Anger Disguised as Boundaries

Angry woman pointing - anger disguised as boundariesIn my years working at treatment centers, I’ve watched a lot of clients come and go. One thing you always determine when a new client lands in your treatment center is the strength of the family supporting him or her. Quite often you would hear from another team member, “the family is strong, they want him hear for a year!” A closer look may prove that to be true. But sometimes, what you find is that one or more family members is just really angry at the client, which is of course pretty common, but it is not to be confused with strong with boundaries.

As I said, anger at the behavior by family members is very common. Who wouldn’t be at least somewhat angry? The kid just stole his mother’s heirloom ring, passed down through her family from her great-grandmother, and pawned for drugs. Or ran his father’s car into a telephone pole and fled the scene. The stories are different and all the same. So much hurt, disappointment, embarrassment  – and anger.

But this is sometimes anger disguised as boundaries. Anger will always subside, eventually, the rate it does depends on the person of course. When it does, and if the underlying codependency remains untreated, we in treatment know we have a problem. In fact, sometimes family members are too angry to accept help for their codependency. When the anger subsides, the codependency kicks right back in, in whatever way it has always manifested itself. In the long-term centers I worked in, we had the luxury of having time to address this type of thing, but shorter stay facilities may not have the opportunity. In fact, because family program often happens within weeks of admission in a short stay program, sometimes the angry family member won’t even attend. I find this is often true of siblings, that is, they are frequently more angry with the addict than the others.

When we would encounter a family member with heightened animosity toward the client, we would often intervene on that person and attempt to persuade them to do some personal work themselves. If they are willing, this is often helpful at their processing and working through this false boundary and clearing the way for them to enter into recovery so that they are not an enabling element later, particularly when the addict transitions from treatment to the next more family interactive level of care, and certainly if they are returning home.

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