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

We have been introducing and delving into various defense mechanisms that addicts 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.

We’ll start with Manipulation. Manipulation has long been associated with addicts and their behavior. Manipulation is a versatile tool in which addicts use words, body language, and behaviors designed to change the behavior of the person concerned about them.

When addicts 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 the 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 addict may cry to affect the emotion of the family member. Another manipulative tool is mocking in which the addict mimics or provokes the family member in a way that presents the family member behavior as questionable, to take the focus off the addict’s use. 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 to 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 addict, 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 addict 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.”



When an addict 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 its minimal and exaggerated – and serves the manipulative purpose of getting the family member to back off the subject of the addict’s addictive behavior and the impact on family, friends, day to day life, and employment.

Related to accusing, an addict 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 addict’s brain is seeking to normalize (and protect) its neural patterns and by making the family member equal to the addict, 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.”

Addicts 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 addict wants to manipulate is the ability of the family member to change the addict’s relationship and pattern with alcohol, drugs, or addictive behavior. In projection, the addict 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 addict 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.”


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 addict 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. The addict is 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.

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