There are two key strategies you can use to help you stay safe when confronting a loved one about their drug or alcohol use, or their behavior.
1. Watch for red flags and back away.
A red flag is a cue that your loved one is getting upset. Non-verbal cues may be things like tightening of the fists, getting red in the face, raising a hand in the air, or standing up.
Verbal cues may be phrases like, “Lay off,” “Why don’t you just leave me alone,” “Shut up,” etc. You’ll likely already be able to list the most common expressions your loved one uses.
By becoming more aware of these cues you can recognize them quicker and create a space to step away rather than engage in the emotion. Say something like, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to heat things up,” or, “I’m sorry I upset you.”
Essentially you want to do whatever it takes to back down and calm the situation. You may think this is a cop out, but by backing down now, your loved one is less likely to become violent, or stomp out into the night and possibly look for drugs.
You’ll also avoid causing more damage to the relationship, so that you can bring up the topic again later when things are calmer.
2. Use reflective listening.
This is a skill for any family, not just families with addiction. It means actively listening to what your loved one is saying to you, versus thinking and planning what you’re going to say next. Every so often, summarize what you’re hearing – without adding your own opinion, judgment, analysis or commentary. Just re-state exactly what you’ve heard.
When they pause or stop talking, you’re going to ask, “Is there more?” And if they keep talking, you’re going to summarize again. The purpose is to communicate in a way that makes your loved one feel understood and heard.
Reflective listening will also buy you more time to think about what to say next and how best to say it. It buys you time to figure out how to de-escalate the situation.
In Video Module #2 on the Allies in Recovery member site, we offer in-depth scripts and safety plans to prepare you for potentially threatening situations, along with specific examples from other families like yours. Learn more about our unique online approach for ending substance abuse in families.
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