they say they will do

For those who’ve experienced trauma to feel truly safe again they will have to experience all four levels of safety – physical, psychological, social and moral safety.

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