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Does the Addict in Your Life Respect You? How to Make That Your New Reality

During the many years I’ve been a therapist, I’ve often observed how we teach others how to treat us. This is borne out of stories shared by clients – and in my life as well. How others behave toward us usually starts with how we behave toward ourselves and how self-aware we are in our own lives.

The way you manage yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually shows whether you are maintaining a healthy self-care practice for yourself.

Addiction and Manipulation

A good question to ask yourself frequently is about whether your self-respect remains a priority, in spite of difficult experiences and challenging times. Are you able to set – and maintain – your personal boundaries when necessary?

The ways that other people treat us can be as diverse as respecting us and honoring our boundaries – or they can take the completely opposite form, which can manifest when they habitually treat us poorly and take advantage of us. As loved ones of addicts, it is important for us to understand that this is a decision that is completely within the realm of our control – when we choose to look at it that way.

When we love an addict, this choice point can go in a variety of negative directions. For example, perhaps we’ll make the decision to give in to our fears and anxieties when we come up against something we don’t know how to handle. Or maybe we’re just accustomed to “putting up and shutting up” because we don’t want to rock the boat any further – essentially giving in, against our own better judgment, because the very idea of any kind of conflict feels too overwhelming.

Addiction and manipulation generally go hand-in-hand. Addicts basically want what they want when they want it. And if they feel that you’re standing in their way – by not giving them the funds necessary to continue their destructive behaviors, for example – they’ll attempt to manipulate you into giving them what they believe they need at that moment.

If you’re a loved one and have allowed yourself to give in to that kind of manipulation, it will be crucial for you to ask yourself why you’re doing that – as well as how you can stop participating in this dysfunctional dance with the addict you love.

As Eleanor Roosevelt so aptly said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” But feeling inferior is essentially what you are consenting to when you consistently put your addicted loved one’s wants ahead of your own needs – and it won’t take long before you feel resentful and not very important. You’ll be sending a signal to the addict in your life that it’s okay to manipulate you, because they’ll see that you’re allowing them to come before your own self-care.

Why Addicts Don’t Want to Stop Using

People who continue to use addictive behaviors of any kind do so because they feel very frightened of facing life without it. Nearly 30 years ago, when I was coming face-to-face with my own decision to shift from active addiction into active recovery, I remember feeling terrified of giving up ‘the devil I knew’ for the one that I feared might very possibly leave me feeling empty and bereft. Because I’ve lived through this myself, I understand and have compassion for addicts who make the choice to remain in active addiction longer than they may actually want to.

Addicts routinely manipulate because they don’t want to give up what they consider to be their “best friend.” As loved ones know all too well, manipulation comes in many forms, including blaming you for their addiction, saying and doing hurtful things to you as a way to control you, acting out their rage in your presence, and any other dysfunctional behaviors to avoid facing what they are actually doing to themselves and those who love them.

Because I’ve lived through this myself, I understand and have compassion for addicts who make the choice to remain in active addiction longer than they may actually want to.-Candace Plattor

When we don’t learn to set and maintain self-respecting, assertive boundaries and instead let the addict in our lives get away with this sort of behavior, then we are basically giving them the green light to continue both their self-destructive ways and their poor behavior toward us. We are teaching others that it’s okay to disrespect us.

In short, we get what we’re willing to tolerate.

I once worked with a family who allowed their addicted adult child – we’ll call her Kerry – to live at home, rent free. Not only did she have no financial obligations, but she also didn’t contribute in any other way, including household chores.  She even destroyed parts of her parents’ home and some of their belongings in fits of anger, while at the same time convincing them that she wasn’t capable of working and was therefore unemployable. She was essentially allowed to continue with all of her many addictions – drinking, smoking pot, snorting cocaine, and becoming actively rageful – while living under their roof.

As well, Kerry constantly demanded money from them. Initially her manipulation took the form of shaming, by telling them what horrible parents they were. When Kerry deemed it necessary, she upped the ante by threatening to kill herself if they didn’t comply with her demands for the money she needed to feed her addiction.

Kerry’s parents were kind, good-natured people who didn’t want to experience conflict and chaos. All they wanted was to have harmony in their home. Because they didn’t know what to do, they inevitably gave in to their daughter’s controlling tactics in an attempt to keep the peace. But this had exactly the opposite effect as they allowed the struggle and turmoil to continue in their home. They gave Kerry money, month after month, year after year – which basically ensured that her addiction would continue – and they chose to keep the bar set very low by not expecting much, if anything, from her.

What Happens When We Enable an Addict?

Kerry’s parents enabled her for a number of years because they were afraid to challenge her. They merely tolerated her poor behavior toward them. Addicts need to be held accountable for their actions – and Kerry’s parents did not establish consequences for her destructive lifestyle. Therefore, Kerry inevitably lived up to the very little they expected of her.

When addicts live in ways that allow them to evade their responsibility for their own life and avoid any consequences for their poor choices and behaviors, they will continue to use, because there are simply no incentives to stop. And this is likely to continue for years, because addiction is a progressive condition – left untreated, it just gets worse and worse.

If you are a loved one who is allowing yourself to be manipulated rather than establishing boundaries and consequences, you’re enabling the addiction to continue. Addicts take full advantage of that, as we saw in Kerry’s case. How can that be seen as loving toward the addict?

What enablers really need to understand is that their enabling only meets their own needs, not the needs of the addict they love. Those who regularly enable are people-pleasers who don’t like chaos and conflict, so they appease the addict by putting up with disrespectful behavior in their attempt to have peace. But the calm is always short-lived because the addict will continue to be disruptive and manipulative in order to maintain their dysfunctional lifestyle – a lifestyle that is very often funded by the enablers.

Addicts must give up their addiction in order to begin their healing. In order for the addict to make that choice, life as they’ve know it must become much more uncomfortable for them. This means that the people who love them need to say NO to the manipulation and start saying YES to making healthy choices.

If you find yourself living the same nightmare as Kerry’s parents, consider reaching out for help for yourself to learn how to effectively deal with manipulation – and to discover what may be preventing you from reacting in more advantageous ways with the addict you love.

Images Courtesy of iStock

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