This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.
Partners, family members and friends often ring the Gambling Helpline (1800 858 858) wanting advice about how to talk to their loved ones about their gambling. Many times they want to talk about how to begin the conversation.
Other times the family member or significant other admits gambling has been an ongoing discussion topic that, from the caller’s point of view, goes nowhere.
Some of the common issues for the callers who have had several attempts at a conversation are:
The person who is gambling blocks the conversation:
‘As soon as I start talking about his gambling, he shuts down and won’t talk to me. I never get anywhere’.
The person who is the gambler gets angry:
‘We are all too scared to talk to her about her gambling because she goes ballistic whenever we mention it. We’ve learned just to accept it and not say anything’.
There may be good reasons for this kind of reaction, and it is all about the feelings that come up for a person who is having a gambling problem. Often when they are approached about gambling, they will have intense feelings of shame, embarrassment and frustration, which then cause them to either internalise (shut down and refuse to talk about it) or externalise (start becoming angry and aggressive).
Both of these communication styles are understandable ways of responding to something which is the source of such strong emotions, especially if they result in people leaving them alone afterwards and not raising the issue again. However, they also result in the issue not getting discussed. The person is often so overwhelmed with these emotions that they never have a conversation about their gambling, and nothing changes. As a loved one, you may not want to upset them further and may even be afraid about getting the same response next time.
When a person with gambling problems has a realisation about the magnitude of the impacts of their gambling on themselves and those around them they can become distressed. This distress is often fuelled by shame, guilt and frustration at not being able to stop gambling.
People are much less likely to have an open conversation when they are feeling cornered and ashamed – they will be overwhelmed and likely not be able to take anything in and think clearly about their need to begin to acknowledge their gambling problems.
One way of managing this issue is to try and engage with the person in a way that helps them feel calm and understood.
Here are a few tips about starting the conversation with a loved one who you are concerned about:
Write down some points that you want to discuss beforehand. That way if you become upset or emotional you can refer back to them to make sure you are getting your point across.
Choose a quiet environment to talk to them about their gambling – somewhere you are unlikely to be disturbed and where they feel comfortable.
Instead of telling them what you think, ask a lot of questions about their gambling. Try to get a sense of what it is like for them and what it is they are getting from gambling.
Acknowledge this conversation may be emotional for both of you.
Avoid criticisms or accusations – your aim is to get your loved one to talk about their gambling and figure out themselves what needs to change.
If you have any questions about this approach or if you would like some further advice or support from a gambling counsellor, please give us a call on 1800 858 858.