If the person wasn't using substances would you accept the behaviour? In other words it is important not to treat people differently just because they are using substances.
Know the distinction between them as a person and their behaviour. Even 'I' statements can be phrased in more positive ways on occasion. Note the difference between –
'I don't want you living at home when you're using!' and
'I don't want you to use drugs in our home!'
Is the boundary encouraging them to be responsible for their life, the choices they made, their behaviour and the impact on those around them or is it treating them like a child?
What are the risks of the boundary for everyone involved?
Applying the 'using at home' example, the home and people within it may be safer if there is no use at home, but the person using substances may be at more risk if they then use outside the home. There is no 'right' or 'wrong' answer. Options and consequences have to be considered and each family may take different approaches. Child safety and protection should always be a serious consideration. The rights of young children need to be the most important element.
Set clear consequences for what happens if the boundary is breached. Consequences should be negotiated together, including the person who uses substances, and may be graded from mild to severe. Consequences need to be appropriate to the breach and everyone needs to be able to live with them. Any action tied up in the consequence needs to come from you - the person who uses substances may not be 'made' to do something.
"Because you used at home twice last week I am going to look for alternative living arrangements for you"– rather than "Because you used drugs last week you now have to go into rehab."
Take your time and get it right. You can't change other people but you can change your response to them – which may in turn invite them to change.
You can expect boundaries to be broken by people who use substances — especially when they are first put in place. They will often react to changes by pushing you and other family members to previous ways of behaving. They will probably be less motivated to change than you are. They will usually hope that you will be unable to keep boundaries in place based on their previous experience of you giving way. If a boundary is broken you need to respond quickly, appropriately and assertively.
How to do it?
The first step is to recognise and acknowledge that it has happened. Then take a step back as you consider your response. It is very important to take time to consider everything rather than reacting from feelings of frustration and anger.
In making your initial statement you need to include:
For example – "When you broke the agreement about using in front of your brother, I felt let down, sad and angry. I ask again that you honour our agreement".
It may then be necessary to restate and/or renegotiate the boundary.
You then need to implement the consequence for breaking the boundary. It is really important that you don't let them off the hook for the consequences.
You may need to develop a 'broken record' technique – especially if they become defensive or start justifying their actions i.e., "Yes I hear what you are saying about why this happened, but I still need you to keep to the agreed boundary!"
It is important to comment on disparagement in the words of the person who uses substances and their behaviour – for example – "I notice that every time something like this happens, you always say sorry but then you carry on as if we didn't have an agreement."
You should then request that things be put right – repay money taken, apology to an affected family member, repair damaged property etc.
Be consistent – when making the above statement it is important to remember a few things because as with any new skill it needs to be developed, practised and refined.
Be assertive but not aggressive – begin with the word 'I', maintain eye contact, speak from the same level – don't stand over them, avoid pointing, jabbing your finger or raising your voice.
Be prepared for them to try and put you off track, appeal to your emotions, argue, get angry etc. You may even need to have another person as a mediator or negotiator but if you do, it is important that they trust the other party and the other party doesn't take sides.
You are neither all-powerful nor powerless. You do have influence and you do have bargaining power. You can ask for what you want, say no to what you don't want and invite them to do the same.
If they apologise, be gracious but consider both their words and how they say it. Actions speak louder than words.
Having thought about the boundary you would like to set and being prepared to talk about it, the next thing is to set it with the person who uses substances. The skill to utilise is negotiation. It is important to build and maintain a dialogue between the person using substances and other family members – this will work well if negotiation skills are utilised.
Effective dialogue involves:
Effective dialogue builds trust, which can lead to people taking more risks with being honest, open and taking responsibility.
Using the transactional analysis model we are trying to work with Adult to Adult dialogue rather than Parent to Child or Child to Child dialogues.
Developing effective negotiation skills:
The last stage in the process is keeping the boundary.
This is done by:
This maybe means that the first boundary to ask for is that there is to be dialogue and negotiation.
If your attempts to achieve negotiation have not worked, you may then have to impose it. This can be done verbally and/or in writing. For example:
You will note that this letter:
Communicating this way has three benefits. You get to say what is important to you and you say it in a way that is easier for the other person to hear. It also models good communication to the other person.
Supporting families and friends of people who use substances as well as bereaved families in Australia.
© Family Drug Support Australia / PO Box 7363 Leura NSW 2780 / ABN 49 081 764 258.
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