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Far too often, addiction and abuse go hand in hand. Our addictions can make us abusive towards our loved ones, and we try to escape the pain of our abusiveness (or of being abused) with our addictions. We get caught in vicious cycles where we feel unable to escape both our addictions and the abuse we’re experiencing or perpetrating. Abuse, like addiction, can be inherited, and we develop family patterns of abuse that stay with us for generations. How can we break family patterns of abuse?

The first step to breaking any harmful pattern is to develop more mindfulness around it. Oftentimes we aren’t even aware when we’re being abusive or when we’re being abused. We know we’re in pain but we haven’t identified it as abuse yet. Abuse can be hard to identify and name, especially when it is verbal or emotional, and the signs are harder to pick up on than outright physical abuse. Many of us are in denial that we’re abusers or that we’re being abused. It causes us so much shame that we would rather avoid thinking about it. We choose silence, denial and avoidance over the difficult process of confronting the abuse in our families.

When we start to become mindful, we open the doors to healing. Being mindful of abuse means we start examining why it’s happening, what’s triggering it, what the root causes are, and how it manifests. What does abuse look like in your family? Is it comprised of control, manipulation, dishonesty, or cruelty? Does the abuser speak to the victim in disparaging, demeaning, hostile and belittling ways? Are you forbidden from doing the things you want to do? Are you isolated from your friends and other family members? Does the abuser threaten you with violence if you expose their secret? There are countless ways we can be abused, and being mindful of how it’s manifesting in our lives is a crucial first step in stopping the pattern from continuing.

The next step is to enlist help. Chances are we can’t break these patterns by ourselves, or we would have already. We probably already feel so much guilt, shame, regret and remorse around our abusiveness and/or being abused, but just like with an addiction, we feel powerless to stop our behaviors or free ourselves from the recurring, destructive cycles. Reach out to a therapist, spiritual guide, doctor or mentor. Seek out the help of your network, educate yourself on abuse, and take advantage of all the resources available in your community. Family patterns of abuse are painful and hard to break, but it is absolutely possible to break them, and it’s so necessary if we want to have a healthy family dynamic free from pain.

Riverside Recovery is committed to helping you get back the life you love. Our treatment programs include multiple forms of therapy, family workshops and mindfulness-based relapse prevention education. Call (800) 871-5440 for more information.