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Health & Fitness

Chaos Tolerance – A Side Effect of Addiction and Unstable Mental Health Symptoms Affecting Families

Do you live with someone who has an active drug/alcohol addiction-untreated/unstable mental health concerns-or with someone who behaves in ways that create a tremendous amount of chaos in your life? If this scenario describes you, and you are trying to love, help and support this person– it is highly likely that you are living under the influence of FOG-Fear, Obligation and Guilt.

I work with a lot of family members who are living under the influence of FOG-and they don’t even realize it. They realize they are feeling stressed, but they often lose sight of the compassion fatigue they are experiencing. Family members, who are living with someone who has an active drug/alcohol addiction or significantly unstable mental health concerns, begin to develop a tolerance for chaos. The threshold for “chaos tolerance” can become so high that family members can lose sight of how potentially dangerous or emotionally draining their environment has become. This type of tolerance to chaos can creep up on anyone-no matter how intelligent, successful, skilled, talented, financially stable, or educated he/she might be.

I have worked with family members whose “chaos tolerance” has gotten so high that they have almost nonchalantly reacted to situations that would have those of us not under the influence of FOG running for help and support. Family members often recount their experiences of extremely volatile situations (is it ever safe to stand near your intoxicated, verbally aggressive loved one who is heating a lead pipe up on the gas grill and making threats), and describe how they managed to cope (with little or no help from others) until the situation cooled down.

Untreated/unstable mental illness and addition problems affect not only the person, but the entire family. Family members often experience feeling like they are living in a fog. Things seem foggy for many reasons-some external some internal.

I believe that all family members (who are major stakeholders in their loved one’s well being) experience FOG which is an acronym for Fear, Obligation and Guilt. The combination of these three feelings creates almost a haze (or fog-like barrier) for the loved one which can cloud feelings, judgment, and the sense of what is real. Often what happens to people who have a loved one dealing with these types of concerns is that they begin to doubt how to handle certain situations because there is so much at stake.

Fear, obligation and guilt are often the roots of these feelings. Fear of what will happen if you don’t (fill in the blank). Guilt about what you should do, should have done, or should not have done. Feeling obligated to help the person or ‘fix’ the situation.

As loved ones begin to operate under the influence of FOG, they often begin to think, feel and behave in ways they normally wouldn’t. Some things that loved ones may do are:

  • Overcompensate for their loved one
  • Make all kinds of effort to ‘fix’ their loved one’s situation
  • Behave in ways they would not normally behave (beg, yell, make threats, chastise, emotionally withdraw, etc)
  • Pay off drug dealers/debts/legal fees
  • Devote all emotional energy to helping/blame themselves/feel responsible
  • Feel inadequate for not being able to ‘fix’ or find solutions
  • Act out or emotionally withdraw/Isolate from friends
  • Forget to take care of themselves/experience compassion fatigue
  • Unintentionally resort to ineffective communication

In addition to people who are managing mental health/addiction problems, loved ones need support too. It is important for loved ones to get care for themselves in addition to helping their loved ones seek help. There are community resources (Jami, NAMI, Al-Anon, on-line support groups, etc.) available to provide support. Family members, who are in the role of loving, supporting and helping their loved one with these types of conditions, would likely benefit from seeing a personal counselor for emotional support and guidance.

From seeking help and support from a variety of support resources, the fog that loved ones experience can begin to clear. When the tough get going-the tough get a support network! Don’t do it alone-seek support!