The Tenets of an Authentic Communication Group
The group serves as a microcosm for your life, because whatever issues you have at home or at work are likely to show up in the group. It can be very supportive to share your psychological issues or traumatic memories from childhood and receive understanding from the group. Deep sharing can be very healing.
The group can go even deeper when the focus is on the group interactions, or on what is happening live in the moment. That means sharing your feelings towards others in the group, giving and receiving feedback, and experimenting with new behaviors. As you become aware of which parts are activated in the moment, you can speak for those parts. You can also share your feelings regarding your relationships with other group members.
This focus on interactive work means that there isn’t much chit chat. Sometimes many people speak at once, and other times the group needs silence to process what has just happened.
Awareness is the ability to notice what you and others are feeling and needing in the moment. Changes in posture, bodily sensations, your breath, your voice, can all serve as indicators that feelings and needs are arising. Awareness of the group power dynamics can support a deeper level of authenticity, especially when you are willing to explore unacknowledged advantages of gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation, physical ability and more.
For example, if Kasha says that she thinks that men in the group take more air time than others, lots of feelings can arise. Sam feels hurt and says he wants to be seen as an individual, not as a male who takes too much air time. Bella feels scared and wants to support Sam, and says she enjoys hearing his voice and values his contributions. Denzel speaks for a part that is angry when a woman seems to be rescuing a man to maintain the hierarchical social structure.
The facilitator’s role is to slow down the process and help people explore their initial feelings and their deeper needs. All parts are welcome. All needs matter. Many levels of awareness become available, when the group holds spaciousness and care for whatever parts arise.
There is something beautiful about openness and vulnerability, whether expressing deep pain, fear, or shame. We all have a great need for these vulnerable parts of ourselves to be accepted, and the group support allows these parts to be witnessed and held with compassion.
Most group members find it in their nature to be loving and compassionate toward someone who reveals pain. If they find themselves unable to offer empathy or presence, it’s often because they have deep needs arising; that want to be received and held.
A big challenge for many people is hearing or expressing feelings of irritation, hurt, or discomfort. More intense feelings such as fear, anger, and jealousy are even harder to communicate. You may wonder how expressing feelings like these can help. You may be thinking:
- I don’t want to hurt him.
- I should just work on myself.
- It’s not a big deal, so why mention it.
- He probably won’t be receptive.
- She won’t be able to change.
- They might reject me.
In an Authentic Communication Group, we work on expressing feelings by speaking for the part rather than as the part. When you speak for a part, you are in Self as you describe the feelings of the part, “There is a part of me that is hurt because it wants me to have self-respect.” By speaking for our parts, we own our reactions to other people. We don’t attack them or try to educate them. Instead we let them know how our parts are reacting to their parts. When a member of the group is speaking with intensity, remember that is not all of them, it’s simply a part of them. Every part has an opposite, but the opposite may not get much visibility.
When two or more people are involved in a conflict, they may express hurt or anger. They learn what parts get riled up, what parts want to calm things down and which exiles are being protected. They also learn how to communicate clearly and vulnerably. Rather than taking sides, the rest of the group supports both parties. Often relationships emerge stronger as a result of an intense interaction.
As the group builds trust, we deepen levels of inclusion, explore distribution of power, and revise the group norms. The level of commitment increases and for many people, the group becomes like a family – an opportunity to heal old wounds and get the kind of parenting, or sisterhood, brotherhood or otherhood we’ve always wanted. As we clarify our feelings and needs, we make requests so that we co-create brave space. We develop awareness and appreciation for the parts of the psyche so that all parts of the system can relax.
Authenticate Communication Group Agreements
I agree to participate in both group meetings each month. When the group meeting lands on a holiday, we meet on the following business day. Because this is an international group, the facilitator will let the group know at least two weeks in advance if we need to change the date to honor a national, cultural or religious holiday. But the facilitator might not know about a holiday in my country, so I will speak up if I need to move a meeting due to a holiday.
For each meeting, I agree to set up Zoom well ahead of the group meeting to make sure that it is working when the group starts so we can begin the group on time.
Attendance and Promptness
I agree to start and end our meetings on time. I will arrive on time for each group meeting and stay until the end unless I have an emergency, something very important to attend to, or am on vacation.
If I am going to miss a session or be late, I agree to notify the group before the meeting starts. If unforeseen circumstances arise and I am late for a group, I agree to join the group whenever I can rather than missing the group. If I miss a session or part of a session, I agree to watch or listen to the recording so I don’t miss anything.
I agree to keep confidential any personal information that anyone shares in the group, and I will be especially careful not to identify other group members by name or share details that would allow someone outside the group to identify people in my group. I agree to make sure that the group recordings are not accessible to anyone outside the group.
I intend to be vulnerable about how I feel toward others, even if I am concerned about the consequences. If a person asks for feedback, I intend to be honest with them rather than saying what I think they want to hear. If this is difficult for me, I will explore what needs I am meeting by not speaking up. If I don’t yet feel safe enough to be honest, I can take the time to develop more trust before doing so.
Creating Safe, Brave Space
ACG can be an emotionally challenging practice and I am ultimately responsible for my own safety. My experience is not caused by someone else. I intend to notice the energetic subtlety of owning my experience. As I share my emotions, if my attention is on myself then I am most likely owning my experience. If I witness an interaction that seems unsafe, I will share my felt experience. I intend to practice basic safety guidelines:
- Practice self-care.
- State my needs.
- Do what I need to take care of myself.
- Enforce my own boundaries.
- Notice my impact on others. I can express my truth while also considering the group field.
- Honor experimental behavior as people “try things out” rather than insist on “getting it right.”
- Support participation by choice. No group member is ever required to answer any question, or reveal anything.
When other group members are sharing or doing interactive work, I intend to listen with an open heart. I intend to be curious about their inner experience. If I feel bored or distracted without an obvious reason, or if this happens repeatedly, I will bring this up in the group and explore it.
I intend to focus on my experience during the group rather than focusing on other people’s experience and issues. When I have a reaction to another person, I agree to empathize with the speaker and be honest about my internal reaction, without blaming or shaming them. I agree to speak directly to each person rather than talking about them.
Levels 3 and 4
We make a clear distinction between internal work (level 3) and interactive work (level 4). Level 4 means talking to another group member about my feelings toward them or about my relationship with them, or talking to the group about how I feel in the group. The primary focus of the group is on Level 4 work.
However, Level 3 work can also add value to the group. Level 3 means sharing what is happening inside which can include painful or traumatic memories from childhood, especially times in my life when I have experienced vulnerability or shame. I intend to focus on being emotionally open and vulnerable rather than just talking about my issues intellectually. In Level 3, the other group members tend to respond with support, understanding, and appreciation, which can be very healing.
Initiating Interactive Work
I intend to take responsibility for initiating interactive work in the group. This means bringing up how I feel toward another group member, toward the group as a whole, or toward the facilitator. If something happens in the group to trigger me, I will attempt to bring this up with that person (or the group) as soon as possible after I become aware of my reaction. If I am unable to do this at the time, I will bring it up when I am aware of it and can claim some group time to talk about it.
Before each group session, I intend to contemplate how I feel toward each group member and what relationship I have with each, so I can come to the group prepared to bring up some of these feelings in the group. I intend not to wait until that person does something to trigger me again. I will simply bring it up.
Supporting People in Conflict
When two people are in a conflict, I intend to support both of them rather than taking sides. If I am triggered by one of the people, I will wait until their work is complete and some time has passed to bring up my feelings. If one member is receiving feedback from another member, I will be aware of the tendency to gang up or pile on, and intervene to prevent overwhelm and support human dignity.
Talking about an Absent Member
I agree to avoid talking about a group member who is absent. If there is a powerful reason to talk about my feelings about an absent person, I intend to focus on my own feelings and not the other person’s issues, and when that person returns, I agree to tell them what I shared with the group about them.
Quarterly Private Consultation
I understand that I can schedule a consult with a facilitator individually for 30 minutes every three months to enhance my growth. This is especially helpful in learning how to initiate interactive work in the group. It is my responsibility to contact the facilitator every three months to arrange a consultation.
The first month is an opportunity for me to see if participating in the group meets my needs. After that, I will commit to staying in the group for at least six months, and I understand that many people stay in the group for years.
Leaving the Group
If I am thinking about leaving the group, I agree to talk to the group about it before making a final decision. This way I can have help in exploring possible unconscious reasons for leaving, in case I am avoiding something that the group could help me understand.
I agree to give the group at least two weeks notice of my intention to leave the group after I have made a firm decision. I agree to use my last meeting to process any feelings and needs that arise from my leaving the group.
Most people develop close relationships in ACG, so when someone leaves, we create space for processing and saying goodbye. Valuable work often happens during the transition process. This is also a time to review what people have contributed to the group and what they have gained. This affirms the participation and growth within the group. When someone leaves without saying goodbye, the remaining group members may wonder if they have harmed the leaving member. During the transition process I will respect the decision of the person wishing to leave.
I understand that when a member leaves our group, another person will be invited to join.
There is no rule against people in the group developing relationships with each other outside of the group. In fact, sometimes this adds considerably to what people get from the group. However, if I develop an outside relationship with someone from the group, if anything happens within the group that needs to be processed, I agree to work on it in the group. My intention is not to collude or avoid dealing with issues that arise between me and another group member.
If the group has a problem seeing or hearing me clearly on Zoom, I agree to use a headset or earbuds. If my video freezes or my voice breaks up because of low band-width, I agree to turn off my video to enhance my sound, and figure out how to improve the bandwidth, either by turning off other applications and devices or by increasing the bandwidth of my internet server. I agree to get help before our session if I am having tech challenges.
I will use the ACG Google Group for communicating among the members of the group. I can use the Google Group entirely through email, or can use the Google Group website if I prefer.
I agree to pay $100 at the beginning of each month by credit card. If I have cash flow problems, I will set up a payment agreement. I agree to pay the monthly fee, even if I miss a session, to support sustainability and group cohesiveness.