I am a firm believer that we teach other people how to treat us.
The way people treat us generally has its roots in the way we treat ourselves as well as how we decide to show up in the world. Are we assertive and clear with our boundaries, or do we allow other people to push us around? Do we practice healthy self-care, even while we may be caregivers to family members? Is our self-respect non-negotiable, even when we are experiencing difficulties in our lives?
Or—do we allow anxiety and fear to rule us when we encounter situations that we simply can’t control? Do we go along to get along, giving in to what other people want just so that we can avoid conflict?
If you are the loved one of someone with an addiction and you are allowing yourself to be manipulated, it’s important to ask yourself why you’re doing that—and to be as honest as you can in your response. One of my favourite sayings comes from Eleanor Roosevelt, who so aptly told us, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” When we choose to feel inferior to someone else—when we put someone else’s needs ahead of our own on a fairly consistent basis rather than take care of ourselves, we act in ways that allow that person to manipulate us.
WHY ADDICTS DON’T WANT TO STOP USING
People who choose to continue to stay in active addiction—with whatever addictive behaviour they’re using—are basically terrified of giving that up and facing life without it. I remember feeling exactly this way many years ago, when I was considering shifting from active addiction into active recovery. It was a very scary time for me, one that I’ll never forget—which helps me feel compassion for addicts who are still in the throes of the addiction.
But holding on to something unhealthy is not good for anyone.
Addicts will consistently manipulate in order to not have to let go of what they consider to be their ‘best friend.’ Some of the ways they’ll do this will be to blame you for their addiction—which is never true because addicts choose their own behaviours. They might say and do very hurtful things to you in order to keep you under their control—anything to not have to face up to their own very dysfunctional way of living. If you’re not challenging them by learning how to set—and maintain—assertive, self-respecting boundaries, then you are essentially enabling them to continue their addiction.
How can that ever be healthy for anybody?
One family I worked a while ago with permitted an addicted adult child, Jessica, to live at home. This young woman paid no rent, did no household chores—and sometimes destroyed her parents’ home and belongings when she was angry. They had allowed her to convince them that she was unemployable and simply unable to work, while she drank, smoked pot, and snorted cocaine under their roof.
Jessica demanded money from both her mother and father non-stop, at first shaming them by telling them what horrible parents they were and then threatening to kill herself if they didn’t give money to her. Her parents were kind, gentle people who wanted everyone to just get along. They felt bewildered, and would invariably give in to this kind of manipulation just to keep the peace in their home, even though they knew she would continue to buy more alcohol, pot, and cocaine. They kept giving her money month after month, year after year, for a very long time—essentially paying for her addiction to continue while requiring very little from her.
In my next post, I’ll go into more detail about what happens when we enable an addict.