manipulative-teenagerThose suffering from addiction commonly resort to manipulation as a communication style. They lie, blame others for their problems, and do anything they can to get people to leave them alone so they can continue to use drugs or alcohol. Through manipulation, they can make their addiction seem like your fault.

As you support your addicted loved one in his or her recovery, it is important that you both learn to recognize manipulation in your own behavior and in each other’s. Consider the following behaviors manipulators engage in:

  • Bending the truth to seek sympathy
  • Using another’s weaknesses against her (for example, asking favors of someone who you know has a hard time saying ‘no’)
  • Routinely criticizing another’s appearance, behavior, feelings, or values
  • Not allowing a person time to think through a response (insisting on an immediate decision)
  • Flattering a person so it will be harder for him to say ‘no’
  • Showing extremes of behavior: being polite with one person and rude to another, perhaps in an attempt to pit people against each other
  • Saying something and later denying it
  • Turning a person’s words against her
  • Using guilt trips to control someone
  • Diminishing another’s problems or difficulties

The easiest way to tell whether you are being manipulated by someone is to notice how that person makes you feel. If your interaction leaves you feeling confused, bullied, used, ashamed, or wounded, you have been manipulated. If someone regularly makes you feel badly about yourself, you are the victim of manipulation.

To protect yourself from manipulation, recognize your basic human rights: to be treated with respect, to express your feelings and needs, to set your own priorities, to say ‘no’ without feeling guilty, to protect yourself from physical, mental, or emotional harm, and to create your own healthy and happy life.

If you are in the middle of an interaction that feels manipulative, you might try responding to the other person with the following questions (taken from the Psychology Today article listed below). If these questions don’t spark self-awareness, you might need to end the conversation and seek support to better deal with the manipulator.

  • “Does this seem reasonable to you?”
  • “Does what you want from me sound fair?”
  • “Do I have a say in this?”
  • “Are you asking me or telling me?”
  • “So, what do I get out of this?”

Resources like Al-Anon can put you in touch with other families and friends of addicts. If your loved one is a resident at St. Joseph Institute, you can join our Family Program to gain insight into how to handle manipulation and how to recognize your own manipulative tendencies. Trading manipulation for honest dialogue will promote a healthy family dynamic and better support your loved one’s recovery.

How to Recognize and Handle Manipulative Relationships.” Psychology Today.
How to Recognize the 8 Signs of Emotional Manipulation.” livebold&bloom.

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feelings8At St. Joseph Institute, we teach the four components of the True Self: feelings, reasoning mind, intuitive mind, and will. A genuine connection with our True Self creates the basis for intimacy, the practice of getting to know others and allowing them to know you. In a series of four posts, we will discuss each component of the True Self and how each fosters or hinders intimacy.

Feelings, or emotions, are the first component of the True Self. All feelings—no matter how “good” or “bad” they seem—are healthy IF they are acknowledged and used to direct us toward, rather than away from, relationship. Feelings guide our actions. Used properly, feelings can enhance intimacy by motivating us to connect and share with others.

When negative emotions rise up, they can impair intimacy; they can make us imagine an unbridgeable distance between ourselves and others. When we get stuck in these unhealthy feelings for too long, they affect our relationships in several ways.

  • Fear can prevent us from engaging in a relationship or cause us to exert too much control in a relationship
  • Bitterness and resentment can cause us to be suspicious of others, judging them unfairly
  • Anger can foster intimidation and prevent others from getting close to us
  • Guilt or shame can cause us to hide ourselves from others

When we sit in fear, bitterness, anger, or guilt, we will surely find intimacy difficult if not impossible. At this point, it may seem healthier to rid ourselves of emotion altogether; unfortunately, this drive to stop feeling is what leads to addiction. Addiction is an effective escape plan, and recovery leaves us exposed to that undertow of emotions that can so easily pull us in and drown us.

The good news is that the cycle of unhealthy emotions can be broken and that healing can occur. It’s hard work. It may require professional help. It will probably make you feel worse before it makes you feel better. But it will be worth the effort. Why? Because in the end we will see that there are only two feelings: fear and love. Fear leads to separation. Love leads to connection. No matter what we feel, we can use it to separate or to connect.

When we choose to connect with others, we do the following:

  • Identify their needs and our needs
  • Provide guidance, security, and protection
  • Share thoughts, feelings, and experiences
  • Give support and encouragement
  • Challenge things that seem unhealthy or unproductive
  • Respect healthy boundaries
  • Offer forgiveness
  • Help each other stay engaged during difficult times and trying issues
  • Work together to get a good outcome

No matter your emotional history, you can choose at any time to use any feelings to connect rather than to separate. Value your feelings, acknowledge them, and choose connection. Foster intimacy, and, when you’re feeling helpless or overwhelmed, intimacy will sustain you.


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self-destructiveWe all know that addicts engage in self-destructive behavior—their addiction is the most obvious way they attempt to harm themselves. But less obvious behaviors are also self-destructive, and when addicts—especially those in recovery—begin to engage frequently in these behaviors, you can be sure they are headed toward relapse.

Self-destructive behavior is caused by guilt and shame. An addict feels guilt for hurting loved ones and shame because he believes that he is fundamentally wrong or bad. In an attempt to suppress or ignore this painful belief, the addict rejects part of the self as “unacceptable.” The behaviors he must then adopt to manage the split self are often self-destructive.

Residents at St. Joseph Institute are taught to identify and counter their own self-destructive behavior patterns. As family members and friends of addicts, you will be better able to support your loved one’s recovery if you can learn to identify self-destructive behavior and lovingly confront it.

The most common types of self-destructive behavior include:

  • Rejecting others to protect from being rejected
  • Becoming emotionally dependent on others, looking to them for a sense of worth or security
  • Sabotaging possibilities for success
  • Expressing self-hatred
  • Attempting to be invisible
  • Hiding addiction
  • Acting carelessly or recklessly, putting oneself in harm’s way

Unfortunately, it is very easy to mask some types of self-destructive behavior with seemingly valid excuses. For example, an addict might habitually break off relationships with friends or lovers. Are the breakups legitimate? Is the addict simply searching for stronger and better relationships? Or is she engaging in self-destructive behavior based on a fear of rejection? In cases such as these, we have to rely on our observation, discernment, and communication to detect the truth.

If you witness what you think might be self-destructive behavior in your loved one, what should you do? Every situation and person is different, but here are a few guidelines to follow:

  1. Lovingly point out what you observe. Do not nag or criticize.
  2. Observe your loved one’s reaction to your words. Do not judge the reaction—just witness it. If the reaction is defensive, you have probably hit a tender spot.
  3. Do not get into an argument about who is right or wrong. Trust that your loved one has heard your input and will process it on his or her own time.
  4. If the self-destructive behavior you have observed is violating your boundaries, express your concern, set a ground rule, and stick to it. See our posts on enabling and boundaries for further guidance.

Remember that, ultimately, your addicted loved one’s self-destructive behavior is his or her own responsibility. You can observe, love, and offer input—but when a person chooses to continue on the self-destructive path, the best you can do is to practice healthy detachment, protect yourself, and allow the person to learn from his or her mistakes.

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