Boundaries of pathology: Removing a crazy person
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2002 15:25:02 -0600 (MDT)
In a community once I watched a meeting where a person jumped to his feet,
faced flushed, and in a loud angry voice, shouted at another person saying
something like: You are SUCH a huge *&^%ing asshole! I will not tolerate a
&^%$ing jerk like you around here!.

Whoaaaaaaaa. This was a very personal attack on another person. The room was
electricified and stunned. The facilitator crumbled, the angry man stomped
out of the room, after shaking his fist at the other, and the meeting broke
apart with some intense energy. Everybody got up and left...Except for me,
my host, and the person to whom the diatribe had been directed.

The man was moving his body in such a way I thought he was crying, but to my
surprise and astonishment it turns out he was laughing! I could not overcome
my astonishment and I went over to him, and asked him, are you all right?
He looked up, smiled broadly and said he had never been better. My feeling
of total bewilderment must have shown on my face because he then explained.
That person just said and did, what almost everyone else wanted to say...To
HIM! In a week, he will be gone, and we will all breath easier. We have been
dealing with outbursts like that for a year now. That was his last outburst,
he will asked to leave tonight after the council meeting....After several
conversations with other community members it was clear that the person was
very  unbalanced and in need of therapy that the group could not provide.

The point of this story, is that sometimes people get into a community who
really are in need of therapy. They have large emotional or mental problems
which the group can not heal, and often can't cope with either. It is way
beyond the charter of most communities to deal with peoples pathology. And
these people can very well destroy a community if you let them, or tie you
up in huge emotional knots. But only if you let them.

Cohousing with its community familial feeling can attract some pretty needy
people and a occasionally somebody with real problems.  Groups really get
tangled up when they run into a seriously  dysfunctional person because they
seldom ever put into place any kind of structure to deal with it. We all
assume, hey we are all basically OK and we just need to work around the
edges a little bit.  And so, when serious  dysfunction shows up, groups are
more or less held emotional hostage. When you get a seriously abusive or
mentally ill person in your group, it's very important for your own safety
and well being to talk about the behaviors and how the group will deal with

Of course, how do you define the line between idiosyncratic behavior or poor
group skills and serious dysfunction? That is sometimes a hard call. I have
met lots of odd characters, most communities have at least one. Almost every
cohousing group I have ever visited had some person who drove the rest of
the group to grind their teeth.  Heck, I can be pretty odd myself sometimes.
But pathology usually has a pattern, and over time this pattern becomes
obvious. And the best thing to do about it, is to get together and openly
discuss the behaviors which  cause problems. There are lots of formats to do
this in where people can focus on actions and consequences of actions. Or
get professional help.  A therapist cohousers once told me that seriously
dysfunctional people leave behind them a trail of unhappiness which could be
healed if people knew what was going on and how to deal with it.

I have heard of more than a dozen  situations in cohousing groups where
extreme behaviors indicated a seriously dysfunctional person. In almost all
of them, that person was eventually removed from the group. So, ask
yourself, if a really dysfunctional person moves in and disrupts  our
community, what will we do? It appears to happen more frequently than I
would have thought.

Rob Sandelin
Sharingwood  where we have our issues, but nobody currently is too
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