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Compassionate Communication: How to Maintain Your Well Being When a Family Member Isn’t

Submitted by on July 3, 2011 – 9:05 am

By LaShelle Lowe-Chardé

Seeing a family member make decisions that you know will only bring them more suffering is painful.  You love them and desperately want them to be well, and want a sense of peace in your family.

When a family member is caught in something as serious as alcoholism, depression, or a violent relationship, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  Your mind spins stories about what s/he should be doing or the perfect thing you could say to change him or her.  You might find yourself expressing this by saying, “You are being irresponsible. You need to act like an adult!” Or “You know you are an alcoholic and you’re being stubborn about getting help.  You have got to admit this!”

You may also shift to the other extreme.  You tell yourself, that his or her behavior shouldn’t affect you.  That you can’t change her or him so you should just not say anything.

The good news is you still get to have your feelings and needs even when your family member is suffering and having difficulty meeting his or her needs.

The fact is, your family member’s behavior affects you.  You can express this directly and make a request.  Here is an example:

“When I hear you say you were up all night drinking and feel sick today, I worry about your well-being. I wonder if you would be willing to go to bed early tonight and get a full eight hours of sleep?”

There are four elements in this expression that increase the probability of both being heard and getting needs met for both of you.

1. You refer to only one event. You resist the temptation to build a case by listing all the unhealthy behaviors you have observed recently.

2.  You refer to that one event in neutral terms. You resist the temptation to build a case by adding in your evaluations and judgments.

3.  You reveal your feelings and needs rather than telling the other person what is wrong with her or him.

4.  You make a simple, specific, and do-able request.  You can’t help someone beat alcoholism with edicts about who s/he is or all the many things s/he should do.  You can help someone work toward health by offering something in the moment that is one baby step in that direction.

If you are struggling with a family member’s behavior, take a moment now and connect to your own feelings and needs.  What simple and do-able request could you make that would begin to meet your own needs and also contribute to his or her well-being?

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