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Manipulation & Addiction - Identifying and Avoiding Manipulation

Manipulation comes in many forms and is used by all kinds of people for many reasons. Emotional manipulation in particular is a strong point in people who have some form of addiction.

When dealing with an addict’s manipulative behaviour, it is important to bear in mind that addiction causes people to act outside of reason and logic.

This happens when the addiction has become so powerful that it has gained control over the person’s body and mind. Without the substance, life becomes increasingly difficult to manage and they soon discover ways to support their habit.

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Emotional Manipulation Tactics

A person who is addicted will continuously use emotional manipulation tactics in order to obtain the means to their next fix. Family and close friends are the first to fall victim to these tactics, usually as a result of having the intention to help the person who is addicted.

Any person that is closely involved in the life of an addict must quickly learn how to identify manipulative behaviour. Being able to identify manipulation is imperative as it helps one find a compassionate yet assertive way to respond to the behaviour.

Actively responding to an addict’s unreasonable behaviour may be difficult and can be frightening at first. However, it is necessary as it can prevent consequences that are detrimental to both the addict and the person involved.

5 ways to identify manipulative behaviour and how to deal with them


1. The need for control and power

An addict must always feel in control. The desire for power over people and situations is a way for them to compensate for the internal lack of control that they are experiencing through their addiction.

When an addict’s sense of control is jeopardised, they will generally take drastic measures in order to quickly regain the upper hand. This type of manipulation can be identified as:


  • extreme anger and rage
  • violent displays such as slamming doors and throwing objects
  • isolating themselves to avoid further confrontation
  • silent treatment
  • threatening to self-harm


These are tactics used to frighten you and prevent you from confronting them again in the future.

The best way to respond to this type of behaviour is to not retaliate while the situation is heated but to rather wait it out until the atmosphere is neutral.

Once everyone involved has calmed down you can approach the topic with suggestions on how to handle emotions in a more reasonable manner. When a person is calm, they are more likely to take into consideration the way you feel.

2. Unreasonable requests or demands

An addict will often ask you to do them a favour that is unreasonable, makes you feel uncomfortable or may even be dangerous.

They will often try and convince you that what they are asking you to do is “not that bad” or that your unease is just an overreaction on your behalf. However, they are still unwilling to do it themselves.

There is no reason that you should do anything that you are uncomfortable with and the best way to respond to this situation is to turn the spotlight back onto them. Ask questions that are probing and will be uncomfortable or difficult for the addict to answer.

Question such as:


  • Do you really expect me to do this?
  • What will I gain from this?
  • Do you think that I would ask you to do this for me?


These questions may be difficult to answer and will potentially prompt some self-awareness. Furthermore, it will show that you are not blind to their tactics, which will hopefully encourage them to avoid future attempts at manipulating you.

3. Empty promises

One of the most prominent behaviours of an addict is to consistently make promises that they are not able to keep. Think about how many times you have heard the following:


  • “I promise I will never do it again”
  • “I am clean, I promise!”
  • “I am a changed man/woman”
  • “I will try harder, I promise”
  • “I need money for bread, I promise its not for anything else”


An addict will make these promises countless times and deep down you want to believe them. However, as easily as these promises are made they are also broken.

Responding to this kind of behaviour can be tricky. You do not want to remind the person of every time they have failed to keep a promise, but you must make it clear that their promises are not trustworthy.

Explain that you would really like to have faith in their promise but you have been betrayed many times before and you don’t want to get hurt again. Call it tough love, but pointing out that you have been let down numerous times may encourage them to try harder.

4. Not taking responsibility for their choices and actions

Addicts will often play the victim. They will find any way to make someone else responsible for their unfortunate circumstances. They do this by:


  • Pointing out how fortunate you are compared to them
  • Blaming their parents and upbringing for their addiction
  • Blaming genetics for their addiction
  • Blaming failed relationships for their pain and “need to use”


An easy way to respond to this manipulation is to, for example, simply ask for a reasonable and truthful explanation for the fact that it is due to their upbringing that they are facing their current circumstances. Ask “has anyone else made your choices for you, or have you made all your own choices?”

5. Guilt trips

A master manipulator will know all your weak points and will deliberately poke around at them. They will identify and point out things that you are insecure about and will make verbalise them.

This will amplify your feelings of guilt, giving the addict the perfect opportunity to manipulate you into ultimately providing them with what they desire. They will:


  • Expect things from you that are unrealistic and will threaten to relapse should you fail
  • Use words like “if you really loved me you will…”
  • Remind you of all the times that you were wrong or made a mistake in order to break your character
  • Tell you that they are hungry and need money to buy food


Knowing and trusting in yourself enough to know what your values are in this situation is important. To have the strength to not allow someone’s words to break you down is vital in preventing them from manipulating you with feelings of guilt.

Diffuse the situation by saying “I know I was wrong and have made mistakes but I am actively working on not doing it again.”

Being closely involved with an addict can be extremely challenging and exhausting. Because you care about the person who is addicted, you are more likely to fall victim to their manipulation tactics.

However, it is extremely important to differentiate between helping an addict and enabling them. Helping an addict may involve some genuine tough love, some hard truth and learning to say no when you feel it is the right thing to do.

Enabling the addict involves making excuses for them, covering up for them, facilitating their use by providing transport or money and even lying for them to protect them. This is unhealthy behaviour and is detrimental to both parties involved.

Ways to avoid manipulation

Avoiding manipulation is the first step in helping your loved one. Other ways to avoid being manipulated:

• Keep your distance

Identify addictive behaviours early in the relationship and choose to keep your distance from them. As far as possible, avoid getting closely involved from the beginning.

• Avoid self-blame

It is not your fault that a person you love is addicted. It is also not your responsibility to help them out of their addiction. You can provide moral support, but the addict must take ownership of his choices and consequences.

• Learn to say no

Saying no in a kind, respectful manner helps you establish boundaries. This makes it clear that you are not open to manipulation and may encourage the addict to avoid future attempts.

Step Away Rehabilitation Centre South Africa

Always remember that regardless of how much you care and want to help, you are a human being with basic human rights. Knowing these rights and holding firmly onto them will help you establish and maintain your boundaries against manipulation.

For more information about our recovery programme or rehabilitation centre, please contact us.

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