Healthy parents, healthy children in Tahoe Truckee
June 13, 2011
TAHOE/TRUCKEE and#8212; One serious concern for parents I see in my psychotherapy practice, whether their child is four or 24 years old, is and#8220;how do I keep my child free from addiction?and#8221;
These parents may themselves have struggles with addiction, or have a partner with addiction issues. They may have grown up in families with a parent who had a problem with drinking, or a sibling who has gone down the dark path of an eating disorder. They may have watched as young people in their community fall into destructive holes of addiction.
Addiction is powerful. Dependence on drugs, alcohol, food, sex, overwork, and gambling can rapidly become deeply entrenched in a person. The addictive pattern takes hold neurologically, physiologically, emotionally and mentally. Sadly, parents can try everything to protect their children, and still watch as their child becomes gripped in the jaws of alcoholism, drug addiction or an eating disorder. Having a child with an addiction, or unable to recover from an addiction, does not mean the parents are to blame.
That said, parents can have a tremendous influence on raising children to be less vulnerable to addiction and better able to break free from addiction. While important information abounds on what to do to be an effective parent, I have found there is not nearly enough emphasis and guidance for parents on how to be as a parent.
The being part of effective parenting involves a parent’s commitment to his or her own psychological health. When parents work toward improving their essential psychological skills, they teach these skills to their children through modeling and every interaction they have with their child. The parent’s psychological strength becomes the foundation for the child’s psychological strength and resilience.
In this series of articles, we will explore some fundamental skills of psychological health, skills a parent can develop or improve upon as a way to strengthen their children.
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The first skill is compassion. Compassion is the recognition each of us is a human being, and all share the realities that come from being human. Sometimes people reject the notion of compassion because they believe compassion means approving of cruelty or destructive behaviors. They do not want to excuse bad intentions or bad actions. Compassion, however, does not mean loving everyone or approving of everyone’s behaviors. It does not mean being okay with everything. It is not permission to not try harder to make good choices.
Compassion is like a pair of corrective glasses that allows us to see and accept we are all in this business of being human. We all belong, like it or not, to a group that has serious limits. We have choices about how to live within those realities, but we do not have a superhero’s powers to live beyond those limitations.
The result of our human limits is we are all stuck with and#8220;rulesand#8221; that can make life challenging, confusing and painful. For example, we do not have magic crystal balls that tell us the future. We do not have a map that allows us to decide exactly where we are going. We must continually make choices based on limited information, and not knowing for certain the result of those choices. We have feelings that continually change. We are in some ways always a mystery even to our selves. We get injured, we get ill, our minds and bodies break down and we die. We can’t meet all of our own needs or the needs of others, so we keep disappointing our selves and other people. We often do not get what we want. We lose people we love. The people we love don’t always love us back.
All of this would be fine if we weren’t also born with an intense drive to get what we want, to know all the answers, to prevent pain, to never feel loss, and to meet all of the expectations we have of our selves as well as the expectations others have of us. We want all of our creativity and insight and intelligence and beauty and love to be seen and appreciated in our lifetime. These drives are part of being human, too.
The way we pursue these drives, within our human limits, is life. And it is seldom an easy process. Compassion allows us to see and accept this human journey, instead of using our energy to try to opt-out from it.
Without compassion, we will chronically feel sure we are doing something wrong, or there is something wrong with us, for being on this challenging human path. When we lack clarity, or make choices we regret, or don’t feel loved by someone we love, or don’t feel appreciated for our gifts, we conclude it must mean we are messing up.
After a while of making these conclusions, we start to feel like we are fundamentally messed up. We decide we must be a failure, a loser, or a bad person. We then have only two choices. The first option is to give up on living a good life, because what’s the point of trying when we all we do fail? The other option is to try to use control and power to become immune to the and#8220;rulesand#8221; of being human, so we avoid feeling scared, foolish or hurt.
When we are psychologically prone to giving up or trying to use control and power to opt-out from reality, we become extremely vulnerable to the physical and social hooks of addictive substances or behaviors. Our addictive behaviors reflect both our and#8220;giving upand#8221; and our attempts to escape from the rules of regular life. Also, once we are hooked, our lack of compassion keeps us stuck in denial and depletes our motivation to try to change. Without compassion, we are unable to face the reality of our situation without falling into a pit of self-hate, shame and hopelessness.
Compassion offers a more resilient way to approach life. Once we accept, through compassion, the realities of being human, we can use our energy to do absolutely everything we can to pursue knowledge, share our gifts, be loved and reduce suffering for our selves and people we love. We can enjoy those moments when we do get what we need and want. We can be kind and supportive to ourselves as we inevitably make choices we regret and fall short of our goals. We can embrace our and#8220;mistakesand#8221; as opportunities to practice accepting consequences. We can look at regrets as opportunities to learn new information and maybe make a different choice next time.
How can you teach your child compassion? Model it by learning how to treat yourself with compassion and learning how to treat your child and everyone in your life with compassion. You can get support to become more compassionate if you feel stuck in patterns of self-judgment, criticism, resentment, guilt or shame.
Compassion can be a challenging skill to develop and practice, but it is powerful in strengthening your child. It gives you the ability to be emotionally and psychologically present to the difficult realities of life and thus truly and#8220;there.and#8221; With you at their side, your children can feel safe to really show up and try their best in their own lives, through the ups and downs, through the amazing human journey, as both of you keep learning, keep hurting, keep failing, keep flailing, keep trying and keep going.
and#8212; Danielle B. Grossman, California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, specializes in helping individuals and couples create healthier relationships and break patterns of codependence and addiction. She consults by phone for mental health professionals nationally. Contact her at 530-470-2233 or http://www.truckeecounseling.com