Sometimes just knowing the difference makes all the difference

¬†Many people grow up in alcoholic, dysfunctional, or narcissistic families. In fact, there are some 27 million adult children of alcoholics and people suffering from Substance Use Disorders (SUD) in the US alone. Healthy relationships are almost possible in homes with substance or alcohol issues. Secrecy, lying, role-playing, scapegoating, suppression of feelings and not being able to express yourself or tell the truth are only a few ways that children are damaged by unhealthy relationships. Toxic relationships are when people are controlled by others and feel insecure, unheard and scared. If you’re scared of what will happen if you don’t do what others want you to do, you’re not in a healthy relationship.

What are healthy relationships?

Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of trust, mutual respect, honesty, support, fairness/equality, independence, or having a separate identity, good communication, a sense of playfulness and affection.

Trust is knowing people have your back

Trust is when you know the other people in your life (parents, friends, siblings, co-workers have your back. They are not out to get you, or one-up you, or put you in a bad light. Do you trust the people you have relationships with? Do they love and support you? Do they tell you the truth? Are they kind or cruel?

Mutual respect leads to understanding and kindness

Mutual respect can mean seeing differences in each other, or each other’s opinions and showing that you won’t hurt, bully, denigrate, or make fun of them because of it. Other words for respect might be kind and caring. Are you respectful of others in your life? Are they respectful and kind to you? Mutual respect is also about privacy and boundaries. You don’t have to tell your loved ones everything even if they want you do. You have a right to privacy, your own quiet space, and safety with boundaries.

Honesty is the foundation of recovery and healthy relationships

Honesty is the one fundamental necessity for healthy relationships. In families with substance use, lying and covering up is a lifestyle. Being able to tell the truth about yourself and others is the cornerstone of recovery. Can you tell the truth to the people with whom you have relationships? Do people around you dodge the truth about some things or everything? Your relationship is healthy or not so healthy depending on your answers.

Support for what you want

Support is when you want to do something, like be a vegetarian, or stop smoking, or have plans to start a new project, and the people around you help. If the people in your life subvert your plans or tempt you, like they want you to drink if you’re sober, they are not good people. Being supported means your friends and loved ones want you to achieve your goals. Do your friends and relatives support you when you want to do something?

Fairness/equality make you feel secure and loved

Fairness is when everyone has equal opportunities and the chance to speak and be heard; everyone gets the same treatment. Are you treated with love and respect in your family, or are other members of the family getting more love, more treats, and are listened to more than you are? Fairness is when everyone is treated equally when it comes to love and respect. Do you feel that you are not loved?

Independence/separate identity 

Everyone needs the freedom to be themselves. It means you can follow your dreams, look, and act in your own style, and even have daily habits that are different from your loved ones. Can you go to the movies, read a book that your friends or loved ones don’t approve of? Can you opt out of religion, or choose a vocation that’s different from that of your family? Being able to be yourself is crucial to having healthy relationships.

Good communication is essential for getting along together

Good communication is more than just being able to tell the truth. Good communication means you can say what you’re feeling, and the people around you will listen without interrupting or denigrating to shutting you down. Communication is listening as well as speaking. Can you speak up for yourself without fear? Are you able to listen to things that are uncomfortable to hear? Can you respect the opinions of others?

Affection/playfulness are the difference between happiness and pain

Affection and playfulness are signs of happiness. You can’t be satisfied or thriving without them. Really without affection, all living creatures suffer. So showing love, caring, kindness and fun are what children need every day. But adults need them, too. Do people in your life have fun with you? Do you make fun part of your relationship with others? How do you show your love and playfulness? If this is not something you think about, you might consider adding them to your daily life. If you don’t know how to show your love, support, playfulness, you can do some research and learn. Check out Al-anon for support.


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