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Insights into the family system in a crisis


Family in Crisis


There are few things more distressing than watching someone we love head down a seemingly self-destructive path, and be a part of a family in crisis. Families and friends of those caught in the cycle of destructive behaviour often struggle to make sense of and cope with the crisis faced by their loved one, and find themselves at a loss in terms of knowing how to help.

Families are sensitive organisms, so when one member is caught in a crisis the entire family is affected.

A good metaphor for the complexity of connection and interdependence that exists within families is a web. If there is a disturbance in one part of the web the impact of that disturbance inevitably ripples out and is felt in other parts of the web. How the disturbance is experienced in each part of the web differs, an intense disturbance in one part, a mild disturbance in another part, but all of the web will be affected in some way.

Similarly, in families, when one member is in crisis, the crisis can be felt in varying degrees throughout the web of relationships that the family form. Just as the person suffering impacts their family and those close to them, the family and others impacts them. In this sense, the family’s power to support and invite change in their love one is often underestimated and misunderstood. More often than not, our automatic and instinctual reaction to a person we love in crisis is to react, which only tends to fuel and intensify the problem rather than contribute positively to resolving it.

Families and loved ones tend to put their time, energy and focus into getting the affected family member to change, rather than directing those resources where they are most useful…into managing and calming their reactions to their loved one’s plight. They tend to start perceiving their family member as not capable of functioning at the same level as others in the family, taking over their responsibilities and functioning and bearing their consequences for them, so that the affected person regularly has reflected back at them the idea that they are not capable of managing their own life, an experience that drives further drinking/using/disordered eating and mental health episodes.

Paradoxically, the more family members become focused on and engaged in anxiously trying to change/save the person they love, the less capable the affected person believes they are and the less space and motivation they have to resolve their own issue. Those caught in any addiction or disorder are incredibly sensitive to their family’s anxieties about them and the intense pressure they are sometimes under to change so that the family can feel settled again. When family members can learn how to support, settle and look after themselves, in the face of their loved one’s crisis, they begin to be part of the solution. Even if just one family member can manage to stay connected to the individual struggling but also stay relatively calm and allow them enough space to work out their problem, the entire family system begins to settle down and the conditions that invite and support recovery in the affected person are created.

Learning how to set limits, allow consequences and keep one’s self safe is an essential part of such a process.

Families facing alcoholism, addiction, disorders or mental health problems of any kind in a loved one tend to do best when they too are guided and supported through the crisis at hand. Participating in Byron Private's Family Program, ongoing family therapy or Al-anon family groups can bring untold healing and change to families and provide a significantly increased chance of the affected person becoming well. Families can learn how to effectively manage and navigate their way through the strong emotions, anxieties and impulses generated in them in response to their loved one’s choices and behaviour. They can learn how to be active participants and even leaders in the change process that must occur for the person they love to get well.  

Do you spend a lot of time thinking or worrying about the affected loved one?

Do you feel consumed with fear and anxiety about the affected person’s well-being at times, imagining catastrophic endings to their current mental health crisis?

Do you find that you are often monitoring how they are and what they are doing, rather than how you are and what you are doing?

Are you more focused on their life and problems, than on your own?

Do you neglect your own life, self-care and responsibilities because you are so focused on the affected person?

Do you give the affected person a lot of advice and try to get them to change?

Do you secretly believe that if they just did what you suggested, they would be okay?

Do you believe that your own happiness depends on theirs, and that if they are not okay, you can’t really be either?

Do you often do things for the affected person that you don’t really want to do, constantly over-extending yourself whilst neglecting things that you really need to do for yourself?

Are you angry and resentful at the affected person for how much time, energy, money you have sacrificed trying to help them?

Do you lie, cover up for or clean up the messes created by the affected person, believing that they are not capable of taking responsibility for the consequences of their own choices and behavior?

Do you tiptoe around the affected person so as not to upset them for fear that they will harm themselves or become more unwell?

Have you allowed behavior or treatment that you would not accept from anyone else? Have you engaged in behavior that you find unacceptable or which is incongruent with your principles?

Do you criticize and attack the affected person when your frustrations with them boil over, or do you withdraw from them completely at times because you can no longer cope?

Do you feel ashamed of or guilty about the affected person’s problems?

Do you have trouble relaxing, resting, sleeping or having fun?

Does your life feel chaotic, unmanageable or out of control?

Do you feel flooded with feelings or struggle to feel anything at all?

Do you struggle with your own compulsive behavior or mental health problems?

Do you feel physically and/or emotionally exhausted?

Click here to contact a staff member today to better understand how we use family therapy at Byron Private Treatment Centre, Byron Bay.

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Byron Private Treatment Centre
Address: 60B Kingsvale Road, Myocum, NSW, 2481
Phone: 02 6684 4145