Lesson 1 of 0
Lesson Two: A New Look at Addiction
In this lesson, we look at addiction and its impact on us, both individually and as part of a family or group of loved ones. As you go through this course, you’ll likely notice that we repeat certain themes and elements in different lessons. That’s intentional.
A lot of Gabor’s approach to addiction requires thinking about ourselves and our experiences differently than we have in the past. We reinforce points that are especially important so you’ll be sure to learn them.
Our Tendency to Blame
Before we go any further, it’s worth revisiting this. In lesson one, we talked about letting go of blame. Blaming someone won’t help us solve any problems. It isn’t effective in improving communication, and it definitely doesn’t make anyone feel any better. It doesn’t encourage behavior change either. It just makes the blamed person feel bad. That’s true whether we are blaming ourselves or blaming someone else.
Gabor describes blame as showing up in two ways:
- We blame the other person
- Family members blaming the person with the addiction: “You’re creating these problems for us. Your behavior is imposing suffering on us and making our lives difficult.”
- The person with the addiction blaming the family: “You’re trying to control me. You don’t understand me. It’s because of what you did that I developed this addiction.”
- Blaming yourself:
- “I suck as a human being. I’ll never be able to stop judging my kid.”
- “I’m a terrible person. I’ve stolen and lied. No one will ever love me”
What lies underneath our blame is deep shame. That’s true whether we’re the person struggling with the addiction, or the family member affected by it. Shame is something everyone has, and research shows that the less we talk about it, the more we have it. But when we talk about it, we begin to heal it. We realize others have had the same experiences, or share the same worries or self-judgments that we have.
Even if we’re not ready to let go of the blame, Gabor suggests that when we interact with our loved ones that we set aside the blame. When we approach them with compassion and curiosity, we open the door to understanding and healing.
Listening Without Agenda or Expectation
Gabor suggests that the best way to improve communication is what he calls “Agendaless Listening.”
How often do we “tune out” part way through what someone is saying, so that we can begin to form our own response? How often do we try discussing an important topic, and feel that we aren’t being heard? Both of these are different types of “agendas” that get in the way of listening to another person.
With agendaless listening, we simply listen. Without judgment, without feeling defensive, without anger. We open our minds and our hearts. We do our best to discard any previous judgments or notions about what the other person might be “trying to do.” We simply, as Gabor puts it, “let them download whatever is on their mind” so that we can hear them and hopefully understand their perspective.
This doesn’t mean we have to agree with their perspective. But we can listen, hear their view, and do our best to understand what and how they are thinking. And perhaps we hear something we didn’t hear before. Or else, we understand why they believe what they do.
The Role of Shame
To be able to let our own guard down, we’ll need to look at the things that affect our beliefs, our perceptions, and how we think. As Gabor demonstrates, our first tendency is “shields up.” We defend ourselves. One of the ways we do that is by making assumptions, which are often wrong.
Yet those assumptions are rooted in painful experiences that have happened to us in the past. These experiences affect how we interpret what’s being said. In the first demonstration, Gabor speaks to two people who are each upset at a situation that’s occurred for them. In both cases, he demonstrates that their anger comes from choosing the conclusion that’s most painful to them, instead of another that might be a lot more sensible under the circumstances.
We choose the painful choice because of shame. All of us hold beliefs – mostly on an unconscious level – that we aren’t worthy of love, that we “aren’t enough,” that we’re an imposter. Nearly all of us hold these beliefs to some degree, and generally, the less we talk about it, the more we have it.
When we are feeling ashamed, we tend to protect and hide those parts of ourseives. This invites dishonesty and denial. Researchers on shame have found that when we communicate with others while feeling shame, we tend to do one of three things:
- move toward (pleasing behaviors)
- move against (get angry; come out swinging; say hurtful things)
- move away (shrink down and try to disappear.
And, of course, we may lie, misrepresent, avoid, or deny the truth, because it’s too painful. Most of us do a combination of these things, but none of them are helpful.
Shame impacts people in the addicted family in different ways:
- The person living with the addiction may feel shame that he’s letting everyone down, or that he can’t control his behavior, or that he doesn’t deserve the chances he’s been given, or that he’s a bad person because of the decisions he’s made.
- The family member may feel like the addicted family member’s addiction is their fault. Or feel like they’ve failed because they “haven’t done enough” Or they blame and feel shame for behaviors and decisions they may have made years ago that had a negative impact.