Self Care in a Dysfunctional Relationship – Okay, so I want to set up this scenario. It’s typically … I’m going to say after midnight or late in the evening. It’s hard to find the emotional words that would describe the amount of distress someone goes through. I mean, the depression, the anxiety, the worry, and I’m going to just use the word anguish. I think that’s the best way to describe how painful it is when you sit at home worried about a significant other, spouse, a child, someone that you care about that’s out engaging in self-destructive behavior, and you don’t know if they’re going to end up home alive the next day. So you get this feeling of helplessness that I totally care about this person, they’re going down a really bad path. No matter what I say to them, it doesn’t help, and I’m the one that’s stuck in all this emotional pain.
Now, I’ve done some of these videos where I’ve been talking about the importance of being understanding of somebody that is struggling with mental health issues and addiction, whether it’s depression, whether it’s drug addiction, alcohol, really bad anxiety, but I’ve seen … We’ve gotten a lot of response where people are very frustrated, and they say, “Hey, I’ve been understanding of my loved one or my significant other and so forth or my kids, but it just continues down this self-destructive path. I can’t just continue to be understanding of them because it is so painful for me.”
Anyways, I’m Dr. Jerry Grosso from Nsight Psychology & Addiction in Newport Beach, California, and I’m trying to bring your guys’ awareness to a number of things. One is the importance of recognizing when mental health issues exist, emotional distress, how significant that can be for people and distressing in people’s lives, and then how to resolve it. The way we’re socialized is to essentially dismiss this, avoid this. It’s painful. It’s not socially acceptable. I don’t want to talk about my problems. But the fact is, if I don’t start to address this stuff, the problem is going to perpetuate itself. It’s going to go over and over and over.
So the goal here we’re going to look at … And it’s really the goal with all my videos, but I’m going to take this one a little bit different so I can emphasize a point for the people that suffer alongside those that are struggling with mental health and addiction issues. There may be content in here that you guys totally disagree with, and that’s fine. I’m always open to input. And what I’m talking about, I’m not talking about in exacts. It’s very case-to-case, but let’s really look at some of this stuff.
So when somebody’s struggling with emotional issues, mental health issues, first thing we’ve got to acknowledge what it is that’s going on. You’ve heard me say this in other videos. The second thing is a better understanding of why is this going on, and then acceptance of, okay, that is my situation. The point of acknowledgement, understanding, and acceptance is so that I can get to resolution. We’re not going to get stuck in just acknowledging something or just accepting that that’s the way it is. I need to resolve this to get things to be healthy again, okay? So, one, we can do this with an individual that’s suffering with mental health or addiction issues, but, two, let’s look at the person suffering on side of them.
If we start with acknowledgment, I’ve got to start asking myself what is it about me that keeps me in this dysfunctional relationship. Okay, well, I’ve got to acknowledge, one, that this relationship is dysfunctional. It’s not healthy for either one of us, so it’s not just, let’s say, my loved one that’s engaging in dysfunctional behavior or something unhealthy. The fact that I’m in this relationship that’s unhealthy is bad for both of us. So, relationship, I’ve got to acknowledge is unhealthy.
So number two, I’ve got to look at what my role is. I’ve got to better understand how did our relationship get this way and why is it that we continue to try the same things over and over again, or maybe try what we seem to think are different things, but it’s not changing much. What’s keeping me in this? And then accepting, okay, this is where I’m at, and if this is truly where I’m at, how do I get to a better place?
Three things that we got to remember to look at. Acknowledgement, understanding, and acceptance, and then resolution. One of the things I’m going to comment about … And 12-step stuff is very good. Again, it’s stuff that some people can buy into, some people don’t believe in it. If you look at 12-step stuff, anyone could benefit if they implemented it to their life. They don’t have to be an addict or struggling with something. Personal growth and improvement, there’s some good stuff there. I’m going to comment more on Al-Anon.
A lot of times when people … And this is not specifically about alcoholics, 12-steps, or Al-Anon, but I wanted to comment something that I noticed that occurs at meetings a lot, that when people go to Al-Anon, which is for family members and relatives and loved ones of someone who struggles with addiction, it provides validation and support. But what I’ve noticed is this recurrent theme of we need to accept the individual for who they are, like accept that they’re an alcoholic and this is what alcoholics do, or this is … And I’m going to say same with someone who’s, let’s say, depressed, constantly engages in self-destructive behavior. That could be in relationships. It could be self-harm, like cutting or eating disorders, things like that. There’s one thing to accept it, but that doesn’t mean that I need to take responsibility for them.
Let’s revisit this a little bit more. I can acknowledge that someone struggles with something, but it doesn’t mean that I have to tolerate it, that it has to be part of my life, ’cause what we’re talking about is the significant other of the person that’s struggling and what it’s like for them. I look at myself. What is it about me that keeps me in relationship like this? And what is the fine line between enabling someone and supporting? I can be supportive of this person, but do I need to enable them? And by that means do I need to financially support them? Do I need to emotionally support? All to the extent that it starts to take its toll on me, because as long as …
And I’m not saying this is the be-all, end-all definition, but it becomes enabling instead of support when I’m doing for them so they don’t have to do for themselves. So someone’s depressed, they don’t get up and they don’t go to work every day, so I’ll be the breadwinner. I’ll financially support. That becomes destructive to the extent that they no longer take responsibility for their own self-care. And we can say, well, you know, it’s debilitating for them. They can’t function. But in the event that no one was there to provide for them, what would happen? Most likely they would have to figure out a way to actually work through what their difficulties are.
We can talk about this more in another video, and ’cause I’m sure I’ll get some more questions about it, but what I’m looking at is I can take responsibility for myself, I’m going to allow them to take responsibility for themself, and when it comes to our relationship, do I have to take full responsibility for them? So I can be supportive. I can encourage them to get help, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to continue to provide resources for them to continue down this debilitating path. So that’s one thing.
Here’s a big thing: what about my emotional needs? If I’m living with someone that’s depressed or I’m living with someone that’s struggling emotionally, I want to be supportive and I want to help them, but then my question is who’s supporting me? And it’s not … So we could say, well, outside friends or family. I’m looking at it in this relationship. Let’s just say it’s a marriage. How are my emotional needs being met in this relationship if you’re totally unavailable? These are some questions I have to ask myself. Why is that I’m willing to go without, and is this really beneficial?
I think there’s one other thing I wanted to get this. No, I think really I just wanted to emphasize that point about, “Do my needs my needs matter?” And I’m going to say, “Yes, they do, and why am I remaining in a relationship where my needs aren’t being met?” Before you guys get ahead of me, I’m not talking about divorce. I’m not talking about disowning kids. I’m not talking about getting rid of friends. What I’m talking about is when are my needs important, and I’m going to say, “Always.” And why would I stay in relationship where they’re not getting met? Remember, both people have to do work.
So what it is about me that keeps me in this relationship, why am I willing to go on without my needs being met, and how long do I plan on doing this for? I mean, those are some pretty big questions I got to ask myself. And, you know, I’m going to share with you a lot of times people don’t even know what their needs are. And so where this is taking us … So, I need to get to resolution, so I’ve got to acknowledge I’ve got an issue, I’ve got to start to better understand what’s keeping me in this relationship, what is perpetuating the continued dysfunctional. I could say, yeah, it’s this other person and their issues, but I also have a role alongside of this. I’m trying to be sensitive to both, sensitive to the person that has, let’s say, the bigger issue … I don’t know. If I’m struggling alongside, it’s a pretty big issue to me.
So let’s look at, I think, about three things here that you could do move toward resolution. One, I got to have that difficult conversation with someone. Again, I might have said it before, but there’s so many times we want to avoid an argument or conflict or difficult conversation with someone that’s struggling fearing that it will just make things worse. And I’m going to say if we go back to, “It’s midnight and I don’t know where this person is, and I’m concerned that something bad might have happened to them. I don’t want to get into an argument that pushes them out the door and this starts all over again,” but think about it like this: that experience that you’re home alone worrying is not going to be … is going to be more distressing than the conversation that you have with them. So, the conversation may be difficult, but it’s not going to be as bad as what I’ve been going through alongside this person.
The second thing is is how do I set limits and expectations? How do I articulate what it is, what are my needs, within a relationship, and how do I express that to someone else, not just telling you, “Hey, this is what I need, and this is what I expect from you,” but how do I follow through with that? So that’s another thing that I have to look at. Now I have to look at what are my options. In the event that I tell you my needs and I tell you what my expectations are and you don’t meet them, now what? Am I helpless and I’m just going to stay stuck in this forever? Or part of my own self-care, the work that I’m going to do, not only just understanding how I get involved in this, but I’m going to start to look at what my options are. So I’m not going to start to jump to this extreme, like, “Good, I can disown my kid, I could divorce my spouse,” right? Or maybe I could start looking at incremental things. What are things that I can start doing for my own self-care? How can I start setting expectations for this other person? How can I make it clear what my needs are and how this relationship is about us and not just about them?
The next thing is…how can I get help? If we sum this up, the point that I want to get you guys to understand, so many times it’s this person that appears to have this mental illness or has the mental illness, has the addiction and so forth, they become the identified patient, they get pushed into treatment, but that relationship does damage, and there’s other people suffering. So if I’m suffering, why is it that I wouldn’t go to treatment? I’m not saying I need to get involved into a full treatment program, but why wouldn’t I work with a professional to find out what it is about me, what is keeping me in this relationship and this pattern of dysfunction? Why is it that I can’t identify my needs? Why is it that I can’t articulate what’s going on with me and make that a priority and make it clear that, “Hey, these are my needs and expectations within this relationship, and in the event that they’re not met, I have options”? Not always easy to see when you’re stuck in the middle of conflict and trying to manage and deal and be responsible and potentially enabling somebody else.
So if we’re wrapping this up, I heard the frustration from a number of people saying, “Yeah, I can acknowledge my spouse or my significant other, whoever it is, and understand that they’ve got an issue, but what about me? I’m suffering, too.” And I want it to be very clear that I totally acknowledge that, and this is not exclusive, one person over another, and I wanted to emphasize the point that the person who may not have mental illness or may not be struggling with addiction or anything like that is still suffering. So getting help, seeing a therapist, finding out options, looking at, “Hey, how can I get out of this dysfunctional and unhealthy situation I’m in and get to a place where I can work on growth?”
So, again, I’m Dr. Jerry Grosso from Nsight Psychology & Addiction in Newport Beach, California. If you liked this video, share it, give us a like. If you don’t like it, you could let us know as well. Your questions and comments are always appreciated. The more you guys ask me about specific things, the better I can do to try to articulate what it is that I see and how it is that I can help you guys and so forth. So until I see you next time, have a terrific day and think about resolving issues, personal growth, and getting to a point where you can enjoy things.