Ara's Blog- acceptance and change
Acceptance and Change- Effective Communication
Loving a person who is dependent on a substance is painful, and being unable to accept their addiction causes immense suffering.
The families I encounter through my work as an alcohol & drug counsellor are often stuck in the “Why’s” and “How’s” of their loved one’s addiction. Family members (affected others) speak of feeling hopeless and express disbelief that their loved one is on this path and seems either unwilling, or unable to stop. Affected others struggle to support and maintain relationships under these circumstances.To move beyond the suffering a journey begins. Affected others begin to accept that the past has happened, that their loved one is dependent on a substance, and in doing this are able to shift their focus to the things they are able to change.
I write this up on our whiteboard every week:
The 3 C’s
1) We did not Cause the problem
2) We cannot Control the problem
3) We cannot Cure the problem
However we can change how we live our lives.
In my earlier blog I spoke of the importance of open and honest communication. Effective communication will enable you to take responsibility for how you feel without blaming others in anger. Effective communication empowers you to take care of yourself while remaining in a relationship with your addicted family member and acts as a motivator towards change.
Below are 6 guidelines for effective communication that have been tried and tested by family members. Although they reported that they did not always get what they requested, their self-esteem was improved and their relationships became healthier as a result.
1) An important golden rule in communication with your loved one
Do not talk to the drug/alcohol
This means when your loved one is intoxicated, remove yourself and limit communication with them in an assertive calm way.
This may be difficult when you are exhausted and furious that they are again drunk, stoned, or high- maybe after promising never to do it again!
But it is so important- when have these intoxicated conversations ever gone well for you?
Furthermore, your loved one often has no recollection, or a distorted recollection of the conversation that has left you exhausted- save your energy and skills for a “sober time.”
2) Choose your “Sober” time.
Try to assess if you are in the best frame of mind to communicate with your loved one.
Have you had enough rest, eaten, have you been running around all day, or are you stressed from work? Do you actually have the time to sit down and talk through what you want to say at this moment?
3) Be specific and clear
When you have strong feelings about something that has happened, wait until you are clear in your own mind what you want to communicate.
Ask yourself, “What is my goal here?”
Be clear on what you want to communicate and try not to deviate from this.
4) Body language
It is actually very difficult to hide our emotions when we communicate.
Most experts agree that 55 % of our communication is non verbal (posture, eye contact), 38% is tone of voice (pitch, speed volume) and only 7% is made up of the words we use.
This makes me think of the expression “I spoke till I was blue in the face.” We need to be careful that the language we use is actually true to the emotions we are feeling. Remember, our emotional states are much more readily on display through our body language, than the words we choose to use.
Attempting to mask our emotions leads to a mismatch between words and body language resulting in strained and frustrated communication.
Basically try to match your body language to the words you are speaking.
Is my body language communicating anger – clenched jaw, raised voice, closed posture- when I'm trying to use words to communicate my concern and love??
5) I statements
I statements are perhaps my favorite skill and change strategy. This is a subtle but defining change in how you communicate and how you will be received:
“You make me feel…”
Which one feels better? I hope you agree the “I feel” enables us to take responsibility for our emotions! It is truly empowering to own our own feelings. “You make me feel,” is blaming and often tinged with anger.
6) Self -compassion
Making changes towards effective and healthy communication takes time. You’ve probably had years and years of ingrained practice in your old patterns of communication so give yourself a break and remember to be kind to yourself if things don’t go smoothly straight away. These changes won’t happen overnight. I suggest that you practice your effective communications. Perhaps you write out something you’re planning on talking about with your loved one and run it by a trusted friend. Practice is helpful in supporting behavior changes, and more you practice, the more you’ll cement new effective ways of communication into your relationships.
Here is a basic format for effective communication you may find useful that I am borrowing from Masha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioral therapy (DBT). It is an acronym DEAR-MAN
The problem situation, sticking to the facts
I feel ashamed, angry, sad, disappointed
What you want the person to do instead
State the positive for your loved one if they agree to the change
Don’t get side tracked or derailed
Calm assertive body language and words
You may need to or want to consider an alternative option with your loved one other that what you have requested
A short hand for this is
When you ……….
I’d like you to ………..
Effective communication offers a chance for you and your loved one to become closer as you lead the change in open and honest communication. It is true that you may not get what you have asked for, however, the positive spin-off for you will be increased self-efficacy, and a focus on change that is of your own making.
So I encourage you to start noticing how you communicate and if you want to, decide to practice communicating effectively. Remember, start small and begin your change.
The expert in anything was once a beginner.