By Naami Resnick, MS, LGPC, NCC
Communication is a vital component of healthy relationships. For any relationship to flourish, there needs to be open, honest dialogue from all the parties involved. While communication styles vary, the core is the same – people want to feel seen, heard, and understood. When we feel heard and understood, we are more likely to also feel calm and cared for.
For example, many mothers comment after meeting their child’s new teacher, “I felt like she was really listening, I can relax now.” That makes so much sense! When a parent feels like the teacher who will be responsible for their child really hears them, they are happy to send them off to school. By exercising two-way communication skills, the parents can attain a sense of calm.
For families navigating addiction, it is much harder to access feelings of calm and understanding with those outside the situation. Communicating the open and honest truth is daunting, tainted by the fear of judgement. Family members of those suffering from addiction question, “Can I still vent to my best friend or will she blame me for not being a better parent?” “Can I still ask my rabbi’s advice when it concerns removing my child from my home or will the synagogue look down on me?”
In order to feel safe and confident communicating about issues such as addiction, people need to know that the person they are speaking to/confiding in will not be harsh or judgmental.
If someone in your life comes to you in confidence about their family’s addiction struggles, here are a few tips that can make a big difference:
- Let them lead. If they confide in you, use the opportunity to let them know that you are there for them, whatever that looks like. They may not yet know what kind of support they need themselves, but it is reassuring to hear you are there.
- Choose your words carefully. There has been much research done in recent years that highlights just how great an impact specific language has on tough conversations. For example, when acknowledging the issue, use person-first language like “Mike is struggling with alcohol” instead of “Mike is an alcoholic” shows that you see addiction as the issue that Mike is struggling with, as opposed to addiction being who Mike is as a defined label.
- If you have the time, educate yourself. There are many online resources available and the more knowledge you have on addiction and its impact on families, the more you will be able to support your friends in their time of need.
People struggling with addiction and their families feel “othered.” They’re not just struggling with the substance, they’re struggling with the stigma, community pressure, and stresses of accessing proper treatment. Knowing they are supported can make a very big difference. Communication is key.
Naami Resnick, MS, LGPC, NCC
JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.