iStock_000011861028XSmallPart One: How and Why Addicts Do It

“How easy am I to manipulate?” It’s a good question and one that we all wind up asking ourselves. The answer can make a big difference when it comes to dealing with someone else’s addiction.

“Manipulate” is used as a pejorative term, but at its core it simply means making attempts to control or influence another person, or situation, to our advantage. That’s of course the aim of every publicist, PR rep, attorney, spin doctor, and advertising agency; they get paid because they’re good at it. We may not like what they do, but we admire them for their cleverness. As opposed to addict manipulation, which usually makes us feel cheated, ripped off, taken advantage of.

Nonetheless, an addict or alcoholic manipulates from the simplest of motives: A desire to get something they need and that you have the power to provide. As one put it: “If you had something I wanted, I thought you should just give it to me.” She felt no particular guilt or shame about the manipulation. From her viewpoint, it was mostly a matter of necessity.

Didn’t much matter whether the manipulation was directed at a loan from a family member or meds from an ER doctor. The reasoning remained constant. And it became so entrenched that manipulation is often included in descriptions of the ‘addictive personality’.

You’ll hear addicts and alcoholics described as expert manipulators but ordinarily they succeed not because of cleverness but because they’re bold and they’re persistent. Their targets often know or strongly suspect they’re being manipulated, but give in anyway because they can’t figure out how to avoid it.

To simplify: People may do things they don’t want to do for an addict because

  1. They’re made to feel uncomfortable saying no — we’re all vulnerable to that — or
  2. Because the addict has badgered them until their natural resistance has worn away.

It resembles the classic ‘hard sell’ approach, where the customer is made to actually feel bad about not buying the product, or the salesman is so stubbornly persistent that the customer eventually buys something just to get him to shut up and go away.

The antidote: First, learn how to say no and mean it without feeling you’ve done something wrong. Second, learn how to keep saying no in the face of repeated attempts to change your mind.

That’s among the things we’ll address in this series. More to come.


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