This Is How to Deal with Anger Toward an Addict
Not long ago, I was asked this question while I was being interviewed on a podcast:
Is it ever ok to get angry with the addict I love?
It was a terrific question, and I knew I wanted to answer it carefully. I started by saying “I wouldn’t say that it’s never ok to get angry with your addict – sometimes that’s how we feel. But if we’re going to respond angrily to something the addict is doing or saying, we need to be sure to do this carefully.”
The truth is that many people who love addicts are people-pleasers, which is another term for codependency. My simple definition of codependency is when we put others’ needs ahead of our own, on a fairly consistent basis. Codependent people sometimes feel very guilty when they try to have their own needs met – believing, in some cases, that they are not worthy of having their needs or desires take center stage. Sometimes this is a lesson learned in childhood, when we’re taught that other people are more important than we are and, especially as little girls, we learn that it’s never ok to show anger. In my opinion, these are not healthy beliefs to bring into adulthood – and yes, this CAN be healed.
As well, addicts in active addiction – and sometimes in early recovery as well – can be notoriously self-absorbed. They often don’t have a clue about how their actions are affecting the people around them, and they often really don’t care. Their priority is getting their needs met – obtaining money to fuel their various addictions and developing manipulative behaviors to do just that. Many adult addicts continue to behave like children when they hear the word “No”, deploying temper tantrums that often include yelling, screaming, lashing out physically, stealing from loved ones, and many other responses far too numerous to name. And because their loved ones are so often desperately struggling to keep the peace, the addicts are allowed to get away with such behaviors – so they conclude that there will be no consequences for this and that it’s fine to keep doing what they’re doing.
I believe that in order for practicing addicts to start to grow up – which is an incredibly important life task for them if they are going to recover from addiction — they need to start having their eyeballs facing outward, at least to some extent. Many have their eyeballs facing inward pretty much all the time, meaning that they are focused entirely on their own needs and desires, without thinking about those who love them. Perhaps it could be a wake-up call for them to hear that someone is frustrated or disappointed or angry with their behavior. Maybe their loved ones need to stop walking on eggshells around them, and instead wear a t-shirt that says “I’m Here Too.” Maybe they need to stop trying so hard by accommodating and validating bad behavior.
Because here’s the deal: I don’t believe that anyone chooses to become an addict. But once they are in fact addicted and begin to understand that their lives are a mess – and that they are negatively affecting themselves and those around them – that’s when they can make a different decision. Remaining in active addiction is a choice, and going into active recovery is also a choice.
As for the family members showing their anger, I do think there is another more effective way that you can let the addict you love get the message that their destructive choices will no longer be tolerated.
Here’s how to do that:
In a non-charged moment, when you’re not as upset, you can say to your addict “We love you. We love you so much that we no longer want to watch you stay stuck in addiction. That’s not the life we want for you and it’s tearing us up inside to see you continue to choose this for yourself. Because we love you so much, we will no longer support you in active addiction in any way. But we will support you to be in active recovery of some kind — so when you’re ready for that, let us know and we’ll be there for you in as many ways as we can be.”
Remember – if nothing changes, nothing changes – and if you want the addict you love to change, you will very likely have to be the one to change what you’re doing first. I wish all loved ones my best in making the courageous choices that will take you out of enabling your addict and into helping them instead.
Candace Plattor, M.A., is an Addictions Therapist specializing in working with the family of people who are struggling with addiction. As a former addict with 35 years clean and sober, Candace knows that overcoming addiction is a family condition: everyone in the family is affected by addiction and everyone needs to heal. Learn more about Candace here: https://lovewithboundaries.com/