ABUSIVE LANGUAGE AT MEETINGS- how can we handle these situations?

The comments below were given by various members of the Conference Steps, Traditions, and Concepts Committee and do not represent a group conscience of the entire committee. The opinions expressed here are solely that of the person giving them. Take what you like and leave the rest.

The Question:
There is a long time member of S.L.A.A. who very often uses very shaming
and judgmental remarks regarding other members in S.L.A.A., eg, « People have
been in the program for years wallowing in their stuff and their miserable little
lives, people crash and burn (that is, relapse) for the 50th time because they
don’t deal with their miserable lives. » or « I went to meeting where
everyone shared, there were no dead bulbs. »
This has been a problem at a number of meetings in a certain area and several
groups have dwindled down to a few members because such comments do not
provide a safe and nonjudgmental environment. Other people still go to other
meetings but get very upset by these comments and don’t know what their rights
are to make the meeting a safer place for everyone. What rights does group
conscience have to deal with such shaming and disturbing comments at
meetings that threaten recovery for the greatest number?


This particular question is very similar to several others which we have discussed previously. There are several Traditions related here which I believe should be considered prior to the question regarding group conscience.

First the group should consider Tradition 1 which says that personal recovery depends on S.L.A.A. unity. Unity is very important because it assures that everyone is on the same page and is of the same mind regarding the spiritual health of the meeting. In order for us to be successful in our recovery and achieve any sort of spirituality and sobriety; everyone needs to put aside personal differences, including being judgmental of others.

Another important consideration is fund in Tradition 3, “The only requirement for S.L.A.A. membership is the desire to stop living out a pattern of sex and love addiction.” I find nowhere in this Tradition that complete sobriety is guaranteed or even offered. I know many in S.L.A.A. who, I believe, sincerely desire to stop acting out, but have constant relapses. Does this individual have a poor or unqualified sponsor who is not teaching them the way of sobriety or is this person incapable of living a pattern of sobriety? I often refer to a part of the reading of How It Works from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, where this was spoken very succinctly and clearly, Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. there are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but man of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, third edition, copyright 1976 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., New York, NY) It was recognized many years ago in AA that we would always have some members who would continue to “fall off the wagon”. Not only did they recognize it; they addressed it with this simple statement.

Now, going back to the part of the question regarding group conscience and what rights are found there. Tradition 2 states that “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as this power may be expressed through our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.” Group conscience is where the resolution to this conflict needs to take place; The groups, individually, need to address this question very seriously and carefully. The group conscience decision is the final decision as to how this conflict may be resolved. The following section of this paragraph is an example of a situation which took place in my home group. In a similar circumstance which was discussed very recently; a member shared judgmental remarks about some members of other area meetings to the extent that the members were recognizable to those in attendance. This bothered everyone in attendance. The following week; the entire meeting was taken up by a group conscience discussion to how to handle the situation. The offending member was not present, but the discussion would have still been held had he been in attendance. Everyone who had been in attendance spoke regarding their feelings regarding the comments and agreed that they were highly inappropriate and caused many to feel that they would not be able to freely share regarding their struggles or even slips. The decision of the group was that 2 or 3 members approach the offending member either before or after the next meeting and let him know the feelings of the group regarding his actions. The offending member was not someone who was new to S.L.A.A; he has been in the rooms for over 20 years. The men approached him stating what had transpired at group conscience and he readily admitted having made the remarks (this was not the first time he had been approached about an issue; on past issues, he would deny what had occurred). The offending member apologized to those who approached him. It was suggested that he owed amends to those whose trust he violated by sharing and speaking disparaging remarks about them. (The resolution to this problem was not shared as the question was presented.)

The health of the group as a whole and each individual member depends on the decisions made at group conscience. Each group needs to take what ever steps necessary to stop such behavior, short of putting the complaining member out of the group, without violating any of the Traditions, Steps or Concepts. The person who is doing the complaining may not even be aware that s/he is doing something which is inappropriate.

According to Steps 4 and 10 the only one who can take an inventory is the individual and not others. No where in any of the core documents of S.L.A.A. is anyone permitted to take the inventory of another member.

Finally, Tradition 12 reminds us “…to place principles before personalities.” Some would maintain that the Traditions are applicable to only the groups; however, this is a principle to which the individual member needs to adhere. This is a very difficult Tradition to uphold due to the many personalities represented in each meeting. I personally stay away from people or meetings where I cannot practice this important Tradition because others may at times make me feel unsafe. In those times when I do have to be with someone who is judgmental or even threatening, I use all the tools available to me and do my best to ignore the statements made by such a person. I finally recognize that the person who is doing the most complaining about others has a great character defect which will eventually cause that person to fall.

Of the people I know who keep falling down; the important thing is that they get up, dust themselves off, admit what they did and move forward. Some of these people have related to me that in spite of their slips and falls, they are still better than when they came into the rooms of S.L.A.A. As long as they keep coming back, they have a chance and I have no right to judge them or their sincerity. I hope those who left the meetings in the area where the questioner lives have found a place of peace, serenity and acceptance so that they can continue their recovery. Perhaps some of these comments will be helpful when the groups in that area finally decide to address the problem. If the inquirer would like to look another approach, I would suggest downloading the Conference Service Manual (CSM) Appendix from the FWS website and look at Appendix H on Conflict Resolution to see if it could be adapted in this situation.

This situation, for me, is similar to others for which the CSTC has already provided answers. Hence I would recommend looking at input provided for topics such as Controlling and disruptive members (2013).

So, to focus strictly on abusive language, I would consider Tradition 1 in priority : “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon S.L.A.A. unity”,  through a group conscience, Tradition 2.

Yes, as I think that we cannot exclude someone right out from undesirable behavior, as the desire to recover is the basis of S.L.A.A. membership (Tradition 3), groups should consider that in order to recover, you need a proper environment to receive the message. Hence, it should consider unity above individual recovery. If members keep not coming back, or leave to a point where the group might fold, something has to be done. Tradition 5 does say that the primary purpose of each group is to carry the message to the suffering sex and love addict, a message of recovery. The group’s purpose should consider it is not it’s responsibility to protect abusers of any kind, verbal or other types.

I would support the suggestion of a group inventory to do so and that members make together decisions on how to address such issues. Raise the subject of discomfort and threat to the meeting and do a round robin on it. In my experience, I have seen that inventories look to see how well a group carries the message, retains its members, what are problems that need attention. Solutions provided could include to modify the meeting format’s wording to request respectful language and behavior, and allow members       to ask for the Chair’s intervention if needed to call for order, in connection with the group’s decisions. Who knows, not to be blindly optimistic, even language abusive members might realize things. Or maybe not. It’s worth trying. The key here is group conscience.

Outside of the Traditions, I could suggest asking to the Conference Literature Committee, what happened with the draft of the pamphlet Triggers as a resource. The initial proposed title was : Triggering Language and Behavior in Meetings. I went through it and it did provide solution venues. Maybe some kind of literature on the topic is being rewritten.

Personally, in exploring how I get triggered in meetings, I would probably go through sort of a Step 4 and 5, reflect on how I am triggered. Is it in such a fear that I cannot confront abuse, that I want to run away or negate it?                                                                                From there, can I try to find options and resources to address the situation in other to be safe. Plus, I could ask myself : “Are there other people triggered?”, If so, should we discuss it as a group? And so on.We are not alone.

One idea is to possibly schedule a group inventory meeting and let members suggest items for the agenda. The above thoughts and questions could be listed as one of the items for the agenda, but not the only one. Perhaps an open and frank discussion without judgment would result in all members more nearly following the principles of the Steps and Traditions, without making rules or taking any non voluntary actions.


What do you think?
The CSTCC is a group of volunteers, some of whom were ABM delegates, and others who volunteered out of interest. We do not represent a group conscience of S.L.A.A., but are committed to bringing thoughtful discussion and study of 12 Step Fellowship literature and experience to the questions that are brought to us. We offer this summary as the results of our discussions. We present the major points of concern in the hopes that wider discussion in the Fellowship will help us evolve our customs and practice of the S.L.A.A. program of recovery to better represent the loving guidance of a Higher Power. Always, we affirm the autonomy of each group and the need for each individual to follow her/his own conscience. No decision of this group, or any other, is ever forced upon another, even when we believe a practice is clearly in conflict with the Steps, Traditions, or Concepts.