How do we connect with someone who is overcome by the symptoms and behaviors of serious mental illness and addiction and help them begin their healing journey?
When you approach your family member as a caring parent or a caregiver, they may respond with a cascade of words and behaviors that feel like a barrier, a set of excuses, or a type of armor.
This may set you back on your heels and make you feel unclear about how to push through and connect. When you are met with no words, with silence, or with no eye contact, this behavior may feel impenetrable.
You become discouraged, and may think they are so sick that they don’t understand they need help.
You may pull in third-party observers, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and therapeutic consultants. Vulnerabilities are revealed. These professionals observe, offer a diagnosis, and recommend treatment and options for caring support.
Sometimes they can connect with your family member because of their empathetic skills. They have not been involved in the challenging dynamics and conflicts in your relationships and can offer fresh perspective and facilitate a new dialogue between you and your family member.
What if your family member still does not listen or repeats destructive behaviors?
You may feel frustrated when the person you care about “has no insight” and refuses recommendations. You may then introduce pressures such as guardianship and forced treatment. This force can fracture your relationship, even though it may be lifesaving.
However, even when you are ‘in-charge’ there is often more mystery than mastery. Often even the professionals involved do not have immediate answers.
When the path of science and logic has led to a dead end and defiant division, take a breath and see this as a time to slow down, look deeper. Turn empathetically to your family member and ask, “Are you OK?” Then listen, and listen again. Ask, “What’s on your mind?”… Listen again…If you hear words indicating the person is not OK, let them know you are sorry they are in distress and ask, “Are you curious about how you and we might address these issues?”
Alison Jacobs writes, "When someone asks how you’re doing, it is not always easy to respond with a truthful answer. Replying “I’m not well” or “I’m feeling depressed” can be challenging for many of us." - read her entire article, Healing The Soul.
If you discover curiosity, even just an ounce, this may open a path to healing dialogue. Your family member will feel your respect and empathy and you two can begin to speak with renewed energy about options for care. You may also circle back to some of the professionals together. If you invite Virgil Stucker and Associates into the dialogue, we will enter with the same empowering curiosity…and try to find answers - together with you.