An estimated 24.6 million Americans suffer from a drug or alcohol use disorder. Unfortunately, while those people suffer from health problems, exhibit risky behavior, and often damage themselves and their relationships, the people around them suffer too. Data shows that nearly 8.3 million children live or have lived with an addicted parent or parents, and many addicts have family and loved ones who suffer because of their addiction.
If you live with an addict you know that addiction changes their behavior. Addicts have been shown to become more manipulative, using emotional and even physical bullying to get their way, especially when confronted or put into a position they don’t like. While this is not likely to change until they get help, it is important that you do not allow the addicted person in your life to hurt you mentally or physically.
Someone who is addicted to a substance may bully you intentionally or unintentionally while trying to get money, support, sympathy, or take anger out on you. Recognizing this and taking steps to stop your loved one from bullying you will allow you to get back to your life, even if they are not yet ready to seek out treatment.
Recognize Their Behavior
While most people know that addicts can be emotionally manipulative and even aggressive, creating behavior that is similar to emotional or physical bullying, few of us like to recognize that behavior in the people we love. Taking a step back and recognizing where, when, and how this person is bullying you is crucial to stopping it. Emotional abuse and bullying can take on different forms and aspects depending on your relationship with the addict.
Parents often find that their love and motivations are attacked. “You just don’t want anyone to find out”, “I’d stop if you would stop smothering me”, “You’re not in control of my life”, etc., or used against them to cajole money, support, or lies from their parent “You don’t even love me anymore,” “If you loved me you would…”
On the other hand, partners and spouses are usually attacked directly and expected to put up with a great deal of abusive behavior, and then either blamed or guilted into submitting to it. “You never support/help me”, “It’s your fault”, “If you wouldn’t nag”, etc.
All this behavior is emotionally bullying, because it puts either the blame of the addiction on you, forces you to do something they want to be emotionally supportive, or guilts you into accepting negative behavior. Being mindful of it, recognizing when it happens, and learning to step out of it is crucial to stopping your loved one from bullying you.
Step Back and Detach
Stepping back and creating space in your life for you, not just for them, is the first and most crucial step of getting your life back and protecting yourself. Addicts take up a lot of time and energy, and caring for them can make you feel like you’re achieving something, which is why codependent and other forms of unhealthy relationships frequently develop around addicts.
Detaching and detaching with love are both concepts used to describe a state where you are still there for your loved one but you stop allowing them to affect you. By ceasing to attach meaning or your emotional health to their decisions or rational behavior, you can reduce the effect of their bullying. For example, many addicts can emotionally bully you by blaming you for nagging them, but if you detach, you don’t nag them because you don’t expect them to do that thing anyway.
Saying no can be difficult and scary, especially to an addict who has the potential to be violent, but it is crucial for you and your mental health. By saying no, you can stop supporting their addiction, stop enabling them, and stop helping them to hide their addiction, if you are doing any of those things. Family members and loved ones often find themselves covering up for someone, lying, or even doing something illegal for their addicted loved one, which is then used to blackmail and bully them into continuing the behavior.
While it’s okay to help someone you love to ensure that they have food or a place to stay, you shouldn’t give them rides, help with rent, buy them food unless they are on the brink of starvation, and definitely shouldn’t lie to others for them. Saying no absolves you of responsibility for their addiction, so that they can no longer use it against you.
Don’t Accept Blame
You are not to blame for their addiction. No amount of nagging on your part pushed that person into addiction. No behavior on your part pushed that person into addiction. While there are unhealthy relationships, and these can contribute to addictions, chances are that your loved one is using substances to deal with stress, anger, or other emotions. They would have these emotions with or without you in their life.
Refusing to accept the blame for substance use, by mentally accepting that you are not responsible, makes it more difficult for an addict to bully you or emotionally manipulate you. The sooner you realize that they make their own choices, the faster that happens.
Walk Away from Anger
Angry confrontations can be difficult to walk away from, especially when you yourself are angry, but responding to verbal baiting only puts you in a position to be hurt. People who are addicted say and do things that are intentionally or unintentionally hurtful and your best choice is to walk out of the room or out of the house. Someone who is very angry may use this as an excuse to escalate the problem, but chances are that by simply walking out before arguments start, you can avoid a great deal of negativity and resentment, which can help you and your mental health.
Dealing with an addict, even one who is working towards recovery, can be difficult, stressful, and even painful. Getting help for your own mental and physical health is important. Group therapy like Al-Anon can give you a forum to discuss your problems with people who understand, get advice from those who have been through similar situations, and to create an outlet where you can vent and talk about what’s going on with you and your loved one. Advice from others who have been through similar situations can help to give perspective on your own problems, so that you can create better boundaries and make better choices.
If your addicted loved one was a kind and loving person before their addiction, they can be like that again. While they will never be that same person again, you can choose to stay and support them, be emotionally supportive, and listen to them non-judgmentally when they need it. When your loved one decides that they are ready to seek out treatment or that they need help, they will turn to the people who are there for them, even if you are not there financially.
Living with an addicted loved one is difficult, emotionally, mentally, and often financially. If they are bullying you, they are adding to the stress and emotional load that you have to deal with. Stepping out of that, creating boundaries, and putting yourself first will ensure that you can live your life and be happy, even if they are not yet ready to change.
Most importantly, if taking steps to distance yourself and to protect yourself do not work, you may have to make the difficult version to cut them out of your life. Even if they need help, you should never have to live with someone who is hurting you emotionally or physically.
If you choose to stay and be present, you can work to build your relationship without allowing them to bully you, so that when they decide they need help, you can help them.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, or you just have questions, please call Lighthouse Treatment Center today. We are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. Help is available today.