The Family Disease

Group Process Icebreaker:

  1. Goal #1. Stimulate involvement of Group participants with Topic
  2. Goal #2. Provide a metaphor for Dysfunction in family Reorganization

Short Didactic set up:  Joan Jackson, a nationally recognized Psychologist in the 1950’s, identified a process in families with an alcoholic member.  {Insert family reorganization model}.  The importance of this model to us, tonight, is that it shows that family members change themselves because of the actions of an addicted family member.

(Ask five members of the group to do an exercise.  Have the five members form a close circle.  Give each member an object, (this is the work of the family) and then ask them to pass their objects around, one after the other, in a circular fashion.  Now identify one member as an addict and give him a big box to hold (something that takes both hands)  Note to the group that as somebody loses more and more control of their addiction they become the center of attention of the group and assert more control.  Have the addict with the box place himself in the center of the circle and each member now must pass their object to the addict and have the addict hand the next person the object.  Note to the group that this process doesn’t work well.  Now have the addict sit down and have the rest of the family pass all of the objects, again, in a circle.  As they pass the objects, one will always ask the addict if he is Ok, one will encourage the rest of the family saying “we can do this”, one will tell the addict “you’re a jerk”, and the last one will ask everybody else if they are Ok.  The group will demonstrate that when one member no longer helps, everybody else’s job gets harder.)

Lecture Outline:

  • The Family Disease
    1. Families can be viewed as a system
      1. Component parts—Family and extended family
      2. Linked Together—Family rules
        1. To establish attitudes, expectations, values and goals
        2. To determine who holds the power, how it will be used
        3. To anticipate how it will deal with change
        4. To dictate how the parts will communicate with each other
      3. Goal: To perform a function
      4. Present the Mobile analogy
    2. When addiction enters the picture
      1. Everyone who comes into contact with the addict is affected
        1. Boss/Co-workers- Get away by ‘firing’ the Addict
        2. Employees- Get away by quitting
        3. Friends- Get away through a slower process of drifting apart
        4. Family-Cant leave
          • Just when he needs us the most
          • It will totally disrupt my life, I can’t afford it
          • I can’t desert someone I love
        5. The family attempts to adapt
          1. Satisfaction of doing what feels to be the right thing
          2. Limited direct interruption to their life
          3. Problem: there is no successful way to adapt to addiction
        6. The family changes the way they view themselves
          1. Incidents that cause them to feel lied to and abandoned
          2. Fear associated with feeling out of control
          3. The inevitable “Am I crazy?”
          4. “If I was a better wife…”(husband, kid, brother, sister)
        7. The expression of defense mechanisms, The disease spreads
          1. The addicts true feelings are too painful to bear
          2. Repression begins
          3. Example of Ralph and the uncut lawn
            1. Denial of underlying feelings of guilt
            2. Use of self righteous anger and blaming
            3. Demands that wife deny her feelings, too
            4. The children withdraw from the family
            5. The disease spreads…
          4. The family adapts new roles as painful feeling are repressed
  1. The addict projects/externalizes the painful emotions so that he can replace them with less painful feelings:

Dependents true                      Dependent’s                            Family Members’

Feeling                                                behavior                                  feelings

_____________                      _____________                      ______________

Guilt, Self hatred                     Self Righteousness                  Guilt, Self hatred


Low self-worth                       Grandiosity, criticalness          Low self-worth

Fear                                         Aggressiveness, anger            Fear

Helplessness                           Controlling                              Helplessness

Hurt                                         Abusiveness                            Hurt

Loneliness                               Rejecting, Isolating                 Loneliness, rejection

  1. The family gets two messages; The addicts performance is not entirely convincing
    1. Rational side: The ‘happy face’ the addict puts on is in conflict with his behaviors
    2. Intuitive Side: Something is wrong, subliminal message of distrust in the world.
    3. The contradictory messages say such different things. The addict confuses the family
    4. Examples: Ralph again
      1. “If the kids would show a little responsibility, I wouldn’t have to be so hard on them.” (I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job because I’ve called in sick so often)
      2. “If you were more affectionate, maybe I wouldn’t stay out late.” (I know I’m not satisfying you, I’m afraid of what is happening to me.”
      3. “Why should I go to church, the new minister is only interested in money.” (I suck. I can’t face the minister or the church members)
  • Lecture Summary

It is important to understand, not just the gross nature of the disease of addiction, but, also, how it has affected you as a family member or a loved one.  I re-iterate that there is no successful way to adapt to addiction.  The purpose of this lecture was to help you identify how subtly the disease spreads to everyone whose life touches the addict.  As you change the way you view yourself, as you change your behavior to avoid the addicts rants, When you ask yourself “Am I crazy?” the disease has spread to you.  If you live with this disease long enough you will become sicker than the addict.  The answers to this problem, is to develop awareness of your behaviors, your needs and your wants.

The Al – anon program of recovery is all about living your life for your own purposes and not the addict’s purposes.  The addict has used their addiction, and your love for him or her, to dictate the rules of the family to meet their own selfish need.  In healthy recovery, the goals of the family need to be redefined to meet everyone’s best need.  Recognize your needs and voice them.  Stop walking on eggshells around addiction.  There is nothing you can say, or do, that will make the addict drink or use.  There is nothing you can say, or do, that will get the addict clean and sober. These two considerations need to be discarded from your personal decision making process.  Now is the time to start focusing your decisions around what is best for you and what is best for the family system.