Our very own Chris Adams Hill, LCSW was invited to contribute to an online piece titled “How To Overcome The Fear Of Change” on the website Personal Development Cafe. In her contribution, “Four Things You Can Do To Overcome Your Fear Of Change” – Chris does just that. She offers four tips to help individuals work through change and move towards their relationship goals. To read please click on the title below:
Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with difficult people can be challenging. There are people in our lives who have personality types that clash with our own or perhaps their behaviors, attitudes or belief systems make them difficult to be around. These areas of conflict can be draining and it’s difficult to know how to manage them!
Maintaining healthy boundaries is easy (with practice) when we are with people who respect our boundaries. The challenge is to continue using these skills with people who are “difficult” or with whom we frequently feel put down, silenced or exhausted. Julie Hanks, LCSW does a great job in this clip discussing different types of difficult people/behaviors and listing specific ways to manage challenging situations, and set clear boundaries in a respectful way. One important point she makes is that “difficult” people are not usually trying to be mean or disrespectful; they are often wounded. This perspective helps us come from a place of compassion when we set limits and boundaries to take care of our own mental health and well-being.
It is possible to have healthy boundaries – which is essential in taking care of ourselves – and still care about others. Setting healthy boundaries demonstrates that our emotional well-being is a priority. Living with or loving somebody that struggles with addiction can make it difficult to hold healthy boundaries. We often see boundaries relax due to fear and a desire to provide support. We hear families say, “We will do anything it takes to help our loved one recover.” But, without knowing it they support the addiction by shrinking their boundaries in response to the addicted person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
This week we are providing a short clip featuring Julie Hanks, LCSW. In this clip she discusses some common issues that can make it difficult for friends and family members to set healthy boundaries. While this discussion isn’t geared specifically towards addiction – the information shared in the clip is applicable to all family systems.
No matter how much we want someone to stop using drugs or alcohol we cannot force them to change. No amount of meditation, prayer, yelling, wishing, visiting a voodoo shaman or purchasing a magic potion off the internet will cause someone to wake up one morning and just decide to be sober and follow through. Change must come from the addicted person
We can engage in patterns of behavior that may seem helpful, but actually undermine recovery. The following four behaviors are common missteps we see:
Co-Dependency involves placing a lower priority on your own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. It has roots in caring, but it is caring gone wrong. It robs the other person of independence and experiencing consequences – both positive and negative. It sucks time and energy from our mental health, relationships and pursuits.
A common example of co-dependent behavior in this context is a person who constantly re-arranges their personal schedule to accommodate a loved one’s schedule. They do this to ease their own mind, as though the stress of an addict managing their own life would cause them to relapse. The message of co-dependency is either: 1) we don’t believe you are able to do it on your own, or 2) we don’t trust you to do it on your own.
Enabling is doing for others what they can do for themselves. It perpetuates unhealthy behaviors, as the addicted person never has to experience the negative consequences.
Some examples of enabling include: your husband gets a DUI and goes to jail. Do you bail him out? Do you rescue him from the consequences of his behavior?
Your child steals money to pay for their habit. What do you do? Do you gloss over it or cover the overdraft expenses? Or do you talk to your child about their options; which can include getting treatment or calling the police? And then follow through with your decision – no matter how frightening it may be to you.
The message of enabling is similar to co-dependency – we don’t think you are capable to do for yourself or we are afraid of what will happen if we don’t do it for you.
3. Unhealthy Boundaries
While someone is active in their addiction setting a boundary is likely to elicit a strong emotional reaction. The resulting behavior is often acting out which can include emotional outbursts, threats, saying hurtful things and sometimes even physical violence (more likely if violence was already an issue in the relationship).
When an addicted person wants to be healthy and work on their sobriety, they may not like boundaries, but they understand the purpose of them.
Knowing when to set limits, say no and put yourself first is difficult. It is as much art as science, you will make mistakes and it is ok because you are not responsible for the other person’s response. Setting healthy boundaries suggests a need to be selfish – not in the sense we normally think about, where a selfish person does not care about others – rather, it is about self-care and putting the oxygen mask on yourself first and then the other person. If you do not have the ability to breathe and make calm decisions you cannot help yourself or others.
4. Fear-Driven Decisions
Fear is powerful and has a purpose, but if it is the driving factor in how you make decisions regarding your loved one struggling with addiction, chances are you are unintentionally feeding the addiction.
Over the years I have seen many examples of family members making fear-driven decisions. These decisions can include scenarios such as allowing a loved one who is high to be in your home, going out and buying drugs/alcohol for a loved one, submitting to unreasonable requests that are truly just veiled threats or manipulations, etc. The fear is about what may happen to the addicted person if we don’t do what they ask. We are more concerned about what may happen in the short term if we don’t accommodate their request, rather than being focused on healthy behaviors that will support sobriety.
The good news is we can change these behaviors. It can feel overwhelming and scary, but education and support can guide you in creating healthy behaviors that support recovery.
If you feel like any of this discussion describes a situation you or someone you know is experiencing, we can help. Please call or visit us online at www.southvalleytherapy.com or email us at [email protected].
Misty & Chris
Too often the dependent person – the person struggling with addiction, becomes the focus of the recovery process. This makes sense as it is their behavior/choices that are destructive, life threatening and possibly fatal. While it is the dependent person’s responsibility to maintain sobriety, their support system also needs guidance and information on how to heal and move forward as part of their own self-care, separate from the recovery process of the dependent person.
In our experience working in substance abuse treatment centers, both residential and intensive outpatient settings, there are opportunities for friends and families to be involved. We have heard many times, however, that family members and loved ones wish they had opportunities to connect and learn on an on-going basis about addiction, recovery, and how to improve their own mental health and increase their happiness regardless of the choices the dependent person may make. It is a difficult dynamic because we care about the person with the addiction and we recognize we can’t control their choices. Ultimately, all we can do is learn how to be healthy, happy, and how to support our loved one without feeding into the disease dynamic and/or taking it upon ourselves to “save” or “fix” them.
In the coming weeks leading up to the beginning of the Families in Recovery Workshop we will be blogging about the following topics:
1. Fundamentals of Addiction and Recovery
2. Understanding Co-Dependency and Enabling
3. Healthy Boundaries
4. Addressing Fear and Anxiety
We will introduce these topics and their relationship to the recovery process for both the dependent person and their support system.
Addiction is scary – like a passenger on a runaway train, we feel a total lack of control about the outcome. If you have not been involved in education or therapy as part of a loved one’s recovery process you might never have heard that a person’s recovery is COMPLETELY up to them. You didn’t cause them to have this disease, you can’t control their disease, and you can’t cure their disease. What you can do is take control of your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors to create more stability in your daily life and be at peace – even when the dependent person’s life is chaotic.
If you would like to learn more about these topics, please check in on our blog for updates. If you would like to explore attending our workshop or engaging in individual counseling, please contact us via email or phone.
Misty & Chris