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'What he's doing to us!' - Overcoming the 3 R's with the 'New Rules/Old Rules' Exercise
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In the last section, we discussed the "threaten, punish, and relent" cycle,
and ways that family members try to force change in an addict.
In this section,
we will discuss the three main reasons families cling to old habits of coping
and become highly resistant to change. These are being locked
into recycling past habits; relegating themselves
to the sideline; and "feeling comfortable".
3 Reasons Families Cling to Old Habits
♦ Reason # 1 - Locked into Recycling Past Habits
Antonia, a 34-year old mother of three, was stuck in the same pattern
of clinging to old habits that failed to make any improvement in her situation.
Her husband, Carlo, frequently went into drunken rages. Antonia told me, "When he started
chucking bottles around, I would grab the kids up, go out a window, and take
off. Sometimes we'd go to a friend's house. Once we went to another town and
stayed in a hotel for a few days. But I never told the children why. My mother
told me never to talk against your husband, and it was too painful to discuss
the reasons with my children". After a few days, Antonia would come home,
clean up the mess Carlo had made, and carry on like nothing had happened.
Antonia continually recycled her old actions of dealing with
Carlo, she perpetuated the past. As you can tell, escaping from the house and
then cleaning up after Carlo did nothing to improve Antonia's situation. Carlo
never had to take responsibility for his drunken rages. Antonia's refusal to
deal with the situation was a tacit acceptance of his behavior, and so Carlo
continued to act as he always had.
♦ Reason # 2 - Relegating to the Sideline
Antonia's passive stance relegated her to the sidelines.
Rather than making change, she was watching Carlo's behavior, leaving it to
chance whether things would improve. As you know, the odds favor addiction.
Antonia played the waiting game, passively dealing with the consequences of
Carlo's alcoholism instead of addressing the problem in a meaningful way.
♦ Reason # 3 - "Feeling Comfortable"
Antonia felt "comfortable" with the way she had
always dealt with Carlo. She told me, "I was sure that eventually he'd
realize why we'd be gone for days at a time, maybe even thank me for keeping
the kids safe. Someday he has to realize what he's doing to us."
Before the family member of an addict can change, I find that they
have to be rigorously honest with themselves about their resistance
to change. For Antonia, it was easier to suffer than to change. Thinking about
what she might have to do to get in to a better situation was terrifying. I
asked her to ask herself, "Am I willing to leave behind the comfort of
my old ways?" I told her, the pain of change always gets better, but the
pain of staying the same always gets worse.
In summary, I find that there are three main reasons families of addicts
are resistant to trying new methods to change their situation. These are
they get locked into a habit of recycling past actions, they relegate themselves
to the sidelines, and they feel "comfortable" with the way they
have always dealt with things.
♦ "New Rules/Old Rules" Exercise
To help Antonia get ready to face making a change in her family's
life, I asked her to participate in the "New Rules/Old Rules" exercise.
Step One -
First, I asked her to list the old rules she lived by, for example, always
cleaning up Carlo's messes right away.
Step Two -
I asked her then to firmly cross out
the rules she would like to change or break.
Step Three -
Next, I asked her to come up with
new rules she would like to have, and write them next to the crossed-out ones.
Step Four -
Next, I encouraged Antonia to try to recognize when one of her old rules was
trying to control her behavior. Did she notice herself automatically heading
for the paper towels every time Carlo threw or spilled something?
Step Five -
I asked Antonia
to notice and write down how that situation made her feel.
Step Six -
Finally, in our sessions, I worked through some visualization exercises with
Antonia. I asked her to imagine a situation in which she used a new rule instead
of an old one. I then asked her to imagine how it would look, what she would
do differently, how it would feel and sound.
In this section, we have discussed the three main reasons families of
addicts are resistant to trying new things to change their situation. These
were being locked into past habits; relegating themselves to the sideline;
comfortable". Would it be beneficial to play this section in your next
session with the family member of an addict?
In the next section, we will discuss the survival skills practiced by the families
of addicts. These are being a contortionist, trying to keep the addict
happy, inventing new ways of connecting, and unspoken rules.
What are the three main reasons families of addicts are resistant to trying
new methods of dealing with their situation?
To select and enter your answer go to .