By now we have all heard the familiar terms enabling, detaching and “allowing natural consequences” when it comes to healthy ways to relate to someone struggling with addiction or alcoholism.
When you have someone in your life caught in a chemical dependency (alcoholism, addiction or Substance Use Disorder), there are volumes of information to learn when it comes to navigating the relationship.
It is best to start learning and taking notes early on, otherwise without information and tools, you will be in for an even bumpier ride.
One thing to realize, the person acting out of addicted behavior is never the only one in the family or relationship who is sick and dysfunctional. Family members and significant others become as sick, if not sicker, in the midst of the trauma and stress.
Often, dysfunctional family systems and thought patterns were in place long before addiction presented.
This is why we must realize that addiction/alcoholism is a family disease. Whether you are the one under the influence of a chemical, or you’re driven by obsession over someone struggling, everyone affected needs to recover, become informed and modify behavior.
An important area to work on is how we handle seeing an adult in a struggle with consequences.
When our kids are small and dependent, we can find ourselves fighting their battles and protecting them from pain and discomfort. These dynamics begin early. They can be especially intense if we come from a background where our own needs weren’t adequately met. We usually tend to re-parent according to what we didn’t get versus what current situations require.
If these dynamics are in play once our children become adults, or in situations involving alcoholism and addiction, the stakes are much higher and more dangerous.
Why is allowing natural consequences so difficult and painful?
I believe “sitting on our hands” while someone perseveres through difficulty is so hard because we hate how it feels for us when someone rages or suffers, as much as we hate their suffering.
That is a deeper truth to ponder. If we view from the lens of what’s best, we see with more clarity.
Sometimes struggling and suffering is needed.
Is my involvement based on how I feel, or what I wrongly believe?
Do we believe if we don’t solve the problem it won’t get solved? Or maybe that it won’t be solved correctly?
We need to take time to step back and reflect.
Ask yourself, what is all of this really about? Is my involvement doing what is best within the situation? Or limiting someone from facing something they need to endure or accomplish for themselves.
Am I robbing them of a lesson? A victory?
A truth that applies to all of us: “When you must, you will.”
I have heard many parents say things like, “But he doesn’t even care about paying his insurance! If I don’t pay it, he won’t have any.”
But…maybe he needs to feel the burn of that to wake up to the importance.
Actions and consequences are a package deal.
These are the times when we have to deal with our own feelings and fears privately and internally, while allowing others to face the areas of their life that are up to them to navigate.
When they must, they will.
And what if they don’t? That’s not our lane to navigate. Letting these areas go is where we need to get healthy.
Regarding interfering with natural consequences, LCSW Mendi Baron writes in Psychology Today: “Rather than provide healthy support for a son or daughter as they move through their issue, the parent attempts to rush in and fix whatever is troubling them so both the parent and their child can be happy again and the parent can feel like a good person.”
That is worth reflecting upon.
Some of the messages we send when consequences are prevented:
Normal rules don’t apply to you.
You are weak and incapable of dealing with this; so let me fix it for you.
Failure is bad and must be avoided at all costs.
You are incapable of coming up with a solution yourself.
Why are consequences necessary?
“To rescue people from the natural consequences of their behavior is to render them powerless.” ~Henry Cloud
Consequences are powerful, effective and helpful.
Recently the large social media platform Goalcast posed the question, “What was your greatest teacher?”
Scrolling through more than 1,800 responses, I was astonished that almost all answers said things like; struggling, pain, loss, grief, being held accountable, being left, having to face life on my own, and so on.
Some of my own greatest teachers came through experiencing pain. We need difficulties and consequences in order to learn and develop strength, character, empathy and risk awareness.
I believe introspection is the greatest gift one can receive in this life.
Sitting in the midst of our consequences is the beginning of self-realization. And being self-aware alters life on every level!
When he was a teenager, I told my son that if I didn’t allow him to face his consequences and break unhealthy patterns when he was young, life would teach the same lessons over and over and over. But the lessons would get harder and more painful, life has less mercy than most Mothers.
We have seen this to be true as he has had to learn (as do we all) a few things, more than a few times.
I believe my duty as a parent has been to love him, teach him and let him go. To always be there as a voice of loving encouragement as he learns to rise from the ashes whenever life leads him into a valley.
As a child faces natural consequences, they learn vital coping skills. They build up a tolerance for discomfort, which is an important part of life. If a child doesn’t learn to tolerate discomfort, he/she will become, at the very least, an unhappy and frustrated adult, and at the worst, a self-involved, entitled human who lacks self-awareness and empathy.
Seeing a six-year-old shielded from discipline and consequence is hard to watch. At 16 the effects become even more unsettling. By 26, they are impacting those around them with their inability to cope with life, clean up their own messes and manage their decisions and outcomes.
Haven’t we all seen this in effect with someone at 36, 46, 66 and even beyond?
Hindered emotional maturity is not an attractive quality to behold in an adult!
At later stages of life, one who has not had to sit in their consequences long enough to realize and resolve them, becomes blind to themselves and often unbearable for those who love them.
Let’s let people grow up and find the drive and dignity to work things out for themselves.
Allowing natural consequences molds, teaches and refines, making one responsible for their life. When someone has to work and fight for their own life, it means something to them.
If you rescue them in times of trouble, you will have to do it again. And again and again.
Persevering through consequences builds strength. I know many people who appear intimidating and tough, but they’re not strong. Being strong shows in how we manage stress and emotions. And that gets developed in struggle.
We need the struggle to obtain the strength!
“Things present themselves to you and it’s how you choose to deal with them that reveals who you are. We all say a lot of things, don’t we, about who we are and how we think. But in the end it’s your actions, how you respond to circumstances that reveals your character.” ~Cate Blanchett
Let’s allow people to face what their life is giving them to deal with. That’s for their own good, saving them is not what will build up their character. It’s not healthiest for us either.
Though it’s hard to watch someone we have so much love for walk down a looming hallway of consequences; it will serve them well to answer the call for themselves. What waits on the other side is their life.
Sometimes the best way to help someone is to stay in our own lane.
Host of: The Unhooked Podcast
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