The Tara Treatment Center Blog

Managing Manipulative Behavior with Boundaries

It can be tough to tolerate manipulative behavior in an addicted loved one.  At times it is difficult not to let anger show–this is where boundaries come in. 


The Meaning of Manipulative

The first advice Sarah Stillerman gives is to attend Al-anon or Nar-anon for families in recovery. There, they can learn how they may be enabling, and therefore understand how they are being manipulated.  Sarah explains, “We have to learn to separate the disease from the loved one.”

As an accomplished Tara Alumnus, Sarah Stillerman sometimes shares thoughtful insights on social media, especially from organizations like the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.  Sarah points to this passage from the foundation on the subject of manipulation:

“Without understanding our motives, we can easily lapse into behavior aimed at manipulating others. Sulking is a means of letting others know we are displeased and forcing them to attempt to win our approval. Flattery is a false expression of approval that we don’t really feel – giving others good strokes for our own purpose. Withholding deserved praise is a means of putting others down, something we’re likely to do because of our jealousy.

Manipulative behavior is almost always selfish behavior. It is usually a false means of trying to get our own way. It is certainly an immature way of dealing with people and situations.

The best way to avoid being manipulative is to be ourselves at all times. We have neither the right nor the responsibility to control or regulate other people. Our best approach, in trying to influence another’s actions, is simply to state our own case with sincerity and honesty. Others must be free to act, free to choose, and free to make their own decisions without manipulative interference on our part.”


Seeking Professional Help With Boundaries

Psychotherapist Ross Phillips specializes in helping families rediscover boundaries.  He reports,

“In my experience, some of the most common boundary-related mistakes by family and loved ones of the chemically dependent person are financial ones.  This is a simple boundary, but can be difficult for the family in practice.

People need to recognize they are powerless over their addicted family member; that they are not able to control their loved one’s behavior. Once we surrender and admit this sense of control is only an illusion, we become empowered to begin the journey of recovery.”

manipulative boundaries

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.”

Brené Brown