If you are someone who would like to help a loved one change their relationship with substances or to make any behavioral change, there are four essential tools you can learn. First, Helping through Understanding or thinking about issues of addiction differently using the science we now have available. Second, Helping by Taking Care of Yourself as you need to be able to survive and thrive while trying to help. Third, Helping through Words or learning positive communication strategies that shift the conversation from negative to positive. And Fourth, Helping with Actions which are usually using positive reinforcement strategies.
As you approach the holidays and face lots of holiday moments with family and your loved one, it can be helpful to think about ways to improve communication patterns. One way to improve things with your loved one is to learn to avoid “conversational traps”. All of us fall into “traps” at times during conversations…ESPECIALLY when the conversation is about an emotionally charged topic. These “traps” are automatic “default settings” that are often emotional responses to not feeling heard or collaborated with. When communication has NOT been going well, these triggers are more likely, and when your loved one is being secretive, angry, argumentative, dishonest etc, it can be very EASY to fall into any one of these traps in an attempt to “break through” to them.
The problem? These traps tend to push communication into a worse place rather than a better one, leading to more frustration and misunderstanding! Here are some of the most common “traps” that can derail effective discussions.
The Information Trap: trying to make change happen by “educating” your loved one without getting an understanding of what they KNOW already.
The Lecture Trap: which is a more forceful version of the Information Trap, and is often a one-way street of communication…that is, talking at your loved one rather than talking with them.
The Labeling Trap: these are conversations that involve the use of labels (like “addict” or “loser”) and over generalizations like “you are in total denial”. They tend to turn conversations into arguments because the person on the receiving end of the label is likely to disagree with you and will become very invested in showing you how you are wrong. Labels…in general…back people into corners.
The Blaming Trap: These conversations focus on finding the person at fault. Your loved one may BE at fault, but having that be the point of the conversation is not going to lead anywhere productive and most often leads to YOU getting blamed for something else.
The Taking-Sides Trap: these are conversations in which you become the voice of wanting change…”you need to stop drinking so much”. Unfortunately, your loved one gets into the position of defending his/her current behavior and may even argue AGAINST changing, “no I don’t, everything is fine.”
The Question-and-Answer Trap: these are conversations that look more like interrogations, with you asking lots of closed questions and your loved one answering with ONE word responses…. “Did you smoke pot today”…”nope”
All of these conversations traps are understandable. They are corners we get into when we’re feeling stressed, angry or frightened. Being aware of them can help you plan ahead and avoid driving down those dead end roads….and prevent either one of you from feeling trapped.