The information on this page pertains to a conversation that no one wants to have. But when someone you love is struggling with a behavioral or mental health disorder that requires residential care, you’re well aware that one difficult conversation is a price worth paying.
The good news is that with proper preparation, the talk may go much more smoothly than you anticipate – and the result may change (or save) your loved one’s life.
Be Empathetic and Compassionate
Never lose sight of the fact that your loved one is in pain – not as a result of a lack of willpower or a failure of character, but because he or she has a very real disease. Because of this disease, your loved one has literally lost control of his or her behavior, and cannot make the types of healthy decisions that seem so obvious to you.
You wouldn’t blame someone for getting cancer or diabetes – so please don’t ever accuse your loved one of “causing” his or her addiction, eating disorder, mood disorder, or chronic pain.
Don't Accept or Make Excuses
Understanding that the disease itself is beyond your loved one’s control doesn’t mean excusing (or making excuses for) his or her behaviors. You might think you’re trying to help, but when you look the other way, cover up damage, or otherwise try to minimize the impact of the behaviors in question, you allow the problem to take a stronger hold on your loved one and prevent him or her from getting help.
Your loved one isn’t the only one who has been impacted by his or her disease. Addictions and related diseases also affect friends, loved ones, dependents, and co-workers. Most addicts have misled themselves into believing that no one else either notices or is being affected by their problems.
Make it clear to your loved one that you know he/she has been struggling, and that friends and loved ones have been hurt as well. Behavioral and mental health struggles can lead to strained relationships, legal trouble, financial problems, and a host of other issues. The time for ignoring these problems is over.
Don't Be Judgemental
The quickest way to turn this discussion into an argument is to speak in accusatory terms or otherwise pass judgment on your loved one. Individuals who are struggling with addictions or related disorders have already experienced more than their share of shame and emotional isolation. When you accuse your loved one of intentionally causing the destruction that accompanies addiction, all you accomplish is putting him or her on the defensive.
You need to continue to remind yourself (and your loved one) that the fight isn’t between you and him/her. This is you, your loved one, and the rest of his/her support network coming together to defeat a disease.
“There’s nothing wrong with me … I’m in control … I’m not hurting anybody.”
If there’s one common element among addictions, eating disorders, mood disorders, and chronic pain, it’s denial. Tell your loved one you’re worried, & the first response will likely be “You don’t have to worry about me, I’m fine.” That’s why, as difficult as it may be, you have to be prepared to be specific.
“You wrecked your car … You forgot to pick up your daughter … You’re one more missed day from being fired at work … You gambled away the rent money.”
Be honest, focus on facts, and don’t let your loved one’s denial (or anger) derail the conversation.
Don't Pile it On
As with many of the “Don’t” sections on this page, don’t let your anger get the best of who you are here.
“You drove drunk with your son in the car” is a painful fact. “You’re a disgrace to your family” is a harsh opinion. Stick to facts and (as difficult as it may seem) try not to make it personal. Remember: Your enemy here isn’t your loved one, it’s the disease that has robbed your loved one of self-control.
Have a Plan
If you’ve made it to this page, then you’ve obviously done some research into treatment programs. When you speak to your loved one, be sure to have some solid suggestions. The conversation shouldn’t end with “you should look into getting some help.” Instead, you should have program names, phone numbers, contact information – and you should encourage your loved one to make those calls immediately.
The most important follow-through is making sure your loved one gets into treatment. But it’s not the only one. If you make any agreements or set up any contingencies with your loved one, you have to be resolute in following through on them. If for example, you’ve stated that you won’t accept any more drunken phone calls, or you won’t cover up with your loved one’s spouse, or you won’t lend your loved one any more money, then you have to follow through when events warrant. Allowing your loved one to slip into bad old patterns (and to enable these behaviors) is profoundly counter-productive.