Your loved one’s addiction isn’t your fault

By Dave Jansa, program advisor & peer coach

Published May 30, 2018

All loved one members I see blame themselves in one way or another. They’ve been told over and over they’re doing something wrong and they’re part of the problem.

Usually, the blame first comes from the person they’re worried about. Concerned loved ones will hear, “You’re screwing this up,” or even, “You’re why I’m miserable.” Then, if the loved one reaches out to someone they trust – maybe a friend, coworker or family member – they’re usually told they’re enabling.

Society also stigmatizes and blames loved ones, especially when it comes to the concepts of enabling and codependency.

Almost always, by the time a loved one comes in to see me for peer coaching, they’ve experienced blame from virtually everywhere. Why wouldn’t they blame themselves?

And, in reality, they may not have handled things perfectly with their unwell loved one, but that’s probably because they’ve been given really bad advice. Our popular culture sets unrealistic expectations for loved ones and has popularized ineffective – and sometimes risky – ideas, like “let them hit bottom,” “there’s nothing you can do,” “it’s time to get tough on them” and many more.

Addiction is a disease that often produces abhorrent behaviors, and loved ones sometimes react by developing their own maladaptive behaviors. One of my first goals with loved one members is to break down the blame and poor decisions. I let them know they’re not alone – I haven’t met a loved one who hasn’t made at least a few mistakes when it comes to dealing with addiction.

In addition to bad advice, there’s a lot of confusing language associated with loved ones. The words I hear most are “enable,” “codependency” and “tough love.” These words are confusing, they aren’t based in science and they aren’t used with any other chronic disease. Check out this blog on language and loved ones to learn more.

Unfortunately, guilt and shame are very much part of the loved one experience. The important thing is to forgive ourselves, move past the bad advice and get good support from a coach or another resource that can teach us more positive ways to manage this challenging situation.

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