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  • Psychological safety in churches, charities, and businesses is of paramount importance, as it creates an environment where your people feel comfortable expressing themselves, sharing ideas, and taking risks without fear of retribution or harm. Addressing psychological safety is an important component of safeguarding children, youth, vulnerable adults, paid staff and volunteers. 

    Plan to Protect® and Psychological Safety: It is vital to incorporate measures to protect against psychological abuse within your abuse prevention framework. Ensure that your policies and procedures explicitly address psychological abuse and emphasize that it won't be tolerated.

    1) Understanding and Awareness: Recognize that your responsibility as a leader is to be aware of potential psychological hazards and risks within your organization. Understand the potential harm that can occur and the importance of preventing it. A significant aspect of awareness building is understanding the terminology and the indicators of the behaviour and harm that can occur. See below definitions of psychological abuse, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse and more.

    Psychological abuse:  Psychological Abuse is the systemic destruction of a person’s self-esteem or sense of safety, often occurring in relationships where there are differences in power and control. It includes threats of harm or abandonment, humiliation, deprivation of contact, isolation and other psychologically abusive tactics and behaviours. A variety of terms are used interchangeably with psychological abuse, including emotional abuse, verbal abuse, mental cruelty, intimate terrorism, and psychological aggression. Also, when the abuse occurs in a residential care setting, it is often called systemic or institutional abuse. (Follingstad, D. & DeHart, D., 2000; Doherty, D. & Berglund, D., 2008)

    Emotional abuse: “Emotional abuse is a pattern of behaviour that attacks a child’s emotional development and sense of self-worth. It includes excessive, aggressive or unreasonable demands that place expectations on a child beyond their capacity. Emotional abuse includes constantly criticizing, teasing, belittling, insulting, rejecting, ignoring or isolating the child. It may also include exposure to domestic violence.”  (Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, 2017)

    Spiritual abuse: Spiritual Abuse is the use of spiritual or religious language and/or beliefs to unduly influence and exert control over individuals, exploiting them for the apparent benefit of the organization or those in positions of greater authority.

    Discrimination: Discrimination is differential treatment based on a personal characteristic which has an adverse impact on an individual or group. Examples of personal characteristics include race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, faith or creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or handicap.

    Discrimination robs people of their dignity and their ability to fulfill their capabilities. It is important to note that any person or group can discriminate, and any person or group can be the target of discrimination. 

    Harassment: Harassment can be physical, sexual, verbal and visual, against an individual or a group. Whether intentional or not, harassment demonstrates a lack of respect for the dignity and character of its targets. There is no requirement that the victim formally object to the behaviour before it is considered a violation.

    Toxic Employee: A toxic employee/volunteer can be identified by their overconfidence, self-centered attitudes, and lack of cooperation. They often disrespect co-workers and prioritize their interests over the team's. Their behaviour disrupts team dynamics, lowers morale, and hinders productivity.

    Narcissistic Personality Disorder:personality disorder characterized especially by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, persistent need for admiration, lack of empathy for others, excessive pride in achievements, and snobbish, disdainful, or patronizing attitudes

    A toxic work culture: A toxic culture is a culture in which conflict is common, and the work environment is negative because of unethical behaviours, a lack of inclusion, and disrespect. Antagonistic, potentially abusive working relationships develop and cause good employees to disengage from their work and even leave the organization. Both employees and employers can be the cause of team members being distracted from the vision and mission of the organization. 

    2) Policy and Procedures: Ensure that your organization has clear policies and procedures in place that address psychological safety. These policies should cover issues like bullying, harassment, discrimination, whistleblowing, and stress management.

    3) Training and Education: Educate individuals in your organization to recognize and prevent psychological and spiritual abuse as part of a holistic abuse-prevention training program.

    4) Reporting Mechanisms: Establish clear and confidential reporting mechanisms for individuals to report all abuse – psychological, spiritual, or emotional. We recommend a clearly articulated whistleblower policy that protects individuals from being penalized when raising concerns. 

    5) Awareness Campaigns: Raising awareness about psychological and spiritual abuse is crucial. Create campaigns, workshops, or seminars to educate employees, volunteers and leaders about the signs of psychological and spiritual abuse and how to address it.

    6) Regular Assessments: Conduct regular assessments and surveys to gauge the psychological well-being of your staff, volunteers, and members. Use this feedback to identify issues and make improvements. 

    7) Support Systems: Provide trauma-informed support systems for victims of abuse. This can include counseling services, victim advocacy or access to resources that can help them cope with the effects of abuse.

    8) Leadership Commitment: Encourage leaders to model the behaviour you want to see and hold them accountable for maintaining a safe and respectful workplace culture. This is essential to promoting psychological safety in your organization.

    9) Crisis Response: Be prepared to respond promptly and effectively to crises or incidents that threaten psychological safety. Create a crisis management plan. If you don’t have one yet, check out our Crisis Response and Management course, or book a complimentary coaching call with us on this service.

    10) Continuous Improvement: Regularly review and update your abuse prevention policies and procedures to stay current with best practices. Lori Adams-Brown in her recent A World of Difference podcast: Unlocking Psychological Safety by Empowering Diverse Individuals for Workplace Impact, encourages one-on-one conversations with your team members by asking three questions:

    1. What do you love about working here?
    2. What do loathe about working here?
    3. What do you need to feel more empowered and successful? 

    Remember, the work you do aligns with your faith and values, and promoting psychological safety is essential for creating a compassionate, respectful and safe environment. 

    Check out Lori Adams-Brown podcast

    where she provides additional tips on creating

    a psychological safe environment.

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