Supporting Someone Else
At Scottish Families, we use a programme called CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) in our support services. We believe it gives the best possible outcomes for anyone concerned about someone else’s alcohol or drug use. It teaches the best ways to make small but powerful changes in your life.
CRAFT helps you to think of things in a different way. It teaches you how to talk to someone about their alcohol or drug use differently, communicate with each other more positively, and set and keep boundaries for yourself
Talking about alcohol and drugs
Talking to someone about their alcohol and/or drug use can be a difficult conversation for anyone. It can cause worry and stress and the person may not open-up or respond in the way you want them to.
How do I start the conversation?
Prepare in advance
Plan and write down what you would like to say first. This will help you be clear when you are having a conversation.
Looking up information about alcohol and drugs may help you feel more confident to have the conversation. You can find out information on our alcohol and drug fact pages.
Choose the moment
Think of the best time to talk to the person. Is it during the day? After work? When they are alone? Making sure that the timing is right is important. If there are other people in the room, think about how it may cause more issues and embarrassment for the person. You will know them best so choose a place where they are relaxed and more likely to listen to you.
Make sure you listen
Listening is just as important as talking. If you are open to what the person is saying and their thoughts and feelings, you will understand their point of view better, even if you don’t agree with it.
Using open questions and allowing and encouraging them to talk will avoid the conversation coming across as a lecture or as an attack.
Try and acknowledge how the person is feeling and let them know how you are feeling too. Pay attention to their tone and their body language because this can help you understand the feelings behind their words.
Use ‘I’ statements
When we use ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ statements, it can make a huge difference to our conversations.
‘I’ statements have three parts:
- ‘When…’ – give non-judgemental descriptions of the person’s behaviour
- ‘I feel…’ – name how you feel when you see the behaviour
- ‘because…’ – finish with what that behaviour does to you
‘When you use drugs in the house I feel sad and angry because I asked you not to use in the house.’
You can also turn the statements around so that you say your feelings first:
‘I feel sad and angry when you use drugs in the house because I asked you not to.’
What to avoid in the conversation
When you are having the conversation try not to argue, even if you hear something you don’t agree with. When the person is talking, listen and show that you recognise their feelings. Say things like ‘you feel strongly about this’ or ‘you seem upset by that’ then describe your feelings and reactions to their behaviour and how that makes you feel.
In the conversation try to avoid:
- Interrupting the person
- Raising your voice
- Being dismissive of what they say – ‘I don’t want to hear your excuses’
- Being an expert about everything – don’t let your personal views take over
- Changing the subject because you are feeling uncomfortable
- Blaming and finger pointing
- Being defensive
- Not listening to what the person is saying
We all go through different emotions and may end up saying things we don’t mean or don’t understand the effect they may have. It is best to avoid things like:
- ‘You have to…’ = ordering
- ‘It would be best if you’ = advising
- ‘You were being stupid’ = judging
- ‘Do you realise…?’ = lecturing
- ‘I can’t deal with this’ = avoiding
- ‘Why do you do it?’ = interrogating
It can be hard to accept that someone you care about is making choices that worry you. You cannot change someone else but you do own what you say and feel.
Positive communication does not mean only saying nice things and avoiding conflict. It’s actually a lot more than that.
How do I learn to sound more positive?
If you haven’t planned what you are going to say in advance, you may end up saying more than necessary, especially if you are nervous or angry. Try to plan what you will say ahead of time and stick to it.
It is easy to ignore or misunderstand something if it is not clear. Try to refer to specific behaviours instead of thoughts or feelings.
For example, instead of telling the person to ‘be more responsible’, say what behaviour you want to see more of.
‘On school days, I want you to get up when your alarm goes off.’
‘On Tuesdays and Fridays I want you to pick up the kids from school.’
‘I want you to put your clothes into the washing when they need cleaned.’
Positive here means describing what you want instead of what you don’t want. This shifts the conversation from critical and complaining to supportive and doable. It is easier to reward someone for doing something rather than not doing something.
Being positive in this way stops people from being defensive and rebelling and instead promotes motivation.
‘You always embarrass me when you are drinking’ becomes ‘I love spending time with you when you are sober.’
Label your feelings
When it is brief and in proportion, an emotional reaction to the problem can help with empathy and consideration from the person.
Say how you feel in a calm and non-accusatory manner. Using ‘I’ statements can encourage them to think about the impact their behaviour is having on you. It is important that you are honest with your feelings and do not try to make the person feel guilty.
Rather than saying ‘you are breaking this family up, you don’t care about our feelings’ you could say ‘I feel your alcohol/drug use is putting strain on the rest of us, I sometimes feel like you don’t realise the effect it is having on us.’
Offer to help
When phrased as a question, an offer to help can communicate non-blaming and problem-solving support. Try asking ‘is there any way I can help?’ or ‘how can I help?’ A little goes a long way to improve communication – ‘yeah, if you texted me a reminder, that would help.’
Take partial responsibility
Sharing the problem, even a tiny piece of the problem, will stop the person being defensive. It shows the person that you are interested in solving what is going on, not finger-pointing and blaming. Accepting partial responsibility does not mean taking the blame or admitting fault. It communicates ‘we are in this together’.
‘I know in the past I have made things worse by arguing with you, but I want us both to start getting on better.’
Give an understanding statement
The more the person believes that you ‘get’ why they are acting the way they are, the less defensive they will be. Because of this, they will be more likely to hear and understand you, and oblige.
Negative roles people fall into
The Drama Triangle
People in the Persecutor role are usually:
- Blaming the person using alcohol or drugs
- ‘This is your fault’
People in the Victim role are usually:
- Feeling guilty
- Feeling the need to help someone
- Giving help when it isn’t needed
- Assuming others need them
- ‘You need my help’
People in the Rescuer role are usually:
- Feeling hard-done by
- Feeling powerless
- Taking the blame for what is happening
- ‘Poor me, I give up’
People often start in one role and then move onto another.
‘I was just trying to help (rescuer) and they turned on me (victim) so I had to defend myself (persecutor).’
Sometimes people will keep their role. For example, the person can always take on the role of Persecutor while you always stay the Rescuer. It is important that we recognise where we are on the triangle so we can get ourselves out of it. The cycle will continue until someone moves to clearer and healthier ways of communicating.
The Winner’s Triangle
People who are Assertive:
- Accepts other’s values and integrity
- Knows their own feelings, wants and needs
- Is non-judgemental
People who are Caring:
- Accepts other’s ability to think for themselves
- Gives help when it is asked for
- Cares and understands
- Doesn’t need to feel needed by others
People who are Vulnerable:
- Accepts themselves
- Shares real feelings
- Does not need to feel like they are in control
The Winner’s Triangle shows us how we can change our role to encourage more positive communication and to break away from the Drama Triangle.
If you recognise yourself as a Persecutor, try to be honest with yourself about what is making you angry. Anger is a secondary emotion that happens when someone cares deeply about someone else. Think about how you are feeling and try to talk about that – it is okay to be and feel Vulnerable.
If you see yourself as a Rescuer, you care for the person but also like to feel needed. Does the person actually want or need your support? A Caring role is about the development of listening skills, sometimes listening is often the only caring response that is needed.
Being Assertive is about getting your needs met without punishing and becoming a Persecutor.
Self-awareness is essential in all three roles.
Positive Communication can help you to set boundaries that are healthy to all relationships. Using the seven components of Positive Communication that we have written about can help with this.
What is a boundary?
We describe boundaries as a limit on what is reasonable. Boundaries help us develop trust, stability, and respect. You can set boundaries to limit the impact of a person’s behaviour. They help to assert needs to make you feel more secure and respected.
You can’t change someone else but what you can change is your response to a situation. This change may, in turn, invite a change from the person using alcohol or drugs.
Emma has been using heroin for nine months. She funded her use by borrowing money from her family and then later stealing from the family home. Her parents were unaware of this until her arrest of possession of a Class A drug. They then spoke to her about her drug use.
Emma’s parents do not want her to steal from the family again and do not want to lend or give her money for drugs.
So two boundaries need to be set:
- Emma is not to steal from the family
- The family are not to lend Emma money for drugs
How to set a boundary
There are three stages to setting and keeping a boundary:
- Defining the boundary
- Setting the boundary
- Keeping the boundary
Defining a boundary
Before you make a boundary, ask yourself:
- What exactly is the issue I want the boundary to deal with?
- What do I need to achieve?
- Why am I setting this boundary? Is it because I’m angry or have I thought about it?
- Would I accept this behaviour from someone who doesn’t use alcohol or drugs? Is it necessary to treat them differently just because they use alcohol or drugs?
You should define the boundary by the person’s behaviour, not them as a person.
You could set a boundary about them using drugs in the house.
‘I don’t want you to use in the house’
‘I don’t want you in the house when you are using.’
Other things to ask yourself
- Does the boundary encourage the person to be responsible for their life? Their behaviour? The choices they make? Or does it treat them as if they were a child?
- What are the risks of the boundary for both the person and the whole family?
- For example, if they use outside the home, your family may not be at risk from paraphernalia like needles but will the person be at an increased risk outside?
- Set clear consequences for what will happen if a boundary is broken. Consequences need to be appropriate and manageable so that you can carry them out if it is broken.
- How will you measure if the boundary has been kept?
- How long is the boundary to be? Do you need to set a deadline?
- When will the boundary be reviewed?
- Can the boundary be easily changed if something happens?
- Who else is the boundary going to affect? Does all of the family agree?
- Is it appropriate to give a reward if the boundary is kept?
This is a lot to take in and you don’t need to check off every single thing but it is a good place to start and to get you thinking about your boundaries.
Setting a boundary
Once you have defined your boundary, it is time to set it with the person. This happens through negotiation so that the boundary is agreed by everyone involved.
When you are setting the boundary it is best to:
- Listen to each other
- Be open and honest about how you feel
- Respect the other person by accepting and understanding their point of view even when you don’t agree with it
- Start what you say with an ‘I’ statement like ‘I feel that…’
- Take responsibility on your part of what has happened
- Avoid taking responsibility for the person’s behaviour and their choices
- Acknowledge how you feel and how the other person feels
- Express feelings like saying you feel angry rather than being abusive
- Collaboration is much better than confrontation
How do I negotiate the boundary?
- Ask for what you want, not demanding or avoiding
- Start easy and (if it needs to be) finish strong, begin with negotiation and only move onto imposing if it is necessary
- Collaborate and be flexible and willing to compromise to reach an agreement, this will help everyone feel they have gained something
- Agree to the terms of the boundary such as when it will start when you will talk about it again and the consequences if it is broken
If negotiation and talking doesn’t work
If it is difficult to talk to the person and to negotiate a boundary, then your first boundary should be for there to be more talking and negotiating. You can do this by either speaking to the person or in writing:
‘I notice that whenever I try to talk to you about your drug use in the house you avoid talking about it. When you do this I feel angry and frustrated. I ask that you don’t use drugs in our home. I am breaking the law by knowing it happens and not reporting you to the police. I believe it is a risk to the health and safety of us all. If you choose to continue to use drugs in the house and not talk about this, I’ll assume that you have stopped cooperating. I will stop cooperating by not buying food and not preparing meals for you. I don’t like that it has come to this and I’d prefer if we could talk about your drug use and the impact it has on your family. I want to end by saying that I still love you and want to know you.’
Note the following about the example:
- It talks about the person’s behaviour and not them as a person
- It shows the impact the broken boundary has had
- It asks for the boundary to be respected. It does not demand it or avoid the question
- It is open, honest and direct
- It is balanced between saying what is difficult and what is liked about the person
- It sets out what the boundary is and the consequence of breaking it
- It gives the person the responsibility for their behaviour and the choices they make
Keeping the boundary
To keep the boundary, you need to make sure that you:
- Notice any changes in the boundary
- Acknowledge when the boundary has been kept or has been broken
- Respond to the broken boundary by choosing how to react to it
If a boundary is broken
Boundaries are often broken by people who use alcohol and/or drugs, especially when they are first put in place. The person often reacts to the changes made by returning to their previous behaviours. They are often unwilling to change themselves too.
People who use alcohol and/or drugs often hope their family will be unable to enforce a boundary – meaning they hope that they won’t be able to do it. This is often based on previous experience of being able to do what they want.
If the person breaks a boundary, you need to make sure you respond in an appropriate and assertive way.
How to respond appropriately if a boundary is broken
The first step is to acknowledge the broken boundary and then consider your response. Be realistic about what has happened and avoid making excuses for people. Take your time to choose your response and try not to react based on your current feelings of frustration and anger.
Some responses could be:
- Saying the boundary you both agreed on has been broken
- Saying how you feel
- Giving an action-based response e.g. ‘When you break our agreement not to use drugs in the house, I feel angry with your behaviour. I’ll ask again that you respect what we agreed on.’
- Renegotiate – this may include saying again what you want and need, this is a learning opportunity for next time.
- Carry out the consequence of the broken boundary
- Being a ‘broken record’ and repeating what you want, do not let yourself be side-tracked away from it
- Comment on the person’s behaviour and how it is different from what they say they would do e.g. ‘I notice every time this happens you say sorry and then carry on as if we hadn’t agreed on anything’
- Making boundaries may seem difficult to do but with any skill we learn it takes time and will develop.
- Prepare how to be assertive when you talk to the person. Remember to hold eye contact, sit and stand straight, avoid finger-pointing, and speak clear and firm.
- Think about how they may manipulate your feelings. Prepare yourself for how much you will/can cope with this.
You are not powerless, but you are not able to make someone do something they don’t want to. You do have influence, you can ask for what you want, and you can invite someone else to do something.
Is sorry enough?
There is no right or wrong answer. What matters is that you choose each time whether it is enough for you.
People can say sorry to express their genuine regret for how they have behaved and feel guilty. But they can also say sorry to invite us to feel sorry for them, or to invite us to believe they respect us when they may not.
Consider both what the person says and how they say it. Consider too if they really are sorry or whether a part of them is and another part isn’t.
Remember, actions speak louder than words.
‘This service (Telehealth using CRAFT) has been a lifeline to me through a very challenging time in my life. It has helped me to focus and make positive decisions for me which can only help no matter what the future brings. I’ve learned to trust myself again which has been a huge step.’ – Lucy (name change)
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