This is list of dynamics based on the work created by a psychologist named Alexandra Stein who focused on toxic group dynamics that turn abusive, and a journalist named Matthew Remski who created an analysis model of the dynamics based on Stein’s work when allegations came out about various Buddhist/ yoga groups. The following are listings of mostly those dynamics adapted to SMS.

  1. People are always delaying leaving the organization in hopes of it one day becoming the community they want it to be (no stability in foundation).
  2. Porous membership process (though sometimes coupled with layers of secrecy among its membership hierarchy and processes).
  3. Porous membership is constantly showcased, but the reality is people are too impoverished or dependent on the group to leave.
  4. Becoming a steward is less about community goals, mission statement, or accountability of interpersonal harm. But rather about the potential resident’s ability to adapt to abuse and navigate aspects of dissonance created by the process in toeing the line of the unstable, always individually changing expectations of how one becomes a steward-in-process.
  5. The presence of this dynamic in a consensus-based process where authority is given a hierarchy makes people become each other’s abusers and comforters simultaneous in a dynamic known as trauma bonding (IE: you have to have the approval of the person abusing you to live at SMS).
  6. People having experienced this form of abuse for years tend to develop dissociative states and CPTSD-like psychological symptoms similar to people who have been stuck in an abusive relationship, which develop or worsen in individuals depending on their exposure to these dynamics.
  7. Under a constant state of stress and hyper-vigilance over time from participation in the group’s processes, new people can begin to emulate the abusive behaviors of other surrounding individuals’ dissociative states.
  8. No mediation of the harm or accountability of these abuse dynamics are made by those in positions of power within the organization.


  1. Collective gaslighting through different individual demands that constantly change, which are expectations it is impossible to live up to:
  • There is no written code of conduct or handbook of how to do various activities, so everyone without authority in the group’s hierarchy is treated in whatever way the resident criticizing deems necessary (which means public-shaming or emotional abuse in some scenarios).
  • This changing demand on visitors from individuals in the organization only worsens when combined with the outlined structural abuse, inconsistent processes of accountability, power being abused by stewards, and having to shut down emotions in public spaces filled with criticism as any show of anger or sadness becomes more reason to be rejected.
  • This puts people of lesser hierarchical authority in the organization in the line of fire of various totalist ideology coming from individuals with power over them: be it ideas of labor equality (that is not intersectional of disabilities) such as certain exposures to more totalitarian communist thought, imposed conflict avoidance:  thinking nonviolence means not acting to stop violence (or forgiving violence from authority), or individual Buddhist/ Pagan / Wiccan / Catholic doctrines of spirituality being projected as value-judgments on new people even though the organization is required to be non-secular in its daily activities and community processes.
  • A good example people at SMS could also better understand is the comparison of the emotional treatment of the dog (Ginger), where people in the community blamed the dog for its trauma responses and expected the dog to magically get better (or disappear)…instead of individuals holding their body language, aggressions, and observable authoritarian  behaviors accountable. When this behavior is transferred to daily human interactions, this carries an extra weight of gendered violence as well as trauma victims being asked to submit to a person’s narcissistic control.
  1. Stewards constantly deflecting responsibility of group actions or the actions of other individuals in the group (not using their agency in the organization to hold harm caused by other stewards accountable, while some abuse the power to shut down criticism of their own harmful actions).
  2. Visitors to become residents-in-process are asked to trauma bond with stewards being harmful to be compassionate for the potential reasons for their behavior, instead of holding the harm accountable and supporting healing in a way that protects the person being harmed the most.
  3. Constant harsh criticism in social settings of other stewards and new people at a horizontal level, instead of vertically at the nonprofit, state or country. This creates a dynamic where instead of work to change abusive structures, board members, or contributing to activism outside the community to oppose oppression, instead: individuals with less power become the villains and have their every action criticized in a way that does not promote growth.
  4. Constant harsh criticism is an experience of constant coercion when it is not done in a healthy setting without animosity and consented to by all parties. Allowing this as the community norm exposes people to constant abuse of their emotions through the act of coercion from individuals.
  5. The only official reporting structure within the organization is in what is known in psychology as a hot seat confrontation, where the person must speak to the entire group at once (with the individuals causing harm present) where disruptive and dissociative behaviors can ruin its expression. This can further increase the stress of any situation when the person experiences others who become vulnerable being made fun of or harassed outside the meeting process, resulting in people not speaking up.
  6. Facilitations of meetings, salons, and heart circles are not trauma-informed to lead people out of complex abuse dynamics and only gives more power to insulated groupthink built around these dynamics causing harm by institutionalizing new forms of power that only uphold the abuse perpetuated by the consensus process and attributes assigned to member hierarchies.
  7. A hierarchical membership process puts specific individual trauma on a protected pedestal to tolerate someone’s abuse based on their past, while bypassing the trauma of new people or residents-in-process of lesser status by there being no true agency to level potential mediation.
  8. Toxic associations between self and the group over years of experiencing this dynamic make people take criticism of harm as badmouthing of the group and people tend to help cast out the person speaking up that has less agency or power. Leading to the group insulating itself from outside perspectives and a network of complicity among its stewards.
  9. Networks of complicity are the ways people stop confronting harm caused by other stewards in community, be they due to individual financial support from stewards with abusive behaviors, complicity in illegal activities, or trauma bonding/ shared trauma in experiences within the community. A type of complicity can also be maintaining a position of authority within a nonprofit, while not knowing the ways to ethically carry out the responsibilities of the position the person is trusted with.
  10. Stewards have grown complacent in the power structures that have continuously failed the group to change while others use it to protect themselves from accountability (a closed loop of false reconciliation).
  11. Reconciliation of harm becomes impossible when to fully participate in the process means to come into contact with all these abusive dynamics. The process itself is a cause of harm and perpetuating unethical mistreatment.

Mapping Abusive Group Dynamics

This lists the variables anyone can use to explain dynamics they are experiencing from the group I have not yet touched on. I suggest writing them down and thinking about them throughout the situations you encounter while experiencing the group in order to collectively get to various root causes of the abuse:

  1. Assessing situational vulnerability of all involved
  2. Feeling and understanding transference and idealization
  3. Feeling and understanding dissociative/ disorganized attachment sensations
  4. Accessing the value and effects of trance states in social settings
  5. Listening for loaded language from individuals
  • Also could be considered as thought stopping jargon that no longer allows critical thinking in the process or conversation that could potentially solve problems…instead of maintaining the status quo (IE: you haven’t been here long enough to have an opinion, blanket statements about race and identity politics in a way that doesn’t explain itself or reveal a path for growth, not listening to visitors, telling people to spiritually bypass their feelings,  etc).
  1. Accessing honesty and transparency of the group or leaders
  2. Rejecting the ‘bad apple’ argument that this is all one person’s fault: thinking structurally instead of individually
  • Using root cause analysis to address systemic issues that allow the group or individuals to abuse without accountability that stops the harm at an institutional level.
  1. Rejecting I’ve-Got-Mineism responses
  • I’ve-Got-Mineism is when people refuse to hold harm accountable because they have gotten privileges, support, or healing from the organization so they don’t care about other people’s experience of it or refuse to believe it can cause any wrongdoing because it might mean sacrificing those things. 

What is a Trauma Bond?

In a trauma bond you become connected to the person who is abusing, traumatizing you, or stressing you out in a way that people outside the relationship might not understand necessarily. Usually it goes like this: that you are with someone who was abusive, let’s say: who is selfish or narcissistic. And they need to take this power away from you and make you feel small and make you feel afraid of disappointing them and not getting things done perfectly. And they get very punitive towards you. But then they are intermittently kind and giving, funny, forgiving, emotionally generous and soft, and it’s like intermittent gratification. It draws you in into something that is called a trauma bond, where you want that sweetness and that break from the mistreatment to continue as long as it can. You learn that you can control it by shifting your behavior a bit and pleasing that person as best you can. The sweetness and the break lasts for a longer time. But in the back of your mind, you know, it’s not gonna last forever and that the abuse is going to come back and then there will be a break from it again. And you will know what you need to do in order to try to keep that good feeling going and continue getting that break you need. But the cycle just continues. And then if the abuse comes back, you might feel you deserve it because you just had the recent experience of this person being kind to you. And if a kind person is angry with you, you can more easily feel like it’s your fault. Much like children learn to appease someone who puts them under overwhelming stress or abuse because they have to: if that person or those people are their only caretakers and they don’t have anywhere else to go or any other adults in their lives who they really know yet and can rely on, they are stuck.

Now imagine this happening with a few individuals at once in a process that requires their approval and an organization making their behavior unable to be held accountable.


There is one dynamic revealing the presence of an emotional abuser and wherever it is given authority there is likely abuse on most sides of the equation. My experience of some Short Mountain stewards is this is their default reaction and has even been the reaction of the group in unity when pertaining to non-residents.

Deny the behavior

Attack other person


Victim and 

Offender roles

The presence of this means at least one person involved in the situation immediately bypasses the other’s emotions while creating a power struggle or removing the other person’s credibility/ agency. This worsens or becomes the norm when there is no trained mediation or accountability group to handle the harm outside the individuals. People develop their own court cases against one another and have to campaign in the court of public opinion. Inequality is furthered when a network of complicity or an abusive hierarchical power given by an institution doesn’t have checks and balances. It will usually result in the most vulnerable or socially unable to defend themselves being the ones harmed as the end result.


Prism is another acronym used in Remski’s work in his proposal of how a group that has become prone to complex abuse dynamics can make its way out of it, and is what would be central to the mediation/ ethics & compliance work I have been doing for SMS. I have included it as it is the ticket to the healing path:

Pause to reflect on the value of the community or people, while acknowledging they might potentially have a history of abuse.

It is important these things become disentangled.

Research abuse at a structural, group, and individual level.

Education about this can produce less harm.

Investigate whether the harm has been acknowledged and addressed.

If it has been silenced, give it a voice.

Show how you will embody the virtues and not bypass the wounds of the community.

There can be no bypass if healing is the goal. This includes not bypassing people without hierarchical authority in the process (past and present) and thinking of ways reparations can be made that are good enough on all accounts.

Model transparent power-sharing and engaged ethics for current and future members.

Cycles of abuse, silence, and neglect can be stopped.


Article Sources:

Ethical Behaviors and Nonprofit Boards (BoardEffect)

Nonprofit Accountability and Ethics: Rotting from the Head Down (Nonprofit Quarterly)

How Ethical is Your Nonprofit? (Guidestar Blog)

Nonprofit Law and Ethics (Nonprofit Law Blog)

How the Americans with Disabilities Act Affects Small Nonprofits (Mission Box)

Money as Medicine: Leveraging Philanthropy to Decolonize Wealth (Nonprofit Quarterly)

When Someone Steals Your Soul: Repatriating Narratives in the Nonprofit Sector (Nonprofit Quarterly)

Short Mt Sanctuary Profile (GuideStar)

The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture (Nora Samaran)

Emergent Strategy: Organizing for Social Justice (Forte Labs)

Talking with Carmen Spagnola about Attachment, High-Demand Groups, Responsibilism, and Grief (Matthew Remski, transcript)

Bibliography & Research Sources:

The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

Practice and All is Coming: Abuse, Cult Dynamics, and Healing in Yoga and Beyond

Terror, Love, and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems

Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds

Turn This World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture

Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror

Making Spaces Safer: A Guide To Giving Harassment The Boot Wherever You Work, Play, and Gather

Opening Minds: The Secret World of Manipulation, Undue Influence and Brainwashing

The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Partner Abuse in Activist Communities

The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

Every Nonprofit’s Tax Guide: How To Keep Your Tax Exempt Status & Avoid IRS Problems

How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation

High Quality Ethics & Compliance Program Measurement Framework

Model Mediation Groups:

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