Recognizing Manipulation in Relationships: A Guide for Substance Users

By September 7, 2021Mental Health

Vulnerability is as attractive to manipulators as strength. Manipulative people feed off of their prey, often attacking a person’s self-confidence. People with substance use disorders (SUD) can be, at times, the manipulator. However, sometimes they are manipulated.

Discussing Manipulation

A client may not realize a friend, relative, or colleague is manipulating them. While they are in treatment, time spent discussing what manipulation is can guide your client to recognizing this toxic trait in others and themselves.

When They Are the Manipulator

Mutual respect is the foundation of a healthy relationship. Relationships built on manipulation fail to thrive. When manipulated, a person can feel hurt and betrayed by the manipulator. A person who controls others is seeking control over the person or a situation.

Not everyone who manipulates others is aware of their behaviors. As a result, people with a SUD often exhibit harmful behaviors. These unhealthy behaviorsbehaviors can result in unintentional manipulation. How does this happen?

Cravings and the effects of withdrawal can control the behaviors of substance users. Through your preferred form of therapy, discuss their relationships and if they may have controlled others.

Throughout this process, guide them to replace manipulative behaviors with healthy behaviors. Healthy alternatives increase the lines of communication and can help a client change how they communicate with others. Here are some options:

  • Calmly discuss why having something — a kitten, for example — means a lot to them.
  • Express feelings without harmful behavior or words. You can guide your client on navigating healthy expression without causing emotional or mental pain to another.
  • Sometimes clients feel they deserve to go on a trip or purchase a new gadget. Allow them to recognize why their loved one affirms their feelings yet remains on the opposite side of the conversation.

Once your client understands why behaviors or words can harm others, aid them in seeing how their relationships can improve. Explain that healthy conversation and non-coercive behaviors strengthen relationships.

When Guilt Drives Manipulation

Guilt is another driving force for manipulators. Ask your clients to recall a time they used a person’s past to get what they wanted. Did they bring up past failures or a decision their loved one regretted? If they say yes, they did indeed hold that moment over their loved one’s head.

Help them uncover why they felt using guilt was an appropriate means of communication. Those who use guilt as a tool to manipulate others may not understand how hurtful it is. Have your client engage in an assignment focusing on how they would feel if someone used guilt to control them. Once they complete the project, discuss how they can change their behavior going forward and perhaps how to recover from it.

What If Your Client is Being Manipulated?

Loved ones often take advantage of a substance user. For instance, if they realize your client is vulnerable because of their addiction, they can apply various forms of manipulation to achieve their goal even if it hurts the substance user in the process. In this case, your client can benefit from tips on standing up to a manipulator.

At first, your client may not recognize manipulation because manipulators are masters at hiding their behaviors through lying, making false accusations, and using your other’s weaknesses against them. A substance user is, for some, easy prey. A manipulator can insert themselves into your client’s life either before or after substance addiction treatment. There are several forms of manipulation, so your client needs to learn how to defend themselves against a person intent on using them.

A manipulator can enter your client’s life as a romantic partner or friend. At the beginning of the relationship, the manipulator will call, message, or text your client frequently. For example, suppose your client tells you they met someone new and spends a lot of time interacting with this person. If your client reveals their new friend or romantic partner insists on knowing everything your client is doing, ask them how they feel about the constant contact. Let them explain how often they are in touch and fear retaliation if they don’t respond. Then, help your client with healthy and safe skills that will remove this person from their life.

Your client can experience degrading manipulation from those they trust, whether at work or home. Strong and confident people attract manipulators because the manipulator feels superior when they diminish your client’s self-confidence. An ongoing discussion about building and maintaining self-esteem is beneficial. Clients who have self-confidence may not see when someone is undermining them, but you can point out the signs. Focus on a loved one’s behavior, especially those who say they love or admire your client but privately bring them down. Collaborate on a plan to either decrease or end any interaction with the manipulator.

Some methods include:

  • Setting boundaries with the manipulator. Let the manipulator know your client is under no obligation to interact outside of work, school, or family gatherings.
  • Or, if your client wishes, they can cut with the person entirely. Explore ways your client can comfortably end the relationship.
  • Self-care is essential to breaking the tie that connects your client with their manipulator. Have your client define what self-care means to them and encourage them to seek out activities that increase their physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Manipulators wear down their prey, so if your client is active in maintaining their overall health, they can confront their manipulator with a new sense of strength.
  • Teach your client that it is okay to confront their manipulator and acknowledge their behavior is unacceptable.

Manipulators prey on confident people so they can revel in breaking them down. Meanwhile, the manipulated are left feeling weak, guilty, and at fault. Whether a person is being manipulated or is the object of manipulation, there are healthy ways to end the cycle. Your role is to help identify how a manipulative client is hurting those around them; or how a client being manipulated can benefit from taking control of their lives. Often, this behavior stems from substance abuse. Individual and group therapy sessions are safe environments to discuss signs of manipulation, how to set boundaries, and ways to cut ties in toxic relationships. At Alta Centers, located in Los Angeles, we believe everyone deserves respect and love. That’s why our center offers a serene, private setting where clients can focus on correcting behaviors and healing. We know how substance addiction can change relationships and patterns, and we guide clients to finding their true selves. Call (888) 202-2583

 

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