Trouble with the neighbours? (Part 3)
Since this series began, I have been asked how one should deal with a neighbour who causes legal problems by making groundless complaints to the police. This kind of trouble between neighbours is well-known, and can become very unpleasant.
Take the case of Family A in northern Germany, which initially enjoyed a good and mutually helpful relationship with Family B. Family B gradually began to exert more influence over Family A, and started to involve itself in matters such as the children’s upbringing. Family B is described as extremely religious.
The relationship gradually deteriorated as more and more limits were transgressed by Family B, causing Family A to distance itself. Things remained polite, but Family A no longer found the time to accept invitations from Family B next door, let alone give counter-invitations.
After a number of months, police officers accompanied by a female officer from the social services suddenly appeared at the door and enquired about the wellbeing of the 12 year-old son. Family B had made an official complaint of child abuse. This started a bureaucratic landslide which eventually ended in a court case, and in the end the judge found Family A not guilty for lack of evidence.
Their lawyer advised against making a counter-claim, as it would ”do no good“ and the atmosphere in the village would be soured.
Once Family A had got over the shock and a very cool but polite relationship has established itself, the neighbours made another official complaint relating to illegal drugs, and once again the police came to call. No court case ensued owing to lack of evidence.
On the assumption that the above accusations were pure invention, this is a very difficult case of strife between neighbours.
While it is always appropriate to act immediately on the slightest sign of abuse towards women and children in view of the frequency of domestic violence, it should not be possible for anybody to subject others to such unfounded accusations unpunished. But until things get that far, there is always a lead-up.
The lead-up …
What did Family A do wrong? Were they too trusting towards their neighbours, was it a lack of human knowledge or were they simply unlucky?
Family A gave Family B more and more leeway to involve themselves in their private life and cross personal boundaries, leading to an imbalance of power which Family B, having problems of its own, took advantage of. It is all too common to avoid confronting one’s own inadequacies and conflicts by seeking to ”overcome“ those of others. On the other hand, one could say that Family B just wanted to maintain its unequal relationship with Family A. Why otherwise would they be interested in further ”communication” (via the courts)? Since Family B did not complain in person but sent the police, it may be that both parties were afraid of a direct confrontation, hiding behind a greater power or using it to serve their interests: the state and its law courts. Perhaps they can only be shown their limits by legal action, as they seem to have great respect for this.
There is also the loss of control over Family A, and therefore a wounded ego. Interference in the lives of others can be motivated by a narcissistic need to create a “mirror image“ of a well-ordered life one would like to have oneself, or which reflects one’s own disfunctional world. Dominance over others begins with “dehumanising“ them, making him/her an object of one’s own projection. This begs the of question where friendship begins and ends. Can one trust nobody any more?
According to the psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin, any relationship between two people requires a “healthy“ balance of mutual respect accompanied by enough space for self-assertion. Conflict is inevitable in an unequal relationship where power is sought by exceeding the personal limits. In this respect there is always a suitable partner to be found, as this mechanism needs two parties to work.
This is not an attempt to apportion blame, which clearly belongs to the party that does wrong. But it may help to clarify one’s own contribution to a conflict, so that changes can be made.
What should be done?
The following actions might be suggested to draw boundaries in such a case, if an official complaint has already been made:
· Try not to take the conflict too personally, even though this is difficult. Free yourself from your own strength, and that of your opponent (WT principles).
· Immediately seek legal advice and if necessary make a counter-complaint (slander, harassment, personal abuse etc.).
· Look for external support, e.g. visit a family counselling service and explain the situation.
· If the conflict has become public knowledge, actively communicate it to others in clear, factual terms, but try not to slander the other party yourself.
· Explain the limits to your neighbour clearly and calmly, in the presence of witnesses. This sounds very like Blitzdefence, which brings us back to WT and the ability to rely on our own strengths in the event of conflict, or to work on our weaknesses.
· And finally: don’t lose your faith in people!
These are just a few possibilities I can think of, and they may help in certain cases. As the author is not an attorney, no legal liability is accepted. Further information about Blitzdefence is available from any EWTO school.
Oliver C. Pfannenstiel, 3rd TG
(The author is happy to answer questions on this subject if time allows. Please contact the editor.)