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The Inner Bottom Line ®
A Column on Personal Choices & Ethical Dilemmas by Olive Gallagher

Dear Olive,
What would you say about someone who takes your phone behind your back and then sends out a half-naked picture of you to all your friends and then posts it on Instagram? I thought Angie was my best friend but now, after she did this, I never want to talk to her again. I'm so mad I could scream. My folks are furious with me, too, like it’s my fault. She’s been my best friend since middle school but now, I’m so embarrassed, I don’t want to see her or my other friends who think this whole thing is funny. I just want to disappear. What do you think? Didn’t she go too far? S.

Dear S,
I can understand how upset you feel right now. On top of the incident itself, you’re now left to deal with your parents as well as the humiliation you’re obviously experiencing from being revealed without your consent to your friends. You’re right, Angie went way too far.

But since this dilemma is troubling on many levels, it might be worth simplifying and clarifying exactly what happened here and why it feels so violating that you want to disappear. To begin, Angie took your phone without your permission and then used it. Not okay. By doing that, she crossed two, not one, major boundaries. Next, she chose a private, personal photo of you to distribute to your circle of friends, crossing a third, massive boundary. Then she posted it on a public forum, thus obliterating countless boundaries, not to mention your trust and respect. And as if all that wasn’t enough, the collateral damage has now impacted your personal boundary with your parents. Ouch.

One seemingly harmless choice; one thoughtless, immature action. And look at the fall out.

What makes your dilemma so pertinent is the recent Supreme Court ruling that police need warrants to search the cell phones of people they arrest. If one has ever questioned the inviolate nature of our phones and the data and photos we carry in them before, this ruling illuminates and qualifies the polarizing nature of that issue. At least for now.

But now that we’ve clarified the boundaries Angie’s impulsive, irresponsible actions crossed, it’s worth exploring why she did it and what part of this mess has your name all over it? Because Angie isn’t the only one accountable for this situation.

Angie isn’t here to sepak up for herself, and so, without her input, we could choose to write Angie’s actions off to “not thinking” or “immaturity.” But you might want to consider if there have been other moments in the past, regardless of who said or did what, that might have caused her to harbor resentments or jealousies that have remained unspoken and buried until now. I have no way of knowing if Angie feels less attractive or smart or accomplished as you, but even something that obvious could produce a level of frustration and anger that results in a destructive game of “gotcha.”

While it doesn’t excuse what she did, finding some understanding of what might have motivated her to act out in such a spiteful way will go far in trying to mend this fracture if you decide you still want the relationship.

Let’s also consider your part in this by beginning with a question: What were you thinking, taking and keeping a private picture you obviously now realize you never wanted others to see on your phone in the first place? This is one of the key dangers and issues with social media today, and the press is full of the oops and uh oh’s of celebrities and politicians who’ve gotten “caught.” From an ethical, Inner Bottom Line perspective, there’s a simple way to make certain this boundary’s never crossed: don’t take or keep anything on your phone, computer or electronic devices you would be humiliated or embarrassed to have your parents or children ever see. Because sadly, once it’s “out there,” it’s out there forever. And forever is a long time.

In the end, we have to be accountable for the choices we make. You chose to pose for the picture in the first place and then keep it on your phone. As absolutely inexcusable, disrespectful, unfair and hurtful Angie’s actions have been, you unfortunately provided the ammunition.

Hopefully you can both learn and grow from this experience and realize how essential respect and trust are in forming the foundation for any healthy relationship and how fragile and invaluable healthy boundaries can be.

Olive Gallagher, a life coach, ethicist, and national columnist has a private practice in Lake Oswego, OR.

The Inner Bottom Line can be found in first use on Tuesday’s and on Saturdays in the print version of The Oregonian newspaper.

You can submit your questions and ethical dilemmas or book consulting appointments and private coaching sessions with Olive at 503-908-7842 or

Hard cover, Kindle and audio versions of Olive’s book, The Nude Ethicist: A Simple Path to The Good Life™, are now available on

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