The single most pressing concern for the parents I see in my psychotherapy practice, whether their child is 4 years old or 24 years old, is “How do I keep my child free from addiction?”
These parents may themselves struggle with addiction, or have a partner who does. They may have grown up with an alcoholic parent, or a sibling who has gone down the dark path of an eating disorder. They may have watched as young people in their community fall into destructive holes of addiction.
Addiction is powerful. Dependence on drugs, alcohol, food, sex, overwork, and gambling can rapidly become deeply entrenched. The addictive pattern takes hold neurologically, physiologically, emotionally, and mentally. Sadly, it can happen no matter what parents try to protect their children. Having a child with an addiction, or unable to recover from an addiction, does not mean that the parents are to blame.
That said, there is a tremendous amount that parents can do to help their child be less vulnerable to addiction and better able to break free from the addiction in case they start to become hooked.
While important information abounds on topics like healthy discipline and values, I have found that there is not nearly enough guidance for parents on how to strengthen their children against addiction on the deeper psychological level.
The Key is Compassion
On this deeper psychological level, the fundamental skill for strength and resilience is compassion. Compassion is the recognition that each of us is a human being, and all share the realities that come from being human. Sometimes people reject the notion of compassion because they believe that compassion means approving of cruelty or destructive behaviors. They do not want to excuse bad intentions or bad actions. Compassion, however, does not mean loving everyone or approving of everyone’s behaviors. It does not mean being okay with everything. It is not permission to not try harder to make good choices.
Compassion is like a pair of corrective eyeglasses: It allows us to see and accept that we are all in this business of being human. We all belong, like it or not, to a group that has some serious limits. We have choices about how to live within those limitations, but we do not have the power to erase our human limits.
The result of our limitations is that we are all stuck with some ‘rules’ that can make life challenging, confusing, and painful. For example, we do not have magic crystal balls that tell us the future. We do not have a map that allows us to decide exactly where we are going. We must continually make choices based on limited information, and not knowing for certain the result of those choices. We have feelings that continually change. We are in some ways always a mystery even to our selves. We get injured, we get ill, our minds and bodies break down, and we die. We can’t meet all of our own needs or the needs of others, so we keep disappointing ourselves and other people. We often do not get what we want. We lose people we love. The people we love don’t always love us back.