Family rejection can happen in both directions – an addicted person can turn away from their family, but families can often reject a family member with an addiction, as well. Both reactions can be explained and understood once the psychology and social effects of addiction are understood. Denial is at the heart of an addict’s rejection of their family.
Every addict and every family of an addict is different, but there is a definite pattern of likely events. The families of addicts usually realize there is a problem a long time before the addicted person does. Denial of reality is almost universal among people developing an addiction, so of course they will also deny what seems so obvious to you – that they have a problem.
And even when the addict finally admits to themselves they do have a problem, they will probably still not be ready to admit it to anyone else. Why? Because admitting that they have an addiction is bad enough, but now there is the added shame and humiliation of admitting that you were right all along, and that they were wrong.
The result is that you, as a family member or friend, understand the reality of the problem, and the addicted person may, or may not, understand the reality of their problem, but they will deny it to you anyway.
So it’s natural that you will want to keep trying to convince them that they really do have a problem, and that they should get help. And the more they deny the problem the more desperate you get, and the louder, angrier and more frustrated you become. See ‘Why Won’t They Just Listen?’
Mostly, the addict does not want to hear these facts coming from anyone, especially not their family members. When an addict is still in the grip of an addiction, anyone trying to get them to admit the ‘truth’ of their real situation threatens their psychological self defense mechanism of denial that protects them, and which ‘allows’ them to continue with their addiction.
Maintaining their denial is also necessary if they are to preserve an acceptable sense of themselves as a person – which is something we all feel is vital to our well being, and our ability to survive from one day to the next. And addicts are struggling to survive from one day to the next more than most people.
I Hate You! Leave Me Alone!
An addict may tell you, or even yell at you, ‘I hate you! Just leave me alone!’. This is very hurtful and only adds to the family distress. But usually, the reason they say that, is not really because they hate you at all, even if it feels as if they do – or even if they tell you they do – in fact, it probably has nothing to do with you, or your relationship, at all. What they really hate, is you telling them the truth – because denial of the awful truth (as they see it) has to be maintained at all costs, to psychologically protect their sense of themselves – their sense of who they are.
Denial of reality is a core defense mechanism that we all use to protect ourselves from having to admit facts about ourselves that are too painful and humiliating to bear. For someone with an addiction, admitting to themselves (and others) that they really do have a problem that has become beyond their control, would be devastating. Their whole sense of who they are would be destroyed by shame, humiliation, guilt, self-loathing, and regret for their own part in the current situation. On top of that is the regret, pain, humiliation and guilt of admitting to being ‘a failure’ and of hurting the people they care most about.
Maybe they have already passed the stage of denying to themselves, that there is any problem. Maybe they already realize that they have lost control over what they do. It’s natural for anyone to feel shame and humiliation because of this loss of control. Having someone point out to them what they already know, but are powerless to stop, only adds to their anger, frustration and shame. So they block you out. They turn away from you, or isolate themselves so they don’t have to face the people they know they are hurting.
Denial and running away from the truth – either physically or psychologically, or both – is a natural defense mechanism we all use to try to preserve our sense of self worth, when it is threatened by truth.
Hearing you point the truth out to them over and over, drives them away – not because they hate you – but because they cannot bear to keep hearing the truth – because the truth will break down their self defense of denial, and destroy the fiction that keeps them going from day to day. The result is that they have to remove themselves from you – and the truth, either physically by running away, or psychologically by blocking you out – so they can maintain their ‘necessary’ state of denial.
That is the reason they reject you, but that doesn’t mean that families should not try to push their addicted family member to admit the truth, and get help. It’s difficult being an addict, and it’s also difficult being close to someone in the grip of addiction, that you still care about. Part 2 of Denial & Family Rejection will cover denial and rejection - the Family’s point of view.