Collateral Damage

broken heart hanging on wire

People who are essentially good sometimes do bad things. How do you handle it when a family member behaves in ways that hurt others and themselves? Sometimes, it is hard to know what to do. We may feel both angry and concerned, and neither feeling may be welcome to the ears of those causing the challenge.

Sometimes we feel so concerned that we make the mistake of covering for them, trying to smooth things over so they stay out of trouble. We try to keep the consequences of their behavior at bay. On the other hand, we may issue ultimatums, demanding behavior change, or else. Often, though, we are not very clear about what “or else” means, or we waiver and waffle and the “or else” never happens. We get into a cycle of threats, promises, and recriminations, but nothing really changes. The collateral damage mounts ever higher.

In situations like this, it is important to remember to separate the person from the behavior. It is entirely OK to say, “I love you, but I won’t accept it when you behave this way.” It is also important to express your feelings that the problem behavior is not like him or her, and that you believe in their ability to change it.

So, set clear limits on behaviors you choose not to accept, explain the consequences if the behaviors continue, follow through on those consequences if needed, and persist with faith in a positive outcome. This may be a bit difficult at first, but persistence in providing a positive picture of a different future typically yields better results.

One thing is certain: you can’t change someone else, or learn their lessons for them. But in a focus toward self-care, you can give yourself permission to express your beliefs, ask for what you want, while you support their efforts to change.