Boundary-Setting Strategy #3: Training A Puppy

How to Set Effective Boundaries When You Love an Addict:

Three Excellent and Proven Strategies

** PART 3 **

Hi Everyone!  If you’ve been following my 3-part series about how to set and maintain effective boundaries, you’ll know that the first strategy I showed you was the Assertiveness Formula which can also be known as “I feel / when you / because.”  It is a very clear way of languaging a boundary that becomes easily understandable to the other person involved.

In Part 2, the second strategy was the Sandwich Technique, which can also be known as “Positive / Negative / Positive.” I showed you how to begin by saying something positive to put the other person more at ease, then to give the constructive feedback and set the actual boundary, and then to end with something else that is positive in nature, so that the other person can hear you without feeling shamed or becoming resistant.

I like both of these very much.  I use them in my own life and often teach them to my clients, who find them easy to use as well.  

Here, in Part 3, I will be telling you about the third strategy that I call Training a Puppy.  I love dogs, and I especially love puppies.  They are all so cute in their adorably awkward ways, as they bounce around looking for more mischief to get themselves into.  They are cuddly and compassionate, often able to sense what we’re feeling – and wanting to comfort us when we need it.  Most of them are extremely smart, curious and creative, and their playfulness can bring much-needed joy into our lives.

But here’s the thing about puppies – when they’re not taught what our boundaries are, they will just continue doing what they want, when they want to do it – so we need to be able to communicate when something they’re doing simply isn’t ok.

Puppies want to please us – and we love our puppies so we want to please them too.  They don’t mean to do anything wrong, as long as they are being treated well and not being abused or neglected.  But until they learn that it’s not all right to pee on the floor or tear up your slippers and shred your pillows, they will do all of those things – and continue to do them while they also find other ways to drive you crazy.  

So we need to find gentle but firm and loving ways to train a puppy not to pee on the floor.  Some people still like to swat a puppy with something like a newspaper and then stick their nose in it – but I’m not a fan of that at all.  I believe there are other ways to deal with this kind of behaviour that will get the dog’s attention so they can learn that this isn’t acceptable behaviour.  According to a dear friend of mine who I believe is an authentic dog whisperer, a gentle “No!” and then quickly taking them outside to the designated area can work wonders.  But if this boundary isn’t maintained consistently while trying to train them, guess what?  The puppy will likely continue to do his business wherever he pleases.  And if this continues to be difficult for the dog’s owner and the puppy isn’t learning that lesson, then it might be time to reach out for a professional trainer to come in and help.

Because training a puppy isn’t just about the dog – it’s about you too.  And that is exactly the same when setting boundaries with a person who is struggling with addiction.  We need to be compassionate and loving with them as well – with clear and consistent boundaries so that they can see when they’re going off the rails.  We need to respect ourselves enough to not condone inappropriate behaviour with anyone in our lives.

If there is something going on in any of your relationships – and especially with the addict in your life – that isn’t ok with you and is becoming more problematic over time, then it is your responsibility to let that person know how you’re feeling.  You will need to be clear about what your boundaries are and what will happen if they try to bulldoze over them.  Remember that if nothing changes, nothing changes – and if you don’t set boundaries that also include healthy, respectful consequences, nothing much will change in that relationship.  In fact, you could find that these difficult dynamics become worse over time.

Unless your addict also has severe mental health issues that require medical intervention, or unless they have a personality disorder such as narcissism, you can assume in most cases that they are not deliberately trying to cause problems for you.  While lost in their own particular brand of self-absorption, they may simply be doing what feels right to them without really giving you a second thought.  But problems and difficulties could be taking over nonetheless, creating all kinds of chaos in your home, family, or workplace.  What we know about addiction is that it is a progressive condition, which means that without workable strategies to help facilitate change, this will only devolve into something worse. 

It is vitally important that we not enable addicts to continue their dysfunctional behaviours.  Just like a puppy who only wants to do exactly what he wants to do, whenever and however he wants to do it, we must provide the adequate and appropriate “training” – in the form of boundaries and consequences that will mean something to them.

It is imperative for us to understand that we cannot MAKE an addict stop using – we cannot make them change their problematic behaviours either.  Fortunately or unfortunately, we live on a planet of free will, where all of us have the freedom to make our own choices.  So, then – you might ask – what can we do if we can’t make them stop?  It’s a wonderful question, and there is an answer that actually works.

Instead of trying to force an addict to do anything, what we can do is consistently make it more and more uncomfortable for them to continue their often manipulative, self-absorbed behaviours.  For example, if they are using drugs in your family home and behaving badly as a result of choosing to put poison in their brain, you can make it more uncomfortable by telling them that if they continue to make that damaging choice, they will have to do that somewhere else.  If you haven’t yet gotten to the place where you’re willing to tell them they can’t live there anymore, you can tell them that you will no longer accept drugs, alcohol, or any paraphernalia in your home – and if you find it, you will throw it away.  And then DO just that, consistently.  Many loved ones are afraid to put an addict out of their home entirely, because of what they fear could happen to them if they’re on the street.  Although it’s true that sometimes being out on the street for a night or two can be a huge wake-up call for the addicts to want to turn their lives around, there are many ways to set boundaries that don’t require ‘kicking them out.’  

When using the Training a Puppy method of setting boundaries, the best idea is to let the addict know that it isn’t ok with you for them to continue that behaviour – and to then suggest an alternate action that would be acceptable to you.  But remember than in order for a boundary to be taken seriously, it has to also be accompanied by a consequence that the addict doesn’t want.

The addicts we love need us – but they need us to be emotionally healthy with them. It IS possible to stop addiction.  Families CAN heal.  Please don’t lose hope – this can happen for you too.

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:

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