Science and Sensibility

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Stop Enabling Now

Avoid the addiction enabler trap

Helping friends and family members combat addictions often starts with helping yourself build high frustration tolerance. In this Albert Ellis Tribute Series blog, Dallas psychotherapist, Dr. Pam Garcy, takes you on a cook’s tour of how to use rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT) to build high frustration tolerance and avoid the addiction enabler trap.

In the world of addictions, the path of least resistance is often the path to inevitable defeat. Let’s look at how to get on the path of high frustration tolerance. I’m confident that you’ll see how this knowledge applies to helping family and friends with addiction problems.

Building High Frustration Tolerance

When you feel blocked from reaching an important goal, your perception activates brain centers that are associated with pain. When you feel frustrated and uncomfortable, those feeling can stimulate you to solve a problem and get past the barrier. It can also signal taking the easier, more comfortable, path.

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Some folks tend to tolerate frustration well; they work through it and continue to press on to achieve their shorter- and longer-term goals. But, what if you don’t tolerate frustration well, and you have an addicted friend or relative who takes advantage of your tendency to take the easy way out?  Let’s look at frustration as an issue. Then, I’ll share what you can do if you choose to operate effectively.

In the first case, we might say that you practice high frustration tolerance. In the second, we might say that your reaction shows a low frustration tolerance.

To practice high frustration tolerance, you put reason between an impulse to escape discomfort, and discomfort dodging actions. That step can make a big difference. Once you delay reacting, you are in a position to start choosing.

Part of this imposing reasoning process involves accepting—not liking—that it is important to live through the discomfort if you expect to overcome barriers. This acceptance is like building emotional muscle. The more you work at it, the stronger you get.

By working at building high frustration tolerance, you are likely to solve more of your immediate problems and reach more of your longer-term goals. Albert Ellis labels this a long-range hedonism approach.

Seven Steps to End Enabling

Family members and friends of folk who abuse substances often can benefit from building their frustration tolerance.

Your family member, Ron, tells you that he needs to get past a tense time, and then he will quit using. Could you spare some money for these tough times? If you cave in, you are enabling Ron by rewarding your family member’s dependency on you. You are probably rewarding yourself by caving in to avoid a conflict.  Whatever the dynamic may be, by giving Ron money to fund his substance abuse habit, you are signaling that you may also have low frustration tolerance in this situation.

You can use REBT principles and practices to boost your tolerance for frustration. By modeling high frustration tolerance for conflict and for resisting Ron’s demands, you avoid procrastinating on building high frustration tolerance. You help Ron see that you are no longer a pushover. Ron may still have an addictive problem. You are no longer helping him sustain it. You may also be in a stronger position to influence a change.  

This is obviously easy to say and harder to do. However, if you see the merit in building high frustration tolerance, here are seven steps to help yourself build high frustration tolerance by combatting low frustration tolerance:

1. Remind yourself that frustration tolerance is like a muscle—the more you build it, the stronger you get.  You won’t build it overnight. Then remind yourself that in the process of learning to avoid kneejerk low frustration tolerance reactions, you are building high frustration tolerance. So, seriously consider frequently practicing high frustration tolerance.

2. Focus on the longer-term goal that you want to achieve. Consider if you would like to see your family member get healthier. Would you prefer a relationship based upon a healthy bond (rather than one of dependency)?  If so, then make decisions that will support your family member’s independence and health. Remind yourself that the real rewards normally come from high frustration tolerance actions. Low frustration tolerance gives you a specious reward of quick relief from enabling.  

3. Make two lists: (1) the short- and long-term advantages and disadvantages of you engaging in enabling behavior.  (2) The short- and long-term advantages and disadvantages of enabling your loved one.  (The enabling trap is a joint venture. Your loved one also has responsibility to think and do better. That includes stopping baiting this trap.)

4. Reward yourself when you practice high frustration tolerance.  Allow yourself to do something you enjoy, such as watching a movie, taking a bubble bath, listening to favorite music, calling a friend, or reading a favorite book.

5. When you practice low frustration tolerance enabling behavior with your loved one, give yourself a response-cost.  For example, force yourself to do something you dislike, like cleaning for an extra hour. Deny yourself the reward you identified in No. 4.

6. Accept yourself regardless of whether you practice low or high frustration tolerance, but know that it is to the advantage of all concerned if you practice high frustration tolerance.

7. Get help and support when you find it necessary to strengthen your resolve. This is why the Psychology Today site exists—to connect you with the resources that could support you in your journey. See SMART Recovery for online help for addictions.  Read the free downloadable version of How to Conquer Your Frustrations to build your resiliency.

This is an Albert Ellis Tribute Series blog. See Albert Ellis’ only official website REBT Network for a wealth of self-help information.

Special to this blog: Burning the Candle PhotoArt image by Dale Jarvis, AreaOne Art & Design, Fayetteville NC.

© Dr. Pamela D. Garcy, PhD, Author of multiple books including  The REBT Super Activity Guide.  See Pam’s Psychology Today Page

Bill Knaus, Ed.D., is the author of more than 20 books; one, "Overcoming Procrastination", was co-authored with Albert Ellis.

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