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Crying Wolf

August 17, 2011

By Lori Hanson

Recovery from addictive behaviors is a process. For family members it can be hard to watch because they understand so little about what is happening. The easiest thing many of them do is assume the role of “the enforcer” or “the watchdog.” thinking that by doing this they are helping the person who is suffering from drugs, alcohol, gambling or even eating disorder behavior.

In some instances this is needed. But what I find interesting is that it’s difficult for parents, loved ones and siblings to allow space for the addicted person to change or recover. Once the label is applied it appears to have a “do not remove” clause, that’s it and now they feel they always have to look over the person’s shoulder, spy on them and be sure they are behaving appropriately.

But a bigger part of the issue is that you can help someone else recover, but you can’t do it for them. They have to want it, choose it and embrace it or recovery is not going to happen. So as the addicted person, you get the family involved and now they’re breathing down your neck, crying wolf every time they see a perceived indiscretion or screw up. (All this does is push the victim farther away. But the family doesn’t usually see it.)

I’ve explained this many times to loved ones of my clients. The ones who make progress are the ones who realize they too have developed behavioral patterns related to the addiction. They act and speak in response to the addictive behavior without thinking about it and in order for their loved one to fully recovery their patterns too, have to change.

Comments like “Did you eat?” “Are you eating enough?” or other such questions can be very off-putting for someone on their journey to freedom from an eating disorder. There comes a point where you have to treat them as “normal” and not ask about their issue every day. In this way you give much them needed space. When you remove the focus from the “issue” and you are now helping them on their path to functioning normally again – which is the goal.

If you need help dealing with an addictive habit or reducing the stress that causes it, we can help.


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