Bryn recently had an exchange with her Loved One but wasn’t ready to address his requests. She was afraid it would all end in arguing so she held back from responding. She wants follow up and let him know her concerns, but is looking for a CRAFT approach to addressing this…
My adult son came today and gave a heartfelt message to us regarding his needs. Neither of us responded because we knew that it would only end with him becoming angry.
I want to respond to say that. How does this fit in with craft?
I would like to engage via email with him to look at a point he made and for us both to put down what the statement means to us. He will not engage with anyone and does not believe the issue is his. With that he only confirms what he believes.
What a great question! And the Allies in Recovery website is the perfect place to be when asking about communication. If you have checked out the eLearning videos on the website, you may have found that communication is one of the main pillars of the CRAFT based curriculum.
What I hear in your post is that your son is telling you what he feels he needs from his parents. Right now, he hasn’t recognized he has a problem. I am assuming when you say, “He will not engage with anyone…,” you mean he won’t talk to anyone about treatment or accept any type of help with his issue. You and your partner did not respond so the conversation would not end in conflict. However, you do want to respond to tell him the reason why you went silent.
I am hoping that sharing some experiences I have had with my Loved One (LO) and practicing what I have learned here on the Allies website might give you some ideas on how you might be able to apply some of the same tools to your situation.
First, I found that I often have to look for the positive in everything. And boy can that be difficult. I can already see some of the good in your situation though. Your son must believe that he has your (parents) love and support regardless, or he would not have come to you. This is a major plus. I am sure he has felt the same way you have, that conversations or requests may end up in an argument, but he was willing to chance it anyway. This is a very big positive, even if it may not feel that way at the moment.
What I have learned is that when I see behavior that I want repeated, no matter how small it may appear to be, the best thing I can do is to reinforce it. Maybe saying something like, “We really appreciate that you trust us with this request.” And/or, “Thank you for coming to us with this…” These few simple affirmations keep the connection open and I have found encourages my LO to keep coming back to me when he has needs.
I have also found that giving myself time to think about how to respond is a great tactic for me to take a more logical and well thought-out approach, rather than being reactive to what my LO is telling me. It gives me time to think. Another positive for you and your partner: you’re taking a pause to find the best way to answer.
Second, I have found that before I do construct a response, I ask myself some questions: “What are my thoughts that are driving the emotions in the situation?” “What are the emotions I am feeling?” “Why do I want to react this way?” basically I try and focus in on what the motivation is for my initial need to react and then try and figure out if it’s going to help or if I should respond differently. In your situation, you might ask yourself, “If I text him why we did not give him an answer, will it help? Would it be something we haven’t already told him? Are we just repeating ourselves?” and/or “Is the motivation behind telling him why we did not respond for him? Or is for me (us)?” If it is something that you have already told him then there is no need to repeat it. He already knows. I have some suspicion that this may be the case, simply because you said that you believed the discussion would only have led to an argument, which indicates that maybe there is a pattern, and now your goal is to break it.
Another big lesson I learned from the communication module is that ‘telling’ and ‘directing’ how I see things are or should go does not translate well to my LO. One of the main objectives is to have our LOs come to the conclusions that they do have a problem, that they need help, and that there is help out there for them on their own. The goal is for them to come to this realization by internal versus external means. Restated, it is best if its their idea, not ours. They are more likely to find success if it comes from them. Our job in all of this is to create an environment where they can be most successful. Hence new and better communication skills that will help facilitate self-awareness and learning.
Instead of telling him that you did not respond because of his anticipated behavior, you might want to consider answering his requests. Now this still may lead to conflict, you might not give him what he wants, and his goal is to get what he wants. But avoiding his heightened state might not be the answer either. I find that I avoid because I am not confident in what to do. It’s going to be an opportunity to not engage when it becomes heated and for both parties to learn new healthy ways of interacting with each other. It’s a chance to set down some healthy boundaries.
When it comes to giving or not giving requests, as well as setting down healthy boundaries, there are a couple of things I keep in mind:
1. If I cannot afford it, I cannot give it. It’s not personal, it’s not a punishment. I just don’t have it to give. The temper may flare, but I will keep my cool and hold true to my boundary.
2. If I am giving a gift, then there are no strings attached. If I want to give a gift then I am going to give it. But a gift does not require a particular behavior out of the person I am giving it to (this is true for emotional gifts like love and care too). If it does come with requirements then it is not a gift. For example: My LO wants money to go get gas but I am pretty sure he will use for drugs. If I give my LO the money and he spends it on drugs, I have no right to hold it against him. If I don’t want my money spent on drugs and I am sure that’s where it will go, it is my responsibility to not give it. The temper may flare, but I will keep my cool and hold true to my boundary.
3. Giving, allowing or supporting requests has to be within my boundaries. I often say these exact words, “How can I help support you and keep with what I am comfortable with?” I try and make it clear that just because my LO is asking or thinks it’s okay, doesn’t mean I agree (without directly telling him so). I have my own thoughts and ideas and integrity that I have to keep to. This is a way for me to get the point across without using blaming statements. The temper may flare, but I will keep my cool and hold true to my boundary.
4. Keeping my 2 cents out of my LO’s life is one of the best things I can do. Some of my stock phrases I turn to when talking with my LO is, “I know I cannot control your life, that’s not my job. You’re the one that will have to find what works for you,” and/or “I am not telling you what to do, this is just something I am not comfortable with (meaning I am not giving in on my boundary).” I often say these things to convince myself as much as my LO! Again, the temper may flare, but I will keep my cool and hold true to my boundary.
All of this is very difficult to do and took a lot of practice on my part. I found that things usually got worse before they got better but I also found that some of my new skills worked out pretty quickly. Helping to set down healthy boundaries, staying connected and learning when my LO was also setting boundaries (I often missed these types of statements like, “leave me alone, you always have to tell me what to do”), have improved our situation tremendously. So, yes Bryn, I do think CRAFT and the Allies website are helpful with your questions. Maybe head over to the eLearning videos and start with Learning Module 4? Maybe join one of the online support groups? I would suggest staying connected here in the discussion blog. I would love to have an ongoing discussion about how things turn out or what you find success with.
Remember, you are not alone. Everyone here is rooting for you and hopes for healing for you, your partner and your LO. Stay healthy, stay safe.
Click here to read other posts by Laurie MacDougall
Laurie is a former math teacher, residing in Dartmouth, MA, and extremely active in the recovery community. She currently devotes most of her energy to REST, a non-traditional support group that offers land and online video meetings, access to training in the CRAFT method, and a crisis toolkit helping families create their own individualized crisis plan. Her work is guided by a desire to improve the community’s response and end the stigma associated with Substance Use Disorder. Laurie loves skiing and ice hockey, and is at her happiest when spending time with her husband and three children. Read her articles on our blog or tune in to the podcast she co-hosts for Allies in Recovery: Coming Up for Air.