Communicating the Truth to Addicted Persons

Creating the right kind of environment for a person to receive help is essential for individuals, families, and churches. This addictive society and the deception it perpetrates are hurdles that well-meaning parents, teachers, ministers, and church workers all face. In this chapter we will discuss various helping skills to overcome hurdles.

In the previous chapters we have talked about the maze of deception and three main contributing factors: delusion, isolation, and secrecy. The helper can easily become a part of the problem instead of a part of the solution. Helping a friend or family member who is controlled by a mastering problem will be a spiritual battle. Although prayer and concern are essential, it is important to use common sense in dealing with a person who is being influenced by this addictive society.

Whether it is a son on drugs, a daughter with an eating disorder, or a husband hooked on pornography, the helper must remember that recovery is a process. Paul said, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow" (1 Corinthians 3:6). Do all you can and trust God to bring appropriate people into the person's life. You may be the planter of help and see no change in the person's life. Do not give up. Pray and ask God to bring an Apollos helper to water your work. Planting and watering creates the environment for God to work in your friend's or loved one's life.

Communicating With People in Delusion
People who are enslaved to a stronghold are difficult to communicate with because denial has led them to blindness of their condition. Jim Holwerda and David Egner in their work on addiction state:

The fantasy world of an addict is more important to him than the real world. As he lets his thoughts go, he becomes convinced that the scenario he constructs to support his addiction is true. When shoplifters are caught, for example, they are often startled. The reality of the truth that they were stealing had been distorted. They had not realistically considered that they might face arrest or jail or embarrassment--the real consequences of their behavior. . . .

Along with distortion is a breakdown in logical thinking. The addicted person, for example, refuses to link alcohol abuse with impaired driving. Or sexual sin with a threat to his marriage. Or compulsive spending with bankruptcy.

The Lord was crystal-clear in the Scriptures in setting forth the principle of sowing and reaping. But the addicted person won't accept it because he isn't thinking straight. He may often say when caught, "I can't believe it was me doing this. . . ."

The addicted person actually begins to believe the lies he tells himself to justify his habit (7).

Communication with those who have life-controlling problems is extremely important because with each communication there is a chipping away of the person's denial system. Communication is more effective when it lessens the defensive mechanisms of the person with a stronghold yet communicates the truth in a caring way.

Careful Confrontation
After concluding his sermon on Wednesday evening, Max was greeted by Martha. With tears in her eyes, she requested an appointment for her and her husband, Ed, to discuss their son, Gary. He was home from college for the summer, and his behavior was causing these Christian parents much pain.

On the following day, Ed and Martha revealed to Max that Gary's grades had plunged near the failing level. The university was about to remove his athletic scholarship for many rule infractions, and the clincher was when he came home intoxicated last Friday evening. Gary was considered a leader in his church youth group and had been a top-notch student in high school. He was respected by his peers and coaches, so these events in Gary's life over the past year concerned his parents.

An appointment was made for Gary to talk with Max. Although Gary honored the appointment, he did so with a great deal of indifference toward Max. Over a period of nine sessions, Max and Gary met together with Max care-fronting Gary concerning the downward spiral of his life which appeared to be because of the development of an addiction. Max used the care-fronting principles by David Augsburger which include focusing feedback on: the action, not the actor; observations, not conclusions; descriptions, not judgments; ideas, information, and alternatives, not advice and answers; what and how, not why (Augsburger, 54-56).

Feedback on action, not the actor. Max complimented Gary as a person but focused his discussion on his behavior. He did this to give Gary the freedom to change without feeling personal rejection. Max was careful not to criticize Gary as a person; instead, he focused on his coming home intoxicated, poor grades, and discipline infractions which were threatening his football scholarship. When Gary tried to attack Max with a war of words, Max always brought the discussion back to the facts of Gary's behavior. It is important to focus on the person's behavior versus the person as an individual. Emphasis should be placed on what he does rather than on attacking him personally.

Feedback on observations, not conclusions. Max focused on statements of facts instead of what he thought or imagined. Max noticed Gary would not look at him, was not giving him his full attention, and seemed anxious for the discussion to conclude. Observing these actions, Max brought them to Gary's attention. A conclusion that Gary was a drunk without respect for his parents was never suggested. Focusing on what the helper has actually seen or heard from the other person can serve as a guard against interpretation of behavior. When a helper interprets the behavior of the one seeking help, the helper may be seen as jumping to conclusions.

Feedback on descriptions, not judgments. Max never judged Gary's behavior as being good or bad. Communication lines remained open with 20-year-old Gary because Max never placed a value judgment on his behavior. Communications were directed toward the descriptions of Gary's behavior in neutral language. Max described in detail each of the behaviors Gary confessed over a period of nine weeks thereby helping him see the clear facts of the downward spiral of his life. By giving descriptions, the helper is more likely to be seen in a neutral role as reporting on what has been seen rather than on the behavior as right or wrong.

Feedback on ideas, information, and alternatives, not on advice and answers. During the last three meetings, Max began to focus with Gary on the various options open to him. Continuing to drink alcohol was an option Gary could select. Max explained the steps of the addiction process, and Gary noted he was in the latter part of stage three. Although he told his parents he had been intoxicated only two times in college, Gary disclosed to Max he was drunk in excess of thirty times during the school year.

Max was careful not to use scare tactics, give pat answers, or even specifically advise Gary what to do. When Gary finally asked Max for help, Max directed him first to the Lord to mend this relationship. Next he provided Gary with positive options from which he could choose. These options included continued meetings with him, a meeting with his parents in Max's presence, attending a college in his hometown, and entering a support group at church.

When the helper is providing ideas, information, and alternatives, the receiver of the help is free to select options. When the helper gives advice and answers, the one seeking help may not accept personal responsibility. It may restrain the freedom of the receiver of help to chart a personal course of action because of dependence on the advice of another person. The seeker may also resent the helper who insists on giving advice and answers.

Feedback on what and how, not on why. Max was careful not to ask Gary why he was intoxicated over thirty times during the school year or why he would disgrace his Christian parents with such deviant behavior. Max knew using the word why would only serve to raise Gary's defenses and make it more difficult to penetrate his state of delusion. Open-ended sentences using what and how were used in Max's communications with him so Gary would not feel his motives or values were being critiqued.

Observable behaviors can be described by words such as what, how, when, and where. Why may break the communication because it may serve to raise the other person's defenses by questioning his motives. Although his motives may be wrong, his delusion can be penetrated best by observed facts presented in a nonthreatening way through a helper who is depending on the Holy Spirit's guidance.

Care-fronting is a way to help communicate the truth in love thus creating an environment for healing and growth. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:15: "Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." Helpers should avoid trying to convict a person with a life-controlling problem to produce changed behavior. Conviction is a work of the Holy Spirit. In regard to the Holy Spirit, Jesus says in John 16:8: "When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment."

John 8 records the account of the woman caught in the act of adultery. The scribes and Pharisees tried to use the law of Moses to trap Jesus by insisting she be stoned to death. Jesus responded to them by saying "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (v7). Her accusers then left one by one. After they left, Jesus care-fronted the lady and said, "Then neither do I condemn you" [caring] . . . "Go now and leave your life of sin" [confronting] (v11).

The person enslaved by a stronghold is already under condemnation. The victim needs freedom in Christ, not further condemnation. John writes in 3:17: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." David Augsburger in his work on careful confrontation states:

Truth and love are the two necessary ingredients for any relationship with integrity. Love--because all positive relationships begin with friendship, appreciation, respect. And truth--because no relationship of trust can long grow from dishonesty, deceit, betrayal; it springs up from the solid stuff of integrity.

"Confrontation plus caring brings growth just as judgment plus grace brings salvation," says Howard Clinebell, Jr., a well-known pastoral counselor. . . .

Judgment cuts, even kills. If God dealt with us only in judgment, who could stand? If God reached out to us only in love, it would be a cheap grace without integrity. Mere divine permissiveness. "Anything goes" as far as heaven is concerned. Not so!(20)

Care-fronters and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit go hand in hand in freeing a person from a life-controlling problem.

I-Messages versus You-Messages
You-messages tend to increase conflict by enhancing the other person's defense mechanism. These messages may cause the other person to feel put down, rejected, resistant, or unimportant. Examples of you-messages include: "You just don't care"; "You are a problem"; "Can't you . . . ?"; "You are so . . . " These types of messages hinder communication with addicted persons because they may feel attacked, labeled, or worthless.

I-messages are more effective than you-messages. I-messages tell what a person feels or how the other person's behavior is affecting him or her. This type of message helps to communicate feelings regarding the other person's behavior and the effect of it without strengthening the defenses of the other person.

I-messages deal with facts versus evaluation. They help to communicate honesty and openness. I-messages are less likely to cause harm to the relationship because the self-esteem of the other person is not attacked. An I-message is different from a you-message in that the speaker takes the responsibility for personal feelings. Examples of I-messages include: "I feel very angry because . . . "; "I feel rejected"; "I feel hurt." Paul writes in Colossians 4:6: "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." I-messages are tools to be used when the other person has strong feelings or a life-controlling problem. It is important to use nonjudgmental messages when dealing with people who are in delusion.

Active Listening
Active listening is perhaps the most important communication tool in helping people. It demonstrates that the helper is a caring person. It shows that the helper accepts and respects the other person. Empathetic understanding is shown by the helper.

Restating what the other person said conveys that he or she is being heard and that the helper is listening. Being a mirror, reflecting back to the person with a dependency, clarifies distorted thinking. Summarizing pulls together the other person's message and draws it to a concluding point based on what the helper has seen and heard in the conversation.

Active listening is effective in building new relationships. The helper can better understand what the person is saying by being a good listener. This helps to build the trust level and assists the person who is experiencing numb feelings to get in touch with personal emotions. Communication by active listening is a way to build up persons with a life-controlling problem by showing them they are accepted. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:8: "For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it."

Active listening is not effective when the person with a stronghold is out of control (intoxicated, severely depressed) since immediate action may be needed. Biblical values and rules should never be betrayed in favor of active listening.

Effective listening is giving full attention to the person seeking help. It involves an active reception of the person's message without being passive. A helper may need to wait during periods of silence or even tears to get to the real pains the person is experiencing. Eye contact with appropriate receptive gestures will help the person know the helper is giving full attention. James writes in 1:19: "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."

Benefits of Leveling
As Max met with Gary over the nine-week period concerning his alcohol use while away in college, Gary gradually leveled with him. At first he would not admit to having a problem; however, Max continued to listen actively to Gary using care-fronting principles. Max penetrated his delusion by using I-messages which did not raise Gary's defenses. Layer-by-layer and step-by-step, Max carefully led Gary to the realization that he had a serious problem with alcohol. Seeing his powerlessness to overcome his problem without the Lord and caring friends, Gary began to level.

Leveling is the key to breaking out of delusion. The helper should assist the person with a dependency in leveling with God, self, and others. Luke provides the account of the tax collector leveling with God: "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner' " (18:13). Because the tax collector leveled, God granted this man justification. The opposite of leveling is covering up or using defenses to protect oneself from the truth. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

When a person enslaved with a stronghold shoots straight with the helper, the person is leveling. Vernon Johnson in his work on alcoholism states:

To respond openly to being confronted is to level. We level when we take the risk of being known by spontaneously reporting our feelings. For example: We level when we let someone know we are hurt--or afraid--or angry.

Using these feelings as an example of leveling is probably useful for two reasons. Anger bottled up, or fear that is kept hidden seem to lead to more relapses than any other feelings. Also, anger and fear (along with affection) are usually the hardest feelings for us to report. . . .

If, instead of leveling, we respond without naming a feeling, we are hiding (136).

 

Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
Copyright © 1991, 1997 by Turning Point Ministries
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