Feelings experienced by family members
In order to offer help and plan effective treatment, it is essential to understand the feelings suffered by the family and the behavior adopted by them as a method to cope with the enormous problems they are left to face.
The emotional response to addictive illness in a family member frequently has its roots in guilt feelings. Our culture often implies that if a person takes to drugs, someone else is to be blamed.
For you, golf was more important than your son’s well being. You never cared to spend time with him.
You had sent him to an ordinary school. If he had studied in a better school, he would not have picked up this habit.
The family has lost all the pleasures of life. Their losses are innumerable – loss of prestige, loss of family and personal dignity, loss of relationships, loss of feelings of love, loss of care and understanding, loss of security, loss of finances – loss in each and every area of their lives. Members of affected families constantly grieve.
Initially the family’s anger is focused on the addict. As addiction progresses and the problems increase, their anger loses focus and direction. They are angry with the addict – even when he is not taking drugs, angry with themselves, angry with their other children, angry at society, angry at the entire world at large.
The wife / mother at times suppresses her anger. As time passes, her mind becomes a storehouse of pent up memories, hidden resentments, hurt feelings and unresolved conflicts. Eventually, the chronic stress of unresolved emotional hurts becomes manifest in serious health problems – ulcers, hypertension, heart disease, etc.
Sometimes her repressed anger leads to a temper that explodes over trifles, frequent feelings of disappointment with others, and a feeling of being let down. Suppressed anger does not protect, it does not make life run more smoothly. On the other hand, relationships become more difficult to handle. It destroys everything that the family hopes it will protect.
Shame and Loneliness
Most of the painful experiences resulting from chemical dependence bring a lot of shame to the family. The inappropriate behavior of the addict in front of relatives and friends makes the family terribly embarrassed. Such shame results in avoidance of all relationships and ends in isolation. Within the family also, there is a breakdown of communication. There might only be telegraphic communication like ‘come and eat’ or ‘go to sleep’. Relevant issues like problems related to the education of the addict or management of finances are rarely discussed. The isolation created by lack of communication leads to bitter loneliness.
Fear and Hopelessness
Living in a problematic, distressed family, produces fear – fear of the future, fear of family life, fear of financial matters, fear of relationships, and a persistent fear that nothing is going to become normal. As the family is unable to fully perceive the problem or find solutions, they feel desperate and hopeless.
The family is deeply hurt. Even though they are prepared to go to any extent to help the user out, none of their efforts are recognized or acknowledged. On the other hand, they are constantly blamed. Like a raw wound, the hurt feelings keep bleeding and the family repeatedly gets affected.
Dysfunctional coping behavior of family members
The family members of the chemical dependent become preoccupied with trying to sort out his life in a meaningful way. They develop a pattern of living, coping and problem solving created and maintained by a set of dysfunctional patterns within the family system. These patterns interfere with healthy growth and make constructive changes very difficult, if not impossible.
What is co–dependency?
The normal reaction within any family to pain, to crisis and to the dysfunction of one member of the family is to reduce the pain, ease the crisis and assist the dysfunctional member in order to protect the family. In the case of addiction, these responses do not make things better. If other members in the family deal with the consequences of addiction, the addict will never realize that he has to give up drugs. The family members will take more and more responsibilities to ease the crisis, but the crisis will continue.
As a result of living in a problematic environment, the family members develop a certain pattern of behavior called ‘Co–dependency’.
‘Co–dependency is a specific condition that is characterized by preoccupation and extreme emotional dependence on a person. Eventually, this dependence on another person becomes a pathological condition that affects the co–dependent in all other relationships.’
– Sharon Wegscheider–Cruse
While the family members try to control the chemical dependent, (over whom they have no power), they lose control over their own behavior (over which they have power). Hence their lives become unmanageable.
When you try to control
what you are powerless over
you lose control
over what you can manage