I developed an approach called Wise Caring out of my desire to offer families a more compassionate and insightful way of relating to an addicted loved one. It presents an alternative to traditional family treatment models that focus on family members as codependent enablers. Wise Caring provides a new frame and framework for families to see the positive aspects of their caring while learning to direct it in more effective and life-enhancing ways. Through acknowledgment and wise channeling of your deep and sacrificial caring, you will begin to have a different relationship with yourself and your loved one. Let’s look more closely at how this works.
Your natural inclination to help is an act of love and reveals the power and commitment of your caring. This simple recognition alone is healing because it begins to release the sense of guilt or wrongdoing that you may carry because, in some way, you feel responsible for your loved one’s addiction. Just last week I spoke with a family member whose three children have all struggled with addiction. As we spoke about her challenges, I asked her to consider the reality that all her attempts to help, even at great personal sacrifice, were examples of her deep caring, not examples of her failure to fix the problem. She then began to cry. Her love for her family had been validated, some fuller truth seen. The meaning and intention of her actions became clear.
When you recognize the positive and life-sustaining intention of your actions, you make space for more of the same. When you focus on the goodness present in yourself and your loved one, you are connected to your heart and therefore your wisdom. You are literally heartened for the journey you are undertaking together. Aligning with your natural caring allows you to create a more supportive and resourced relationship with the substance user. One mother expressed her appreciation for this approach by saying: “You helped me to see my son in a different light, to think of him differently and to talk to him more. It has made a difference, and I think it will continue to do so …” The difference she began to see was her son’s humanity and her unconditional love for him.
Another effect of acknowledging and coming from your natural caring is an increase in your level of interest and a desire for more understanding: essentially a stance of openness and receptivity. Wise Caring takes these qualities and uses them to create more beneficial ways to interact with your loved one.
A typical scenario might be your loved one calling in some kind of crisis and asking for money or something else because of the consequences of their using. The energy coming at you may be demanding, entitled, manipulative, or deceitful. Your usual response may be sympathetic, resistant, angry, or controlling.
Using a Wise Caring approach, you would first open yourself to sensing what your loved one might be feeling — most likely some form of fear or anxiety. In acknowledgment you might say something like, “Seems you’ve gotten yourself in a really tight spot?” The next step in the interaction is to engage in a shared exploration of the situation by asking questions. “What have you thought of doing?” “What’s your current situation?” “What kind of support do you feel you need?” “Do you feel going into treatment would help?” Through this open inquiry, you enter a collaborative dialogue that in turn can make space for creative solutions that empower both of you.
There are, of course, many factors that play into these situations. The crucial element is your unconditional receptivity. By not opposing your loved one’s energy and engaging in a process of inquiry, you have established a mutually respectful and caring exchange. The result is a powerful shift in perception from this person as the problem to: “We are in this together.” Caring in this way is truly transformational. When neither of you have anything to push against, you are left in direct contact with yourself and your experience: an excellent medium for choice-making.
As a family member, learning to care wisely requires developing an awareness of your perception of yourself and your loved one. It means learning how to allow the truth of your caring to guide you more skillfully. Each time you reach out with caring you have provided the best opportunity for your loved one to become more of who he/she truly is.