Practice Positive Communication


Recently I attended a talk by Dr. Jeff Foote, Co-founder and Executive Director of the Center for Motivation and Change (CMC) describing the CRAFT program (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) designed for loved ones. He shared that for every one family member who abuses drugs or alcohol, four loved ones are negatively impacted. Very few services are available to help them cope. Moreover, of the approximately 20 million who suffer from substance abuse disorders, only 15 % receive help in the form of treatment.

He talked about the impact of substance abuse on families. Loved ones can readily identify with this damaging fallout: financial, health and work problems, relationship conflict, stress, depression, and a decrease in happiness. In addition, families often “go underground”. Members become isolated with shame, anger, and despair shaping their lives. In a TED talk, Brene Brown notes that shame consists of three things: secrecy, silence, and judgment (link).

Language Matters

.”…In discussing substance use disorders, words can be powerful when used to inform, clarify, encourage, support, enlighten and unify. On the other hand, stigmatizing words often discourage, isolate, misinform, shame and embarrass…”(link). Labeling someone an addict, alcoholic, crackhead, druggie, drunkard, junkie, pothead, abuser, or user robs a person of his dignity and humanity. Often family members are saddled with negative labels. We’re victims. We’re co-dependent. We enable. We manipulate. We deny. We should “let go”, practice “tough love” and let our loved ones hit “rock bottom”. This language can cause us to feel that we’re part of the problem. Sometimes family and friends who haven’t been challenged by this disease provide unsolicited advice such as, “If it were me, I’d cut him off without a cent and let him sleep in the streets.” This advice contributes to the blame game.

Dr. Foote says that the conversation can be different by focusing on change that works. CRAFT is based on extensive evidence based research. It’s designed to help loved ones become part of the solution through awareness, empathy, understanding, resilience and trust.

Positive Communication

A major aspect of CRAFT deals with communication. It’s designed to decrease defensiveness, tone down anger, and increase the chance that messages will be heard. Seven steps are recommended.

Be brief Be positive Refer to specific behaviors Label your feelings (in a calm, non-judgmental way) Offer an understanding statement Accept partial responsibility Offer to help

(For specifics on these steps see the video on communication at the CMC website (link).

Dr. Foote shared one simple technique to use when angry or resentful. Visualize a stop sign (red) and go sign (green). And instead of gunning through a red light, slow down and stop. In fact, over the years, I’ve learned that when I’m red hot with anger, or my loved one is seething, that’s the time to hit the brakes and stop. Don’t engage at all. It’s not always easy. But with practice over the years, I’ve exercised self-restraint when dealing with my adult son. (Well, at least, some of the time.)

Engaging in positive communication takes practice. Lots of it. But if you believe change can happen and are willing to put in the time and effort, you and your loved one will benefit. I encourage you to visit the CMC website and learn more about this program.


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