Stuck in Reactivity

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Relational healing is difficult when addiction is involved. Many times the destructive behavior damages trust beyond repair. Most addicts suffer relapse that further dims hope in a relationship. Couples who persevere toward a healthy future demonstrate resilience and perseverance that extends beyond common expectation. 

Rebounding from broken trust is a challenge for both partners. Purposefully maintaining a healing path requires a resolution and dedication that many couples are unable to continue to recovery completion.  

Yet, there are those who do. There are many pitfalls to address when trust is shattered with addiction. There is a cascade of questions that seem to never end: Where did this come from? I never saw this coming. How could I have been so blind? Why can’t I not control what others seem to have no problem with? I have failed so many times, what makes me think that I will ever stop? What could I have done to prevent things from getting so bad? These questions and many more overwhelm the thinking processes of couples devastated with addiction. 

There are overwhelming feelings that dominate consciousness in the carnage and aftermath of addictive behavior. Shock and shame paralyze both partners. Anger, rage, and resentment roil oftentimes unabated. Sadness, loneliness, and regret dominate and suck happiness and security from the relationship atmosphere. Is it any wonder that two hurting people seeking rescue from the calamity of addiction get stuck in relational reactivity toward each other?

Many things have been written about various aspects of relational healing from addictive behavior. I want to share observations with suggestions that I have noticed with those who seem stuck in reactive response toward the other partner while attempting to heal broken trust caused from addictive behavior by one or both partners. 

1. Allow for a season of time to embrace raw feelings. This seems to be a no brainer. It’s not like I can stop it. Depending upon who you are, embracing feelings can be a challenge. As you embrace your emotions, you will need to direct them. This will be difficult. Initially, throwing up raw feelings might be instinctive. Yet, you will need to focus the direction of raw, unedited feelings away from your partner. Saying it straight and raw is necessary. Practice directing it away from your partner when it is about him/her. This does not mean to avoid telling your partner your feelings directly. This is also necessary. Emotionally vomiting vitriol and cutting invective in the lap of your partner because of their hurtful behavior is seldom healing. Unedited raw intensity should be redirected away from the party that hurt you. You can communicate your feelings about being hurt or betrayed without being abusive. 

2. Come to terms with your hate, rage/anger, and resentment. It all makes sense. I believe it is healthy to recognize and embrace all of your feelings. Yet, it requires adult responsibility. A common component for all powerful feelings is that they are all energy fields. The responsibility that you will have regardless of what happened to you, is to direct this powerful energy in the form of feelings in a responsible way. If you are pissed, be pissed! The key is to direct your focus with responsibility. Without your partner present, take a tennis racket or its equivalent, and exhaust yourself beating a bag of pillows in a garbage bag, screaming out whatever profane name or word you need to express. It will help to get rid of the pent-up energy within your body. This has been proven to be true. However, even if you think you have the right to direct unedited feelings toward your partner, I have never known it to be healing. If you say, ”I don’t give a shit if it is healing” then work with that. When stuck in these powerful feelings, you most likely will need the help of a trained therapist who can guide you through your feelings.

3. Re-direct the energy. You have the power to re-direct the powerful energy attached to feelings from hurtful behavior from the person who hurt you to the issue that hurts and to what you want in your life instead of the hurtful behavior. You can use the feelings of hate and anger to say “No more” to abusive behavior and redirect the same energy to say “Yes” to life-affirming boundaries and experience. This often requires therapeutic guidance and certainly demands ongoing practice and conditioning.

4. When you are stuck in reactivity toward your partner, pay attention to how old you think of yourself in your reaction. It is common to subconsciously expect more from your partner than you would from another adult. When you get stuck with this expectation, it is often helpful to think “How old do I feel right now in my response to my partner’s behavior?” At first, the question will seem awkward to answer. However, upon reflection, the intensity of reactivity is likely to point toward the age of a small child. When this is true, it is important to recognize that a small child is incapable of navigating and making adult decisions. You can shift away from this position by giving the power back to the mature adult that you are. You can take a deep breath, return to your adult self, and figure out the next best response. You can determine the next best response from the powerful adult that exists within you. It will less likely be one that is reactive. When it is, you can apologize and do it over. 

You can practice shifting away from reactive response by recognizing that you had given the reins of responsibility to the small child in you. As you condition your response with training, you will be able to better shift away from reactivity to responsible behavior that will contribute to healing and not chaos. 

I cannot overemphasize that this shift in mentality from a small child to the powerful adult that you are will require training and unending practice. Further, it will require accountability and living in consultation with those in your support group. It is difficult to take responsibility for your overreactive response when your partner has committed egregious and harmful behavior toward you. You will need to embrace humility and accept your human frailty to be able to respond with maturity. Yet, if you will commit to this path in your healing journey, you will increase the likelihood of getting unstuck from your reactive response and improve the odds of healing from addiction and betrayal behavior.

How Does Addiction Affect Families?

You don’t necessarily have to be an addict in order for your drug and alcohol use to annoy members of your family or have a negative impact on your family’s dynamics. However, an addiction often forms around dysfunctional family behavior that can be aggravated by the addictive behavior.

Families in which parents are addicts have their own particular dysfunction. Instances are they will not able to their own children. Because of what they’ve witnessed as models for adult behavior, these children are at an increased chance of becoming addicts. Sometimes, as they mature, children of addicts may attempt to distance themselves from their parents’ compulsion. Only to find later on that they have abuse a different substance. This might happen, for instance, when a parent is an alcoholic. Even though the adult children of this parent don’t drink, they might develop an addiction to sex. Or might run up high debt because they are shopaholics.

How Does Addiction Affect FamiliesFamilies in which children are addicts often have problems distinguishing the difference between helping versus enabling the addict. Addicted family members should be handled with tough love. Don’t give in to the temptation to try to make the situation better for the addict. Only he or she can make the decision to get clean. Families in this situation must first make the addict aware that their behavior is unacceptable and then they must seek to heal from the trauma that addiction has caused in their daily lives. Sometimes the financial devastation of addiction (if family members are stealing money from other family members or opening fraudulent credit in their name) can takes years to set straight. In cases of theft or violence, family members often have to make the tough decision whether to involve law enforcement.

Dealing with Addiction

Usually, these extreme steps might be the final push that an addict needs in order to seek help. Addiction causes damaged on the normal family bonding. An addicted family members cannot be trusted. They usually cannot hold onto a job and may often go missing over night or for multiple days. They inevitably betray people who love them and more prone to violence. Above all, they are not able to attend to small children.

In addition to the emotional impact, the cost of an addict’s attempts at recovery might ruin the family financially. While the cost of buying drugs or alcohol can be a drain on a family’s budget, which may dwindle due to job loss, recovery programs can often be very costly, too. Many families dealing with addiction have to consider whether they might be better off filing bankruptcy, which can lead to the loss of future opportunities, such as the purchase of a home or the ability of your children to attend college. An addiction doesn’t just affect the person suffering from it; it affects everyone around him or her.

It is normal for the dysfunction of addiction to trigger feelings of anger, bitterness, resentment, jealousy, and many others from those who love a person abusing drugs or alcohol. The bottom line is that families should be very careful when dealing with addiction. It can damage relationships for years.