When there is substance abuse in the family, there is likely some form of dysfunction within your immediate or extended family. Dysfunctional relationships are detrimental to all involved, but when your teen is recovering from substance abuse, having dysfunctional familial relationships can contribute to a relapse. Spring is the perfect time to look at family relationships and set new boundaries to support your child’s recovery and improve their mental wellness.
Identifying Dysfunctional Relationships
When there is dysfunction within the immediate family, it will probably not be difficult to identify the whos, whats, and wheres of emotional pain. Personalities, past events, and substance abuse can all create conflicts and pain within families who live together. Despite the fact that we should be at our best for those we love most, dysfunction can splinter loving relationships.
More difficult to spot could be the dysfunction in extended family relationships. Words, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, and also substance abuse can lie hidden from other family members. If your teen experienced pain or abuse or witnessed substance abuse from extended family members, it is important that you listen and acknowledge their pain.
Below are some of the ways your child may have witnessed or experienced dysfunction in the family:
- Degrading words
- Lack of communication
- Emotional or physical neglect
- Verbal or emotional abuse
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Violence within the family
- Substance use or abuse
- Mental health disorder
Addressing Problem Areas
Once the source or sources of dysfunction are identified, the next step is to address them. This can be incredibly difficult and painful, particularly if there is serious abuse that was hidden or unknown to you as a parent. Always remember that no matter how much you love your extended and immediate family members, your child’s health and safety are your responsibility. Even when legal action needs to be taken against family members, your child is counting on you to protect them and make the right decisions.
Being honest with family members about the dysfunction and pain they have caused your teen can be difficult, but is necessary for your child to heal. Extended family members are less likely to realize how much pain they have caused, and you have less influence over their decision-making as well.
Learning New Ways to Communicate
Sometimes, the dysfunction that seems less extreme is more difficult to weed out. Years of what some family members may consider “teasing” can be challenging to change when those words have caused pain or even traumatic experiences for your child. Just because a person did not mean to harm your child doesn’t mean that your child was not harmed, nor should benign intent give permission for damaging behaviors to continue.
Simple matters can be addressed within the family, with open communication and making plans for improvement. For more serious dysfunction, family therapy is highly recommended. Some family members may also require individual therapy. Within therapy, you can all learn more positive ways to communicate and heal together.
Setting Boundaries With Family Members
One of the more difficult aspects of dealing with dysfunction is setting boundaries with family members. Being related does not give them an all-access pass to cause harm to you or your child. In situations where family members are unwilling to acknowledge the pain they have caused or are unwilling to change their ways, boundaries need to be set.
Boundaries should be clear, enforceable, and fair. For example, if a family member is physically abusive, you can choose not to allow them in your home or to be around your child anymore. Ever. That may seem extreme, but would you allow a stranger to treat your child like that and then welcome them into your home or spend holidays with them? You have the right to ask for family members to maintain sobriety or any other boundaries when they are interacting with your child or your family.
For less extreme situations, you may limit the time spent with that family member and restrict access to FaceTime, phone, email, mail, or text interactions. If they are willing to try to change, you can implement a plan which allows them the opportunity to succeed while maintaining the right to revoke the privilege of being a part of your child’s life indefinitely. Discussing with your teen what they are comfortable with before setting boundaries is ideal.
Building Healthy Roots for Your Child’s Mental Wellness
If immediate or extended family members are willing to replace unhealthy words and behaviors with healthy family habits and communication, this will help solidify your teen’s mental wellness. You can support their recovery by demonstrating effort, not necessarily immediate perfection. Being willing to overcome the dysfunction and set healthy boundaries this spring season can help weed out your family tree.
Recognizing and addressing dysfunction within the family can be a very healing process for your teen in recovery. Learning new ways to communicate and setting healthy boundaries will help them rebuild their lives and improve mental wellness. At Sustain Recovery, we emphasize the family in the addiction treatment process. A teen with a substance abuse or mental health disorder means a family with substance abuse or mental health disorder. If your child is experiencing pain due to family dysfunction, that may be the source of their behaviors. You have the power to change as much as they do. Our Irvine, California, extended residential program allows teens to address their substance abuse and mental health behaviors in the context of finding and healing their emotional pain. We know that when families heal together, the healing is more complete. Contact us at (949) 407-9052 to find out if this is the right program for your family.