31 Aug Why Aren’t My Boundaries Working?
I received a phone call this week from a mother and a father who are at their wits end with their addicted son. For years and years, they have attempted everything to fix him: They have tried to convince him to go to rehab, they have let him move in, kicked him out, only to let him move back in again. They have even offered financial support with no avail. This couple has genuinely tried over and over to effectively set and hold boundaries with no progress. Through the years, they have felt manipulated, played, and emotionally abused. They have tried to do the right thing, but it has only left them feeling down right angry and confused. I listened to the mother tell me their family’s struggle for over thirty minutes, and then she asked me, “Jason, why aren’t my boundaries working?”
Although there are many unknown factors that may be contributing to her unmet expectations, I have found that in most cases, there is one fundamental factor that is missing. It is not missing on purpose, rather, it is innocently missing because of misunderstanding, lack of education, and unintentional incorrect perspectives regarding the nature of addiction. The foundational missing ingredient is empathy.
What does empathy have to do with it?
One definition of empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This means putting your own “stuff” to the side to sincerely try to see the world through your addict’s eyes. This includes “seeing” his view (or lack thereof) about his own drug or alcohol use, or addictive behaviors. Please note that his view are vastly different from your perspective, and that is okay. Until you can put your agenda to the side so that you can genuinely attempt to step into your addict’s shoes, you will continue to misunderstand him and resent his actions.
How can you relate and share your addict’s feelings if you have never had an addiction?
This gap of misunderstanding can be closed with empathy. Some of the best therapists and substance abuse counselors do not have addictions, however, they are incredibly influential because they possess empathy. You can begin with a listening, caring ear. When we feel heard, cared about, and understood, we also feel loved, accepted, and a sense of belonging. Upon this footing, incredible progress can be made. I will get more into the next steps in future blogs. Your job is not to fix your loved one’s problems, nor is it necessarily needed. Your job right now is to seek understanding and develop empathy and compassion for the true suffering an addict goes through.
How can you better understand addiction?
It is crucial you begin to view your addict as sick, not bad. I can’t say this enough: Addiction is a disease. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defends the medical salience to the fact that chemical dependency is a disease, and must be treated as such. Addictive and compulsive behaviors are also listed in the DSM-5. The symptoms of addiction are most frustrating and annoying if you love someone with addiction. These symptoms include: craving, unmanageability, dishonesty, cheating, selfishness, and carelessness. Addiction negatively impacts each life domain as it spreads like cancer. If you seek true empathy, then I challenge you to begin seeing your loved one as sick with a legitimate mental disorder. There are profound medical, mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual reasons why he “just can’t stop using”, even in the face of grave consequences. I strongly recommend you order the DVD, Pleasure Unwoven. You can find it at http://www.instituteforaddictionstudy.com/products.html#
Before you can effective reach the results of your boundaries, you can begin to work on your empathy and compassion towards your addict. They go hand in hand. Boundaries expert, Brene´Brown teaches, “Empathy minus boundaries is not empathy. Compassion minus boundaries is not genuine. Vulnerability without boundaries is not vulnerability.”
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