Every day we are bombarded by the media with people’s “crazy” behaviors and enticed to read up on celebrities’ latest affairs and out of control escapades. This can make us feel as if “craziness” is our daily bread. Subsequently, when we are seeing love one’s struggles with compulsive behaviors, we may not have the strength to rise up and take a proactive stand. Nevertheless, you are already a master of taking a proactive stand as you are reading up on this important topic. Be commended for your courage- here are your tools to face common myths about compulsive behaviors and to create breakthrough.
# 1: Thinking Your And Your Loved One’s Struggles Are Due To Incompatibility, Relational Difficulties, or Because You Are Not Good Enough
Compulsive (also known as addiction) behaviors often are most visible in our most intimate relationships. As a result, we may think they are about us-that we are not good enough, attractive enough, we have an anger issue. However, compulsive behaviors are often rooted in early childhood experiences: In the first eight years of life we learn to connect with ourselves and others through the way how our caregivers connected with us. If our caregivers do not know how to role model healthy ways to connect to ourselves, we do not know how to connect to our feelings. When difficult situations come up and one does not know how to handle those feelings, coping through behaviors that can create addictive patterns can develop. Back to your relationship: your loved one’s struggles with compulsive behaviors is not your fault- so be gentle with yourself
# 2: Thinking That Your Loved One’s Problematic Behaviors Go Away On Their Own
The nature of compulsive behaviors is rooted in brain chemistry that needs to be attended to: The brain’s reward center gives the message “I want what I want [food, sex, porn, love] and I want this right now”. Let’s face it, we all can all have a strong urge to get something (ranging from a pair of shoes to the next gadget or bigger BBQ), and we all sometimes succumb to our desires. At the same time, if we needed to buy more shoes to feel better even if we maxed out our credit lines, our brain’s reward center got high-jacked and developed an addiction pattern that does not go away on its own. To the contrary, addictions bring about negative health outcomes such as anxiety, depression, and premature death.
This may feel overwhelming as you are reading this, but rest assured that there are professionals who are trained in providing specialized support and who can equip you with the tools so that you are not being negatively impacted by your loved one’s hijacked brain chemistry.
Consider therapist search engines specifically for partners of individuals with addictions (e.g., https://apsats.org/find-a-specialist/or https://www.sexhelp.com/find-a-therapist/). You will be equipped to set healthy boundaries and assert yourself in an empathetic way – which is the way to not getting pulled down by your loved one’s struggles but instead becoming a witness of healthy change.
#3: Thinking That “When My Loved One’s Stress Is Gone, The Problem Behaviors Will Resolve Themselves”
Addictions can be most obvious during stressful times. While it is true that mastering live events such as your daughter’s wedding or transitioning to retirement can decrease stress, the brain does not like to give up on addiction patterns. Instead, it may follow an “ebb and flow” patterns (under stress addictions tend to be stronger than during other times).
Regardless of how much stress you and your loved one are facing, unlock you and your loved one’s long-term, sustainable health but grabbing your oxygen mask first: Pursue what you want to see happening by equipping yourself with tools for healthy communication and stress relief such as relaxation resources. Community workshops for family members of individuals with addictions, stress management courses, and psycho-education classes on addiction can empower you to replenish yourself, set boundaries, and create a change you would like to see.
#4: Thinking: “I Am Strong, I Can Handle This Alone”
Even if you may operate best on your own, the impact of a loved one’s addiction can create negative health outcomes in yourself. You may or may not feel anxious or depressed by your loved one’s issues but may notice that you cannot sleep, overeat, or cannot seem to get to the gym. Not to mention that you feel you are the first catching whatever sickness goes around in the office. Research shows that people’s immune system is taxed if they are dealing with someone else’s problems.
You don’t have to face this on your own! Allow yourself to create a roadmap for direction by sharing with a specialist who is trained to help you tackle your health, and who will help you with concrete tools to reset your health, decrease any trauma that your loved one’s behaviors brought into your life, and equip you to give healthy consequences in response to your loved one’s behaviors.
# 5: “If You Have A Person With Compulsive Behaviors In Your Life, You Must Be Addicted, Too”
The pioneers of addiction treatment considered addiction as a family affair: if one person has it, others in the family must be “co-addicted”. The newest research, however, shows that family members are not addicted but instead may suffer from chronic stress responses if they are consistently dealing with the chaos and unpredictability that comes with addictions.
Take the time to find a professional who is trained in trauma reduction techniques and who can teach you how to effectively deal with the stress caused by someone else’s problem behaviors. This will get you unstuck and decrease your pain. It will also create healthy change and help you move past wishful thinking, ruminating about lost opportunities, and feeling stuck.
Even if it may feel counter intuitive or impossible due to your circumstances, specialized support is available to you to create the change that you want. You are worth it!