Defense Mechanism (series) – Manipulation, Accusing, Judging, Projecting

a projector used to reinforce the function of the defense mechanism of projecting onto a family member when a person abusing substances doesn't want to be confronted

Defense Mechanisms (Denial Series)

Manipulation, Accusing, Judging, and Projecting

We have been introducing and delving into various defense mechanisms that persons with a substance use disorder (SUD) use with family members, friends, and even themselves. The introduction to the series is here featuring denial, lying, silence. The post discussing the use of humor, compliance, and minimizing is found here. Our discussion thus far has centered on tactics that are in the category of passive or least aggressive. The next two posts in the series will discuss the tactics that are hostile and adversarial; they are aggressive tactics. Today we’ll cover manipulation, accusing, judging, and projecting.

Aggressive Defense Mechanisms


We’ll start with Manipulation. Manipulation has long been associated with addiction and the behavior to protect using or drinking. Manipulation is a versatile tool in which persons with a SUD use words, body language, and behaviors designed to change the behavior of the person concerned about them.

When persons with a SUD use manipulation, they may argue, tease, mock, or show other emotion with the purpose of shifting the confronter off their “game.” They may exaggerate their response by yelling, or they may use the opposite by becoming silent and withholding interaction and affection. A manipulator may argue in a way that makes the argument itself the problem instead of the content of the concern (which is the using or drinking or behavior). While manipulation is often assumed to look classically hostile, the manipulative person may cry to affect the emotion of the family member. Another manipulative tool is mocking in which they mimic or provoke the family member in a way that presents the family member behavior as questionable, to take the focus off the person’s use or drinking. It’s a complicated defense mechanism and arguably they are ALL manipulative! Here are some examples:

  • “If you’d pay more attention to me instead of the baby, I wouldn’t have to use porn.”
  • “I am so stressed about money, I have to work so much, I use so I can keep up the energy. I just want to provide a good life for us.”
  • “Nag, nag, nag. That’s all you do. No wonder I drink.”


A more direct use of manipulation and overt defense mechanism is accusing.  Accusing is when the accused themselves, instead of responding to the concern of the family member, lists things that the family member does wrong. Often, the list has some merit and this serves to divert the conversation from the concern about the addiction and makes the concerned family member defensive. That defense, of course, goes nowhere productive for the family member but for the person with a SUD whose brain is seeking “space” to use, it allows some room to grow between the concern for their addiction and them having to deal with that content.

  • “Yea. Let’s talk about you and the budget.”
  • “You had wine last night.”
  • “You told your mom you were busy, and you weren’t. You lied, too.”
  • “Your dad was an alcoholic. You think everyone is one.”

a sign that says do not enter to reinforce the idea that defense mechanisms are used by addicts to keep people from separating them from their alcohol or drugs


When an person with a SUD accuses the family member who is concerned about their use or behavior, they deflect the primary concern, create new content, and obscure the issue at hand. That new content often has some truth – and even if it’s minimal and exaggerated – and serves the manipulative purpose of getting the family member to back off the subject of the addictive behavior and the impact on family, friends, day to day life, and employment.


Related to accusing, an person with a SUD may use judging as a defense mechanism. This is like the tone, content, and function of accusing, but judging tends to be a direct and stated evaluation of the family member’s thinking and behavior. It is intended to be hurtful and critical. Judging includes unkind statements designed to “bring the accuser down a few notches” off the perceived high ground. The SUD brain is seeking to normalize (and protect) its neural patterns and by making the family’s behavior member equal to the behavior of the person with the SUD, they essentially disarm the family member and therefore the impact of their claim.

  • “You are controlling.”
  • “You are self-absorbed.”
  • “You are a prude.”
  • “You are a kill-joy.”
  • “You are a spend-thrift.”

Projecting (also known as broadcasting)

Persons using these types of defense mechanisms often also use projecting. Projection is a classic and identified psychological tactic. In this case, the behavior that the person wants to manipulate is the ability of the family member to change the their relationship and pattern with alcohol, drugs, or addictive behavior. In projection, the  person with a SUD will accuse the family member of having “the” problem. This is a psychologically confusing tactic and shifts the content of the conversation to having the family member having to defend themselves instead of trying to get the person with a SUD needed help.

  • “What? You have problems, big ones, too.”
  • “You are the one on your phone at night. Who’s having the affair?”
  • “You spend money. My gambling isn’t the problem.”
  • “You drink when I do.”

a projector used to reinforce the function of the defense mechanism of projecting onto a family member when a person abusing substances doesn't want to be confronted

Where To Focus Your Attention

There is considerable overlap with the defense mechanisms of manipulating, accusing, judging, and projecting. I encourage you to not get caught up in trying to specifically identify which “one” it may be but instead consider if the way the person is behaving is hostile, adversarial, and designed to escalate the interaction. If the answer is yes, the defense mechanism is likely to be one or more of those on this page. They are trying to create a diversion from your concern (their health) and they’ve chosen YOU and your behavior and character as that diversion. It’s a crafty tactic and it’s tempting to take the bait.

Don’t engage. State your concern; once. Then move away from the interaction and move towards the self-care I’ve encouraged at the end of each of the posts in this series. If you need help doing this, contact me for a session.


24618 Kingsland Blvd 2nd Floor, Room 8
Katy, TX 77494
On the left hand side of the CLS building
(281) 740-7563

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