For families struggling with the devastation of addiction, recovery can often feel like an impossibility. The cycles of resumption of use, financial strain, and emotional turmoil leave many convinced that nothing will ever change. However, by cultivating psychological flexibility, families can begin to break free of these destructive patterns and rebuild hope for the future.
What is Psychological Flexibility?
Psychological flexibility refers to the ability to fully engage with the present moment without defense, and to persist or change behavior in the service of chosen values. Rather than remaining rigidly attached to avoidant coping strategies, psychological flexibility allows individuals to open up to difficult thoughts, emotions, and experiences when doing so serves their goals and values. This adaptability and openness to the “now” is key in transforming not only the recovering addict, but the entire family system.
The Roles Family Members Get Stuck In
When addiction takes hold in a family, members often adopt rigid roles that, while intended as coping strategies, can perpetuate dysfunctional dynamics. There’s the martyr mom who sacrifices everything to try to save her child. There’s the overfunctioning sister attempting to manage the chaos singlehandedly. The negative enabling dad who lends money despite broken promises. The scapegoat child who seems to do no right. These entrenched patterns of relating get acted out over and over, fueling the addiction.
Psychological flexibility offers families a way out of these toxic role locks. Instead of playing out the same distressing dramas on autopilot, family members can become more aware of their mental and emotional patterns. This allows them to intentionally choose responses aligned with their values and recovery goals rather than automatically reacting from a limited role.
Opening Up to Difficult Emotions
At the core of many family members’ rigid coping strategies is the inability to tolerate difficult emotions like anger, grief, and fear. Avoiding and suppressing these feelings often drives behaviors like negative enabling or estrangement.
Cultivating psychological flexibility involves building distress tolerance and the willingness to experience we may label “negative” emotions without becoming overwhelmed. This allows family members to stay grounded and aware even in the face of painful realities. Facing into challenging emotions, rather than numbing out or lashing out, is essential for families seeking to overcome the heartache of addiction.
Communication That Creates Connection
Under the weight of addiction, communication between family members often suffers drastically. Psychological flexibility opens the door to restoring connection.
Defensive, aggressive communication comes from a place of self-protection and disconnection from the present moment. With psychological flexibility, family members can engage in conflict from a centered place, with openness to understanding one another’s experience. Rather than attacking or shutting down, flexibility allows for perspective taking, vulnerability, and empathy. This creates an atmosphere where problems can be solved collaboratively.
Shared Vision and Values
In family systems impacted by addiction, members often lose connection with their values amidst the chaos. One person’s values may be distorted to “keeping the peace” while another’s becomes hyper-independence. Recovery requires reconnecting with values around wellness, authenticity, trust, and community.
Psychological flexibility helps families clarify their vision for the future and shared values. Instead of acting from fear or a sense of futility, they can make decisions aligned with their hopes for health and wholeness. This provides direction and motivation to take difficult but needed actions to interrupt the patterns of addiction.
Coping with Relapse: Judgment vs. Compassion
For families dealing with cycles of resumption of problematic use, psychological flexibility may be the key to maintaining loving connection and focus. A psychologically flexible response to reoccurrence of symptoms replaces frustration and shame with openness, healthy boundary setting, and compassion.
Family members with psychological flexibility understand resumption of use as part of the process. Their adaptability allows them to persist in recovery efforts even in the face of “setbacks”. They process the emotions resumption of use brings up and use them to inform responses, rather than reacting hastily. This non-judgment helps the recovering person stay engaged on their path to wellness.
Rediscovering Purpose and Passion
Beyond abstinence, recovery is also about redesigning a meaningful life. For lasting transformation, those in recovery need support exploring interests, values, and passions subdued during active addiction.
The psychological flexibility of family members enables them to embrace this reconstruction with optimism. They demonstrate adaptability in adjusting to new norms and encouraging their loved one’s growth. With flexibility, families can discover renewed purpose together, using values as a compass going forward.
Conclusion: The Possibility of Growth
Psychological flexibility is a game changer for families seeking to break free from addiction. By staying grounded and opening up in the present moment, family members can respond to challenges with intention, compassion, and wisdom. They can communicate and problem solve in constructive ways that may have seemed impossible before. Psychological flexibility removes the shackles of harmful role locks and perceived powerlessness. Ultimately, it allows families to access their greatest strength: the ability to learn, grow, and transform.
Call to Action
If your family is stuck in painful patterns of addiction, there is hope. Psychological flexibility could be the key to finally interrupting these destructive cycles and moving towards health and wholeness. Don’t wait to start cultivating this openness and adaptability — it has the power to transform your family recovery journey. Contact me today to learn how my coaching approach guides families to break free of rigid roles and respond to life’s challenges with intention and wisdom. Together we can uncover your family’s resilience.