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Dealing with a manipulative and controlling relationship is bad enough, but what happens when the person doing the bad behavior is also dealing with addiction? What if the addiction is the reason for the emotionally abusive behavior?

It’s important to understand your role in an addict’s life. Addiction exacerbates bad behavior. Some addicts don’t do bad behavior when they’re not participating in their addiction. Some do.

Where you are in all this is what makes the difference between feeling okay in a relationship with an addict, feeling trapped in one, or realizing you have no choice but to leave.

(The following podcast transcript has been modified for easier readability and to benefit the Deaf and hard of hearing)

Always pick your battles wisely. I’ve started saying that at the beginning of every episode now along with my other disclaimer of seeking a professional for your mental health and well-being.

I say that so that you make the right decisions if the person you’re dealing with is over the top aggressive or hurtful. You might not be able to handle someone like that. So only pick the battles that you can handle.

Sometimes you have to pick the battles that you can’t handle too because when you have to make changes, there may be no other way to make them. Those battles you may think you can’t handle, but quite frankly, if you’ve been dealing with an emotionally abusive person, you may not realize just how much you can handle. In that type of relationship, you’ve already handled a heck of a lot. You’ve already gone through the wringer.

If you know anyone that is abusive toward you, then you know what I mean. So give yourself some credit that you have a very strong spirit and that you will get through this. And you will see the other side of this.

How do I know that? I don’t. But if you don’t hear it often enough from me and others, you may never believe that you will get through it. I need you to believe it. I need you to believe that you will see the other side of whatever you’re going through and it will be good when all is said and done. You will get through this and the fog will lift. Your head will clear and you will feel better again.

Remember that.

If you don’t believe you will get through it, then at least you hearing those words from me is a lot better than some of the stuff that emotionally abusive people want you to believe, that’s for sure, so you need to hear the other side of this. The opposite of hurtful and manipulative behavior is kind, supportive, and caring behavior. That’s the kind of supportive people you want in your life.

It’s important to surround yourself with people that support and love you, that care about you, and want you to be happy. If you’re surrounded by people that you believe love you, but they don’t make you feel loved or supported or cared for, then you may not be choosing the right people to hang around with. Or you may have no choice but to be around those people.

But this is why you need to be around people that are the opposite of what you usually deal with. You need supportive, kind, caring, loving, compassionate people in your life to offset any abusive or hurtful behavior from someone else. Remember that too. In fact, take an assessment of your life and make sure that you are at least finding a balance of the right people. You want an abundance of supportive, loving, caring people around you so that you aren’t convinced that you’re a bad person.

Those that don’t have your best interest in mind will tell you that you’re responsible for all the problems and that all you need to do is change who you are in order for everyone to be happy.

If that’s all you hear, you’ll start to believe it. You’ll start to believe that you are the bad person and you are the one that’s at fault for everything. You’ll feel guilty and you’ll feel sad. You’ll feel confused because you’re trying.

You will feel all these things if you rely on selfish people that don’t seem to have your best interest in mind. If you rely on others to define your worth and your loveability, choose healthy people that care for you and want to see you happy.

If you have a reliance on hurtful or selfish people to tell you your worth and loveability, and they’re making you believe the opposite of feeling worthy and lovable, then you’re listening to the wrong people. Or at least you’re believing the wrong people. You’re also believing the wrong things about yourself.

So again, take an inventory of the people in your life and your support system, and make sure it’s at least 50/50 if not greater than that. The greater side being more positive and supportive. You need to hear the positive stuff about you. You need to hear that you are lovable, you are worthy, and you deserve to be happy.

You deserve to be treated with respect and you deserve to be treated with kindness. Every episode I tell you that. That needs to help balance out what you may be dealing with. So whatever you’re dealing with, remember those words because you need to latch on to something that helps you, not hurts you. You need to latch on to things that are empowering, not disempowering. You need more of the things that are healthy, not unhealthy.

Let’s get into the main topic today: addiction in manipulative relationships. You may or may not be in a relationship with an addict, but there are a lot of behaviors that come out when someone’s addicted that are very similar to someone who’s not addicted.

My experience with addiction has to do with my upbringing. I have not studied this professionally but I know a lot of it experientially, so what you’re going to hear today is my knowledge of it from a firsthand perspective. I experienced it not only in my upbringing but in my marriage as well. My ex-wife’s addiction was a trigger for me to become emotionally abusive and be a person that guilted her and one that gave her that look, and I also gave her the silent treatment and just made her feel bad.

if this is the first time you’ve heard this show, yes, I was emotionally abusive in my previous relationships. I admit it. I’m very transparent about it ruining all my relationships. Healing from that way of being was a very enlightening and painful process because it meant changing who I was almost down to the core. I really had to dig in there and get very clear about what I was doing and how I was making my partners in life feel over the years.

Once I figured out my abusive behavior, it was the lightbulb moment that changed my life. The realization took me in a whole new direction. All the burden of being judgmental and wanting to control disappeared. It felt like a relief to me.

When I was emotionally abusive, it was a heavy burden on me (it was worse for the partners in my life of course). I experienced the shift from being abusive and selfish, to being supportive, kind, and respectful. That was like installing new software into my brain. I didn’t know what life was like without the desire and the motivation to control others.

It was a massive paradigm shift for me. Before this change, I felt like if I didn’t control my partner and make them feel bad if they didn’t do what I wanted, I would be unhappy. Instead of caring about them enough to stop being hurtful, I kept being selfish and wanted them to change who they were to please me and meet my sky-high standards. Without control, I felt like I couldn’t be happy.

I don’t like that I was once an emotionally abusive person. At the same time, you may not get the perspective that you’re getting now had I not crossed that chasm into healing. That doesn’t mean I’m fully healed. I’m not here to tell you that I’m perfect. I still have to work on things. But it’s a completely different set of variables now. Those old patterns show up and when they do, I catch them and tell myself, “Wait, I don’t want to do that. That’s old behavior. I have to stop doing that. I have to figure that out. I have to reflect on that. I have to heal that inside me.”

I tell you all this so you won’t be surprised when you hear me talk about behaviors from my past that I’m not proud of.

Back to today’s topic, I want to give you my experiential understanding of all of this. I have never experienced a true addiction myself unlike my stepfather who is currently still addicted to alcohol. My ex-wife, I don’t know if she is addicted anymore, but she was addicted to sweets and was an emotional eater when we were married.

Addictions can play a massive role in manipulation and abuse on both sides, but I’m not here to talk about the side that I was on with the addict. I’m here to talk about what somebody asked me in a private Facebook group that I run about addiction and manipulation. They asked, “What role does addiction play for someone who manipulates or does emotionally abusive behavior?”

When you are dealing with someone who’s a true addict, the addiction almost always if not always, overpowers their ability to make healthy decisions.

Let me rephrase that: When you are with an addict, their addiction overrides almost everything else in their life. Someone who requires a substance or a form of recreation or some vice they keep going back to over and over again, whether they take drugs, drink alcohol, watch porn, or gamble, will often prioritize their addiction over everyone and everything else.

This means they may not stop even though they can see that you’re hurting and they know you want them to stop. They might know that you love them very much, and they may even know they’re hurting themselves, but they still may never stop. The addiction is so strong that it keeps pulling them back to it so they can’t stop.

If you’ve never been addicted, you may not understand that. You might ask, “Why can’t you just stop the behavior? Why can’t you just consciously stop what you’re doing?”

I remember I used to have this belief that if you don’t want to smoke, why go to the store and buy cigarettes? That was my belief: Just stop going to the store so you won’t buy any more cigarettes. I thought if you don’t leave the house, then how can you get smokes?

An addiction like cigarette smoking, for example, can be so compelling that the addict won’t have any issues walking uphill three miles in the snow to a store to get their addiction met.

It’s that comment you may have heard your grandparents say: “We walked three miles uphill both ways to school and we never complained.”

That’s pretty much what an addict goes through, except they weren’t obligated by something like school. They were pulled in as if they were hypnotized to be unable to curb the craving they have. Addicts will do anything they can to get their addiction met.

There are chemical addictions where the body gets addicted. That’s very hard to stop because the body craves it. Then there are emotional addictions where the emotions that you’re experiencing are too painful or too intense to feel, so you stuff them down with some sort of addiction.

I’m speaking very generically here. I know there are other ways to look at this but I can look at something like alcohol consumption for example. A lot of people drink and continue to drink because of some emotional thing they’re dealing with. Or they started drinking because of some emotional thing and it became a physical addiction.

Whatever trauma, neglect, abuse, or emotional event they experienced when they were younger that they can’t figure out how to heal from or how to process or get past it now, they will use alcohol or whatever substance or activity they do in order to mask what they’re feeling. The addiction can be so strong that it will have an effect on the person’s logic and behavior.

I remember having a conversation with my stepfather once. We were at an airport. I don’t know what came over me at the time, but I just asked him the question, “Why don’t you stop drinking?”

That’s a valid question. It’s something I never asked him before. I’m not sure what state of mind I was in at that time but I guess we were having an open conversation. He replied with a comment I’ll never forget. He said, “It’s just too late for me.”

When I heard that I thought, “No, it’s not too late. You can stop any time.” He said, “No, it’s just too late. I can’t stop.”

And that was it. That was the only time I ever talked about alcohol with my stepfather. From that point on, I didn’t know what to do. I was pretty young so I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t know how to respond any further, but it was clear to me that his drinking wasn’t going to stop and that it overrode any logic, empathy, or sympathy. It overrode any behavior toward anyone else because he had to make that the priority.

These addictions become the priority in some people’s lives. When they’re addicted, they are going to do and say things that are hurtful and manipulative, they’re going to lie. They’re going to lie a lot! Some addicts, I’m not saying all addicts, are like this. But when you’re in a manipulative or emotionally abusive situation, the addiction exacerbates their behavior. It’s almost inevitable that you’re going to get worse behavior when they’re addicted.

In other words, a person might be emotionally abusive without an addiction. But when they have an addiction, they are likely more compelled to behave worse than they do. The reason is because they have a lot going on under the hood. They have a lot going on underneath where they’re trying to mask any pain and not feel any hurt from the past or deal with any anger, trauma, or abuse issues. They’re already trying their best to do that but.

When they’re abusive toward you, it’s almost always because they don’t want to deal with what’s going on inside of them or they don’t know how to deal with what’s going on inside of them. Then you add the addiction on top of their bad behavior, it just 10 times their behavior. It multiplies. Their addiction makes it very difficult for you because now any sense of control that they had sort of goes out the window. When you’re addicted, the one thing you don’t have is control. An alcoholic or someone that takes drugs, when they get drunk or high, it’s harder for them to control themselves.

That’s important to know because if they’re already emotionally abusive toward you, when they’re not under the influence of something, they probably have some sense of control, even though they’re being hurtful. Meaning, they probably hold back some of the stuff they want to say or do. But when they’re drunk or high, they might not hold back. They might actually go further than you think they would because they’ve lost their filter.

They may not be able to filter their own behavior while under the influence. Control of their own behavior is lost. Their control “mechanism” is shut down.

I’m only talking about certain people of course. I’m not saying every addict does this, I’m just saying addictions can exacerbate emotionally abusive behavior because the control mechanisms are taken away. When the control mechanisms are taken away, anything can happen. They can say anything, they can do anything, they could get worse all because they don’t have the ability to self-control.

When you have somebody that already has a lot of pain, anger, or unresolved issues inside of them, they’re already dealing with that. So when they drink, those feelings can be amplified and they will be hard to deal with. Most people don’t want to be around people in that state.

There are people who get drunk or high that are okay to be around. Maybe they’re funny, maybe they go to sleep. I know I can’t get past a second drink myself because I get tired. I just go to sleep! But somebody who continues to drink or continues to take any type of substance that alters their state, if they continue to do that, what’s going to happen is they’re going to be so altered that all the roadblocks are out. They can sometimes become a nightmare.

With my stepfather, his problem was and still is alcohol. When he’s not on alcohol, he is a perfectly normal, caring, loving, and generous person. This is one of the hard things about some addicts is that they can be healthy in every other respect except for the addiction. They can be caring, supportive, loving, and generous. It’s very hard to not like these people. But when they’re drinking or getting high, or whatever their addiction is, they change.

This isn’t necessarily exactly the same for gambling addictions and porn addictions, because that seems like a private activity that they do on their own. They can lose a lot. They can lose their marriage. They can lose their finances. They can lose everything when they have these other addictions that they can’t control.

Those who are around people with the substance addictions that I’m talking about now are typically a little bit in the red zone because the substance changes the person’s personality.

All addictions can change someone’s personality, but substance addictions are definitely the ones that alter behavior the most. Those addictions are often done with other people in the room. There’s only one person I know that gets drunk alone because he doesn’t want to make trouble with his partner and they get along great.

I support their relationship because they’ve made it work and neither of them has to make the other’s addiction a relationship issue. He likes to drink, she doesn’t like to see him drink. They live in separate places. When he drinks, he doesn’t call her and they don’t get in touch. He drinks on his own (or maybe with a buddy, I don’t know,) and they have no contact during that time. And as long as she doesn’t talk to him or meet up with him when he’s drinking, they’re happy together. They get along great.

An arrangement like that can work because the rest of the time he’s a great guy. He’s caring, generous, and loving. So his personality is still there. But with some addicts, we want to love them but they turn into this nightmare or monster and it becomes very hard to love them.

Or we have a mix of feelings. I have mixed feelings toward my stepfather. I actually don’t care about him anymore. And, I do. That is tough! He’s done some awful, heinous, unforgivable things, yet I’ve seen both sides of him. It’s very Jekyll and Hyde and it’s very difficult. It’s almost like traumatic bonding. If you’re unaware of that term, click the link above. Otherwise, traumatic bonding is when you get a deep, loving emotional connection with someone, and they’re abusive.

Because of that dichotomy, you start to equate love and abuse (which is how I got the name of this show). What ends up happening is that you feel unhappy most of the time, and you’re loving someone that makes you unhappy and actually sometimes makes you fearful.

The combination of the good feelings of love the bad feelings of fear start to intertwine and it becomes very traumatic for the person experiencing it. That’s why it’s hard for some people to leave emotionally abusive people, because they will feel this trauma bond with them. It can be very hard for them to separate because they see the good in the other person. Or they know it’s in there.

By the way, let me just say this:

There’s a difference between seeing the good in someone (because it comes out every now and then), and knowing it’s in there but you never see it.

I want you to be very aware of that difference. Knowing it’s in there means that you saw it one time, in the past, or many times, but it’s not in there anymore. You really have to see the person as who they are today and how they’re treating you today. If you’re looking for something that was once there but it’s not anymore, then when you believe you know is in there is not.

You have to see it that way in order for you to make the right decisions for you, instead of waiting and hoping and praying that they change. Because whatever was there, it’s not anymore. They can make the choice to bring it back. They can make the choice to heal from whatever they’re doing. But it’s not there.

I want you to be very clear that what you once saw you don’t see anymore. It’s gone. If you still see the person that you know is in there and every now and then they behave kind, empathetic, and respectful again, then you might have a better chance reconciling or healing with this person. I’m not saying that if you choose to reconcile and heal together that it will definitely work out, there’s just a better chance of it happening when they display those qualities.

But you have to be very careful about this. They could empathetic, but know they’re hurting you, and it actually hurts them to know they’re hurting you. That is one way they could be behaving. But that’s a lot different than the person who isn’t empathetic yet they know they’re hurting you and it doesn’t really bother them.

I want you to make that distinction. You have one type of person that once was kind, supportive, loving, and caring, but stopped being that way.

Then there’s the type of person that every now and then is kind, loving, supporting, and caring but when they’re not, they realize it. Or at least they realize it later and feel bad about it. They think about their behavior and don’t like that they behaved that way. These are the type of people that don’t really want to hurt you but can’t seem to stop themselves.

Then there’s the third type of person (and I’m sure there are more types we could mention) who does seem to show kindness, caring, support, and love, but when they’re acting badly, or they’re treating you with disrespect and unkindness, they don’t feel bad about it. In fact, they likely think that you deserve it. Quite often, these types of people really aren’t kind or caring at all. They are just out for themselves but play a role so they can get what they want from you and others.

If you have any type of traumatic bond with any of the above types of people, I want you to be aware of what you’re dealing with and what you’ll get from the relationship. You have to be careful about what you select for your future because if you’re selecting the first type of person where that good, healthy behavior was once there, but it’s not anymore, then you’re selecting more of the same behavior, which is what you already get today.

The same goes for the other two. You’re getting more of the same with the other two, but only one of the other two has a chance of healing and changing. Like I’ve said earlier, empathy has to be in there. The person has to have empathy so that you know they care. They also have to not like their own behavior to some extent. They may still think they’re right but they have to not like their behavior to the point where they realize they need to stop treating you badly. There’s a chance for healing and change in a person like that.

Having a relationship with the third type of person is just not going to work if they don’t have empathy and they don’t care. For them, it’s all selfish behavior. They’re just doing things that work for them.

When it comes to selfish people, your momentary bouts of happiness is often just an accidental side effect of something they wanted to do for themselves.

Just be careful when you are in any type of relationship where you observe certain behaviors like the ones I outlined above.

Coming back to what I was talking about earlier about the addicted person, the person who reached out to me wanted to know the addict’s role in manipulation. Let me tell you, in a nutshell, what addictions role in manipulation is:

A true addict will do anything they can, regardless of who’s involved to get their addiction met.

That’s important to understand, as well as everything else I’m talking about today. It’s important to understand that the addiction usually takes priority. In fact, I would say almost always the addiction takes priority.

This doesn’t mean it’s against you. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about you. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you. It doesn’t mean they want to see you suffer. Some people might want to see that, but the fact that they can’t stop the addiction doesn’t mean it’s about you or against you.

In fact, you have to take yourself out of that equation. You have to take yourself out of the idea that they don’t care about you enough to stop. That’s not it at all. The addiction isn’t about them caring enough about you to stop. There could be some people out there that do that and stop because of that. If they do that, bravo! That’s quite an accomplishment.

But you have to take yourself out of that formula. You have to stop thinking that you’re more important than the addiction because you’re not. And that’s hard to take. It’s a hard truth. But I wanted to tell you this because if you’re dealing with anyone that’s addicted to anything, that addiction is much more important than almost anything or anyone else in their life.

I’m not talking about all addicts. I’m just saying in general, this is what I’ve seen. This is my own experience. I’ve seen that no matter what comes along, the addiction is still going to be there, unless they’re on a program and working on their addiction. Unless they’re trying to stop, you can’t expect an addict to see you crying then follow through with a change.

I want you to not expect that. I want you to not expect them to care so much about you that they’ll stop. This isn’t easy to hear and it’s not easy for me to say because I know that there are people out there that have stopped their addictions because of other people. But I don’t really want you wasting too much time trying to convince an addict that your relationship is more important or that your feelings are more important or that anything is more important than their addiction. I don’t want you to waste your time doing that.

It doesn’t mean you can’t try it once or twice and see what happens, but if they continue going back to that addiction, that’s when you need to step back, take yourself out of the equation, and realize “This isn’t about me at all.”

This is not about you. It’s about their addiction. It’s about their emotional state. It’s about their mental state. It’s the thing they need to deal with. This is why when I talk about codependency on my other show The Overwhelmed Brain, I talk about how sometimes you need to let people crash. That can be scary! That can also be dangerous. It can be deadly, I know. Sometimes you have to let people hit bottom. And that might mean they hit the bottom so hard, they’re not here anymore.

Hopefully, that doesn’t happen. The people in my life that have been addicted, when they hit bottom, it was the wake-up call they needed. They needed the wake-up call. But your tears, your feelings, your thoughts, and your words are rarely enough for them to feel that wake-up call.

If they accidentally hurt someone, if they’re drunk driving, and they kill someone, or if they’re high and they fall asleep and the house catches on fire, there are a lot of things that can happen, they might change their behavior then. But most of them need to hit bottom because it’s very, very difficult to convince them or tell them anything.

When it comes to the addict’s role in manipulation and emotional abuse, the addict is already fighting some emotional demons inside of them even without being hurtful toward you. But when they are hurtful, their behavior is usually a lot worse because of their internal struggle. They’re already dealing with some pretty heavy stuff but then you add to that the addiction, and now the gloves are off and their punches hurt harder.

Hopefully, that’s just a metaphor for you. But this can be real for many people. For some, this can be physical abuse because the addiction takes over and they’re a different person. Their personality seems to shift. For most addicts who are also abusive, the addiction usually amplifies the emotional abuse.

To the person who asked me about this, I don’t know if I’m covering every aspect of what you want to hear, but I do know what often happens is the other people in that relationship think that there’s a way they can convince the addict to change. They often think if they show the addict how hurt they are by them that they’ll want to change.

I wouldn’t spend too much time trying to convince them how awful their behavior is because it’s not going to get through. It’s not because you’re not special or lovable or worthy. It’s because the addiction takes over. It is their primary need in life.

It’s like every time you get hungry. Think about every time you get hungry, you feel like you have to eat. You know you have to eat so you go to the fridge or the pantry, and you find food to put in your stomach.

That is very similar to an addiction except the body needs the food, the body doesn’t need most addictions. But the body gets tricked into thinking it needs it because of the replacement that addiction often does, which is replacing dealing with your feelings, or replacing exercise or replacing good habits, or replacing therapy.

Whatever the addiction is replacing, it becomes normal for the addict, just like it’s normal for most of us to eat food. I can almost guarantee you that if you have been hungry for days that as soon as you have food, you’re going to want to scarf it up.

In fact, let’s take food out of the mix. Let’s make it water. We need water. People can fast when it comes to food, they can go for days or weeks without food. but we all need water. After four or five days without water, you’re going to want water.

I want you to think of that feeling of being so thirsty and having no water for days. This starts to give you the feeling that addicts get. They need their supply. They need to fulfill themselves with their addiction so that they don’t have to feel whatever they’re feeling. Your feeling of thirst is very similar to their craving for their addiction. They are thirsty for something else.

This is what happens. If you were thirsty and someone you cared about came along and said, “Hey, before you drink water, let’s go to the movies and have a romantic evening,” you’re probably going to say “No, I don’t want that.”

They might say, “What? why not? “I thought you loved me. I thought we could spend time together. Are you saying that water is more important than I am?”

You’re going to say “Yes, right now, it is absolutely the most important thing in my life.”

This is how I see many addicts is that they make their addiction the most important thing in their life. It becomes important to them that it’s almost an unconscious pull. It pulls at them and they may not even know they’re doing it.

Sometimes they’re just in the middle of it thinking what am I doing? I’m doing it and I can’t stop. I need it to make me feel better. It gives me relief.

The addict becomes so addicted to their addiction that, just like we need water, they need their supply. They need their source to feel better. And if they’re already an emotionally abusive, hurtful person, the addiction is going to make it worse. They’re going to lie about it. They’re going to lie about that and many other things. But those lies aren’t about you. They’re not about you at all. They’re about getting their needs met because they’re so thirsty.

Bottom line is that I don’t want you to blame yourself. Don’t think there’s anything you can do of that you’re you’re not doing enough because you really can’t do anything until they decide to do it for themselves. I want you to be aware of that and take this with you just in case you’re dealing with an addict in your life.

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Host of Love and Abuse and The Overwhelmed Brain

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