WARNING: TOUGH TOPICS AHEAD – Read with your own Self Care in Mind.
- What can you do when your loved one repeatedly makes unhealthy choices?
- The fine line between enabling, or just doing the best we can in the situation.
- Reviewing your Own Balance Pole in Coping with Unhealthy Behaviour.
As a practitioner with over twenty-five years of coal-face, hands-on, client-based experience, both in Brisbane and in far North Queensland (Cairns), I have met with a broad range of family members affected by their Loved One’s unhealthy choices.
When we have a loved one firmly engaged in unhealthy behaviour, it can place our own sense of security and harmony in great jeopardy. I have watched and listened to many family members experiencing a roller coaster of events and emotions, as their loved one struggles with their own demons and making choices that pose risk.
What do we mean by Unhealthy Choices?
Unhealthy choices can come in the guise of any addiction – ie drugs, alcohol, over eating, unsafe prolific sex etc – however, anti-social behaviours that invite police and judicial attention and/or carve a pathway to general disruption, can also create havoc.
Self harm, as another form of troubling behaviour, can actually involve a range of behaviours that pose risk to the individual’s wellbeing. That is, any action or behaviour that poses a health risk can be regarded as self harm. This may include but is not exhausted by such actions as:
- over or under eating;
- unsafe sex;
- smoking tobacco or marijuana;
- taking illicit drugs;
- as well as instances of cutting, mutilating or harming of the body.
Practitioner Judith Shapland, based in Far North Queensland, is both a practising and highly experienced therapist and a dual mental health service consumer and survivor of past childhood trauma. Ms Shapland best describes self harm as ‘a short term form of release with long term consequences and risks for harm’.
Re-calibrating Your ‘Balance Pole’ through Self Care
Helping someone stay unhealthy forms the basis of the traditional notion of ‘enabling’.
The word enabling is arguably also now widely associated with the notion of ‘Tough Love’, whereby Loved Ones place strong and unyielding sanctions on undesirable behaviour.
This can be seen as putting very firm boundaries in place so as not to unwittingly HELP someone stay in harm’s way and continue to make unhealthy choices. It can also sadly divorce your Loved One from the very support they require to exact change.
CEO and founder of the Family Drug Support Australia, Tony Trimingham, created an alternative approach for Loved Ones when he formed a family support association for addicts, after he lost his own son to a heroin overdose.
Tony realized how parents and Loved Ones could be easily BLAMED for their family member’s unhealthy choices, and thus Tony threw out the word enabling and more encouraged the review of the individual’s response and own balance pole, as a means of enticing balance back when Loved Ones feel fearful and de-stablised.
While boundaries may indeed form the basis of re-calibrating your own balance pole, regardless of the choices your Loved one may make, the very roots of this approach are in self care and working out what best suits your own situation and family.
Learning the Self Care Ropes
Self care may also come in many guises.
The choices are limitless in terms of devising your own version of your unique happy place, and making decisions on behalf of yourself, your family and your Loved Ones, which you think are in the best interests of all.
Practising self care also acts as a means of taming the triggering of adrenalin and cortisol, which can accompany fears and Life Disruption. This way, the brain can function unencumbered by the potentially debilitating and accumulative effects of long term adrenal drain (associated with the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ effect which families can be caught up in through the phase of disruption).
Thought processes can start to become more clear and less clouded with emotion.
Hope can be reinstated.
The pathway to Acceptance can replace a myriad of valid but sometimes futile endeavours, which many families experience when their Loved One engages in unhealthy choices.
Suddenly, a way through can be glimpsed.
Talking to a professional can be a healthy choice you can make for your own benefit and that of your family, if you are impacted by a Loved One making unhealthy choices.
Author: Leigh Fraser-Gray, B Soc Work, B Soc Welfare, Dip Human and Community Services, Voc Grad Dip FDR.
Leigh Fraser-Gray is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, with many years of experience in working with people in crisis and/or with a trauma background. She is passionate about maximising resilience in her clients, drawing on solutions focused, strengths based approaches.
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