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Healing the Family: 5 Tips for Rebuilding Bonds Broken by Addiction

Healing the Family: 5 Tips for Rebuilding Bonds Broken by Addiction

Addiction and substance abuse does more than damage your health; it can destroy close family bonds and friendships, cripple opportunities, and bring bright futures, full of potential to a halt. When one chooses to break the hold addiction has on one’s life, it is the beginning of a complete transformation. Beginning in rehab, a skilled team of counselors and therapists can help you to cope with urges and triggers, remove cognitive ties to substance abuse, and gain a healthier, more positive outlook on life.

But what about the external damage cause by a substance abuse disorder? Is there no way to mend what has been broken while under the influence of an addicted mind? Must what is broken remain so?

Thankfully, our profound human nature allows for flaws and mistakes; we use these traits and experiences to learn and grow as individuals and as a global society. This adaptive nature also fosters the ability to forgive and progress in our lives and relationships- if all parties are willing to work for the betterment of the bond. If you are in recovery and seeking to rebuild bonds broken in your active use phase, following the 5 tips for rebuilding a bond broken by addiction is a good place to start.

1. Be Honest

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Be Honest About Your Wrongdoings

    You cannot ask for forgiveness without admitting wrong. Rebuilding external relationships begins within; you have to understand, or at least attempt to understand your wrongs before you can atone from them. Recognizing another’s feelings and your part in them is key to beginning the relationship healing process. That’s not to say you are solely responsible for others’ emotional well-being, but part of being a mature adult is recognizing and accepting responsibility for yourself and your actions.

    Approach your loved one open and honestly. Verbally acknowledge the cause of contention  and the part you played in the perpetuation of it, and express your feelings on it. Be sure to tell your family member or friend that you want to fix the problem, why, and how. Giving a solid, planned course of action helps them to see you are serious about overcoming the issues and moving forward with a stronger bond and appreciation for each other.

    2. Listen

    Active Listening is Key to Healing Relationships

      It’s equally important for the person whose forgiveness you are seeking to be able to speak honestly about their feelings regarding past transgressions. To help facilitate an atmosphere in which they feel comfortable being open and honest with you, make sure they know you are listening- really listening. That means an in-person (if possible) conversation which has your undivided attention: no multi-tasking, no electronic devices, no other physical crutches.

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      While it may be difficult for you if you are anxious about the conversation, showing that you are serious about rectifying your mistakes can go a long way in helping mend what has been broken. Sincerity, above all else, must be the core of your intentions if you wish to be successful in mending the bonds broken by addiction. If you find you cannot act in a sincere manner, or that your efforts are not being truly accepted and appreciated, perhaps you should rethink if the relationship is worth salvaging.

      3. Be Cooperative

      Cooperate with Those Trying to Help You

        It’s one thing to listen, but you also have to be cooperative. Getting defensive will only serve to cause tension and further widen the divide between you and your loved ones. That doesn’t mean you have to accept abusive language; by all means, if you’re being attacked, feel free to get up and walk away. Fixing the kind of damage addiction causes to your interpersonal relationships is rarely a smooth road- but if you are forthright and willing to put in the work necessary for redemption, it is possible.

        When faced with friends or family members asking you to modify certain behaviors in order to salvage the relationships you value, at least consider their words and viewpoint. However, there are some things which are not up for debate on which you should not compromise, such as:

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        • Your gender and/or sexual identity and your right to express it
        • Your right to feel safe and respected
        • Your sobriety
        • Your right to be heard as an individual
        • Your universal human rights

        4. Stay Consistent

        Consistency Shows Reliability

          One of the main reasons people are hesitant to believe in people in recovery is that, while under the influence of addiction, one becomes unreliable, inconsistent, and flaky. With one’s priorities shifted by a substance abuse disorder, being there for others or committing to one’s responsibilities rapidly fall into the background. Unfortunately, some view a history of relapse as reason to doubt one’s reliability rather a part of the struggle to conquer the chronic disorder. So how do you rebuild this faith with the odds stacked against you?

          There’s not much you can say to rebuild broken trust; but there is plenty you can do- by backing up your words with actions. Following through with your promises and staying firmly on the sober path can help re-establish the trust and confidence past actions may instill in others. Beyond that, sticking to your word and your goals is a great way to build confidence in yourself and your ability to turn things around. Learning to rely on yourself is essential to successful recovery addiction.

          5. Know When to Walk Away

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          Know When to Walk Away From Toxic Relationships

            The reality is, no matter how much we may wish to repair the damage caused in the past and rebuild relationships, it often isn’t up to us. Sometimes we simply cannot let go of the hurt or anger- and sometimes that is for the best. Anyone who would insist on holding your past against you even as you attempt to improve yourself and your life is not someone you need in your future. You do not deserve abuse, neglect, or mistreatment, no matter what others may say.

            Walking away from bad relationships- even ones within the family- is the best thing you can ever do for yourself. With time and distance, you will come to realize those relationships only served to hold you back in the long run. Ideally one would have the support of friends and family through the recovery process, but if they cannot recognize your attempts to better yourself, it’s okay. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people- they’re more important than salvaging a relationship better left in the past.

            More by this author

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            Last Updated on October 22, 2020

            8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

            8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

            How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

            Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

            When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

            Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

            What Makes People Poor Listeners?

            Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

            1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

            Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

            Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

            It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

            2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

            This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

            Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

            3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

            It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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            I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

            If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

            4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

            While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

            To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

            My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

            Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

            Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

            How To Be a Better Listener

            For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

            1. Pay Attention

            A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

            According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

            As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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            I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

            2. Use Positive Body Language

            You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

            A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

            People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

            But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

            According to Alan Gurney,[2]

            “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

            Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

            3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

            I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

            Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

            Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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            Be polite and wait your turn!

            4. Ask Questions

            Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

            5. Just Listen

            This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

            I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

            I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

            6. Remember and Follow Up

            Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

            For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

            According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

            It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

            7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

            If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

            Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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            Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

            Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

            NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

            1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
            2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

            8. Maintain Eye Contact

            When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

            Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

            By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

            Final Thoughts

            Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

            You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

            And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

            More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

            Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

            Reference

            [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
            [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
            [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
            [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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