Thursday, June 11, 2020

Compassion as the Key to Healing an Addicted Loved One

Beverly Engel is a world-renowned psychotherapist who has been offering healing insights on the issues of addiction and abuse for more than thirty-five years. A long-time advocate for survivors of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, Engel is the author of over 20 books, including the bestsellers The Emotionally Abusive Relationship, The Right to Innocence, Healing Your Emotional Self, and It Wasn't Your Fault: Freeing Yourself from the Shame of Childhood Abuse with the Power of Self-Compassion.

I recently came across an online article that Beverly wrote in 2016. Entitled, “How Compassion Can Help You Support an Addicted Loved One,” I found this article to be very timely, helpful, and . . . well, compassionate. Following is an excerpt.

Many people have someone in their life who suffers from an addiction problem, whether it be dependence on drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, shopping or some other form of addiction. Many have a partner who suffers from one of these addictions or a family member or friend who continually struggles with an activity or substance dependence. Relationships between substance dependent individuals and their partners, family members, and friends are typically considered not only painful but unsupportive and destructive. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

You may have been told that staying with a loved one who struggles with addiction means that you’re enabling their destructive behavior, that wanting to help a family member means you’re codependent, and the best thing for both of you is to walk away from the relationship entirely. But is this true?

. . . [It may have been said to you] that the best way to help your substance dependent loved one is not to help. [Instead, you may have been told] to “detach with love” or to practice “tough love.” You worry about doing anything nice for our loved one for fear of “enabling” their destructive behavior. But contrary to these admonishments research has shown that loved ones of those who are substance dependent can actually play an important role in helping their partner to change.

Today many experts are recommending that partners and families [and close friends] become involved with the recovery process. And contrary to the popular fallacy that “you can’t help an alcoholic until he wants help,” families, partners, and friends are now being encouraged to do what they can to help their partner reach out for help. For example, Debra Jay, interventionist, lecturer, and co-author with her husband, Jeff Jay, of the book, Love First: A Family’s Guide to Intervention, stated, “I call that an ‘action stopping’ [fallacy]. It says you can’t help an alcoholic until he wants help. So that’s it for families: Step back and let the addiction run through your family like a freight train. There’s nothing you can do. Well, it’s a completely different story when you say, “If you can’t help an alcoholic until he wants help, what will get him to want help? You see, now I’m thinking differently. Now that opens up the door to possibility. Now I can start looking for solutions and answers.”

While you can’t change your addicted loved one, there are things you can change about yourself that will benefit your loved one, your relationship, and greatly improve their chances of recovery.

The most significant and beneficial strategies involve becoming more compassionate toward your loved one. Far from enabling them, compassion is the key to helping someone with an addiction problem. More important, you can learn how to take care of your loved one without condoning or supporting the behavior you don’t want.

Finally, you can work on the core issues that have led you to behave in codependent ways. While you are not the cause of your loved one’s substance dependence, you can make life a lot easier for them by giving up certain behaviors – behaviors that cause your loved one to become more defensive about his substance dependence and more stubborn about getting help. You can also cause him to feel even worse about himself than he already does and thus, discourage him from getting the help he needs.

Compassion as a Key to Healing

Compassion is the most powerful tool you can have when it comes to healing addictions of any kind. In other words, what your loved one needs the most from you is compassion.

The word compassion comes from the Latin roots com (with) and pati (suffer), so it denotes “suffering with” another person. When we offer someone genuine compassion, we join them in their suffering.

When we join someone in their suffering, we provide them with not one, but five healing gifts:

1. We let them know we really see them and we recognize their suffering. One of the most powerful needs for humans is to be seen. This is especially true for those with a substance abuse problem who were often victims of childhood neglect and abuse and who often felt invisible within their families. When we offer someone compassion, we give them the gift of seeing them and recognizing their pain.

2. We let the person know that we hear them. Being heard is another primal need for humans. Again, it is a need that often went unmet for those with substance abuse issues who often felt that their needs, wants, and feelings went unheard.

3. We confirm to the person that we recognize their suffering and that he has a right to express his pain, sadness, fear, anger, or any other emotion due to his suffering. In other words, we validate or confirm the other person’s experience of suffering. We don’t deny, minimize, ignore, or otherwise invalidate it, which is what he may have grown accustomed to when he was a child and what he may continue to expect.

4. We let him know we care about him as a human being; we care about the fact that he suffered and is still suffering. Respect and care for his humanity may have been in short supply when he was a child and it is a gift to have this birthright restored.

5. We offer comfort and soothing in some way, whether it’s a healing glance, a loving touch, a supportive hug, or kind words. The gift of comforting and soothing stimulates the soothing/contentment system in the body and provides a sense of security that helps tone down negative emotions.

The Benefits of Compassion

Compassion for others has been found to be deeply rooted in human nature; it has a biological basis in the brain and body. It seems that we are wired to respond to others in need. In fact, helping others brings the same pleasure we get from the gratification of personal desire. In addition, it has been found that when young children and adults feel compassion for others, this emotion is reflected in very real physiological changes. Their heart rate goes down from baseline levels, which prepares them not to fight or flee but to approach and soothe. In other words, science is now telling us that having compassion for others is actually good for us.

In the last 30 years, we have seen the science of psychology and studies of the human brain begin to put compassion, caring, and prosocial behavior center stage in the development of well-being, mental health, and our capacity to foster harmonious relationships with each other and the world we live in.

In recent years, in particular, the work of many researchers has revealed, among other insights, that kindness, support, encouragement, and compassion from others have a huge impact on how our brains, bodies, and general sense of well-being develop. Love and kindness, especially in early life, even affect how some of our genes are expressed (Gilbert 2009, Cozolino 2007).

Compassion is especially effective when it comes to healing substance abuse problems, especially the issue of shame. Addiction and shame are closely connected. In fact, most, if not all who have substance abuse problems have been shamed, by their childhood experiences and by their behavior surrounding their addiction. Like a poison, toxic shame needs to be neutralized by another substance – an antidote – if the patient is to be saved. And as it turns out, compassion is the only thing that can counteract the isolating, stigmatizing, debilitating poison of shame.

– Beverly Engel, L.M.F.T.
Excerpted from How Compassion Can Help You Support
an Addicted Loved One

Psychology Today
October 3, 2016

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Daniel Hochman on What Causes Addiction
Thoughts on the Disease of Addiction
“Wholeness Is Never Lost, It Is Only Forgotten”
Interfaith Chaplaincy: Meeting People Where They're At
A Longing and a Prayer
For a Loved One Struggling With Addiction
Something to Think About – January 16, 2020

1 comment:

Minajk said...

Do not underestimate the THE POWER OF COMPASSION IN ADDICTION. Compassion is ultimately the ability to completely understand and share in the feelings of another. It is a powerful tool that redirects blame and shame. Its intentions are to help the individual make a healthy connection to the problems that lay before them ultimately helping in the process of recovery. Compassion is the ability to be unconditional in a conditional world.