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Family and Emotion Control
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In this section, we will discuss how addicts use manipulation, mistrust, and misdirection to convince family members that everything is all right.
3 Tools of Control Used by Addicts
♦ Tool of Control #1 - Manipulation
First, we will discuss manipulation. Every addict is a master manipulator. Although the signs and symptoms of addiction are in the open, the addict can divert the attention of the people around them. Ann, a 36-year-old high school teacher, began seeing me after a relative suggested that her mother, Pamela, needed treatment for alcohol addiction. Pamela drank close to a liter of gin every day, often passed out by midafternoon, and was often bruised from falling. Ann said, "When I was little, I was told my mother had depression. So when she didn't take care of the house, or didn't show up at a school functions, it was her depression." Because Ann was manipulated to believe her mother's problems were depression, she could not see the symptoms of Pamela's alcohol abuse.
♦ Tool of Control #2 - Misdirection
The second tool addicts use to divert attention from their symptoms is misdirection. Misdirection by the addict is a technique that directs family members' attention toward what the addict wants them to see, and away from what he or she doesn't.
4 Forms of Misdirection
There are four common forms of misdirection used by addicts.
-- Form A - Attitude
The first is attitude. Brigit's husband, Peter, was addicted to amphetamines. Brigit said, "When he lost his job, I started asking him if it was connected to his amphetamine use. He got really angry, and told me that it was my lack of support and arguing with him that was causing all his problems." By shifting the focus of the conversation onto Brigit's lack of support and arguing, Peter pushed her into defending herself, and succeeded in dropping the real issue of his addiction to amphetamines.
-- Form B - "Doing the Offbeat"
Another form of misdirection is "doing the offbeat". Harry, a 42-year-old cocaine addict, missed his mother's birthday because he was high. He showed up first thing the next morning to mow his mother's lawn and fix her screen door, telling her "I wanted to celebrate your birthday just the two of us. If I had come yesterday, everyone would have snubbed me."
-- Form C - Creating an Impression of Honesty
Harry also used the third form of misdirection, creating an impression of honesty and openness, with his mother. When she approached him about his cocaine addiction, he said, "Wow, Mom, I've been wanting to talk to you about this, but I was scared. I've just been so damn depressed since my divorce, it seems cocaine is the only thing that makes me feel good. I'm so sorry for worrying you… but everything will be all right, I promise." Harry's mother was convinced she had made a breakthrough with him, but really Harry has just redirected her focus onto the problems surrounding his divorce and "doing the offbeat" by mowing the lawn.
-- Form D - Time
In addition to attitude, "doing the offbeat", and creating an impression of honesty and openness, the last form of misdirection I have found is the misdirection of time. See if you have experienced this one with a client. Mary's husband, Paul, was an alcoholic. Mary said, "when he came home drunk the third night this week, I was furious. But the next day, he took our kids to the zoo like he had been promising, and they were so happy that I didn't have the heart to bring it up."
By extending the amount of time between his behavior and the discussion with Mary, Paul effectively gave Mary's anger time to dissipate. Even though Paul's addiction was not a secret to Mary, his use of misdirection of time convinced her to react in ways that supported his alcohol abuse. So in summary, the four forms of misdirection are: attitude, "doing the offbeat", creating the impression of honesty and openness, and the misdirection of time.
♦ Tool of Control #3 - Mistrust
In addition to manipulation and misdirection, the third tool used by addicts is their family's mistrust of their actions. Brigit, whose husband Peter had an amphetamine addiction, became very mistrustful of Peter. She told me, "I watch him constantly now so he can't get anything past me. I don't let his addiction bother me." Brigit didn't realize that her behavior was still causing her life to revolve around Peter's addiction.
"Uncover Your Feelings" Exercise
I asked Brigit to go through the "Uncover Your Feelings" exercise with me.
-- Step One: First, I asked her to write about Peter, his behavior, and her worries about him. I encouraged Brigit to write as much as she needed, to get all of her concerns out on paper.
-- Step Two: Next, I asked her to switch her focus onto herself. I asked Brigit, "What are you feeling right now? What do you think?" Brigit wrote, "I feel like I spend all of my time worrying about Peter; what he'll do next, how much money will be missing from our bank account next month… I feel like I never have time or energy for what I want to do."
In this section, we have discussed the three tools used by addicts to keep their family members controlled and involved in the addiction. These three tools are manipulation, misdirection, and mistrust. In the next section, we will discuss the threaten, punish, and relent cycle.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Bernecker, K., & Job, V. (2017). Implicit theories about willpower in resisting temptations and emotion control. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 225(2), 157–166.
“Cognitive, emotion control, and motor performance of adolescents in the NCANDA study: Contributions from alcohol consumption, age, sex, ethnicity, and family history of addiction”: Correction to Sullivan et al. (2016) (2016). Neuropsychology, 30(7), 829.
Rotunda, R. J., Scherer, D. G., & Imm, P. S. (1995). Family systems and alcohol misuse: Research on the effects of alcoholism on family functioning and effective family interventions. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 26(1), 95–104.
Roy, A. L., Isaia, A., & Li-Grining, C. P. (2019). Making meaning from money: Subjective social status and young children’s behavior problems. Journal of Family Psychology, 33(2), 240–245.
Rusby, J. C., Light, J. M., Crowley, R., & Westling, E. (2018). Influence of parent–youth relationship, parental monitoring, and parent substance use on adolescent substance use onset. Journal of Family Psychology, 32(3), 310–320.
Sprunger, J. G., Hales, A., Maloney, M., Williams, K., & Eckhardt, C. I. (2020). Alcohol, affect, and aggression: An investigation of alcohol’s effects following ostracism. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication.
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