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Loved Ones of Addicts May Also Need Help Saying No

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I truly believe that we teach other people how to treat us. The way people behave with us is very often the direct result of how we treat ourselves and how we choose to show up in the world.

For example, are you assertive with clear boundaries? Do you make a point of putting yourself first and practicing healthy self-care? Do you maintain solid self-respect in spite of what may be going on in your life?

Or, do you allow others to intimidate and bully you? Do you too easily slip into fear mode when you're anxious -- particularly in situations that seem out of your control? Do you "put up and shut up," just to keep the peace?

If you find yourself being manipulated by a loved one with an addiction, you'll need to ask yourself why you're allowing this to happen. That will be your first step toward stopping it.

One of my favourite sayings comes from Eleanor Roosevelt, who so aptly said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." When you choose to put someone else's needs ahead of your own on a consistent basis, you allow that person to manipulate you -- and you are indeed accepting that your needs are inferior to theirs.

Why Addicts Don't Want to Stop Using

Regardless of the addictive behaviour, those who choose to stay in active addiction do so because they're frightened and don't want to face life without their favourite buffer. This was definitely my frame of mind many years ago when I was making the decision to choose recovery from my addiction. I'll never forget how scared I was at the time -- and remembering that fear helps me understand and feel compassion for addicts who are still in the throes of their addiction.

Manipulation is second nature for addicts because they have little desire to let go of what they consider to be their 'best friend.' This manipulation shows up in many ways, most especially their way of blaming others for their addiction. But the truth is that addicts make their own choices.

It's not uncommon for addicts to say and do hurtful things to those closest to them as a way of trying to keep them under their control. This is just another avoidance tactic, used so that they don't have to face up to their own dysfunctional way of living. Unless challenged, this behaviour is virtually guaranteed to continue -- you are, in fact, enabling their addiction by not asserting self-respecting boundaries for yourself.

It's important to remember that enabling is not healthy for anyone, including the addict. Loving someone with an addiction means challenging yourself to do the next right thing to help them take responsibility for themselves.

What Happens When We Enable an Addict?

Past clients of mine allowed their addicted adult child, Jessica (not her real name), to live at home without paying rent or doing household chores. When she was angry, Jessica was known to destroy her parents' home and belongings. She manipulated them to think that she was unemployable and not able to work, but the truth was that she just wanted to drink, smoke pot, and snort cocaine while living with no responsibilities under their roof.

Jessica continuously demanded money from her parents, going so far as to shame them by telling them what horrible parents they were and threatening to kill herself if they didn't comply with her demands. Her parents were kind, gentle people who just wanted everyone to get along. Not knowing what else to do -- and in their efforts to keep the peace -- they gave in to this manipulation over and over in spite of knowing that Jessica would continue to use the money to buy drugs and alcohol.

Essentially, these parents spent far too many years financially supporting their daughter's addictions and continuing to put up with her disrespectful and disruptive behaviour. There were never any consequences for her, regardless of her actions, with few if any expectations of her.

And Jessica continued to live up to the precise minimal standard her parents set for her.

If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes

When addicts are not given consequences for their abusive behaviour, they are also not given any incentive to stop. Ultimately, this results in the addiction continuing for quite some time. There are many addicts like Jessica who are regularly enabled by their loved ones, while just attempting to keep the peace or, at the very least, reduce the chaos. But not addressing the bullying and allowing the manipulation to continue perpetuates a harmful cycle that all too often becomes extremely toxic.

Enabling an addict is never a loving act. It is neither wise nor helpful to simply put up with the status quo when that only continues the dysfunction. Instead, loved ones must do everything in their power to see that the addicts in their lives receive the help they need so they can begin making different choices.

By setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries with the addict in your life, you are demonstrating respect for yourself and love for your addicted loved one -- and this is exactly what's needed in order for recovery to have a chance.

If you're not sure how to change your enabling patterns, please consider reaching out for help. Once you have a better understanding of the cycle of abuse and manipulation, you can begin to remove the blocks that are holding you back from behaving in healthier ways -- and assisting the addict in your life to do the same.

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