Another powerful way addicts avoid taking responsibility for unhealthy behavior is what I call the Houdini maneuver. While the tit-for-tat mentality justifies hurtful behavior because “You made me treat you this way because of how you behaved,” the Houdini approach is more sophisticated. This technique is designed to create an illusion by instilling confusion and doubt in the person with whom we are interacting. Doubt and confusion are created by challenging the other person’s reality at every turn of the page. The essence of this powerful interpersonal tactic is simple: “What seems to be true is only an illusion.” Alcoholics and addicts go to great lengths to turn things around or invert the truth. Just ask one of their partners. The co-alcoholic or co-addict enters recovery uncertain of reality because of the years that he or she has listened to and been influenced by the Houdini approach. The effect of this maneuver is that alcoholics and addicts never take responsibility for their behavior because they believe their partner is always wrong. Addicts don’t hesitate to turn things around to unequivocally demonstrate their point. So the addict is off the hook, and a flailing, confused co-addict remains dangling on the hook expertly placed in his or her mouth.
Addicts employ many other maneuvers in weaving this web of deceit to deflect personal responsibility, but they are not the only ones playing this deadly game. Spouses and partners are usually as adroit at these ploys. The point is that we all have difficulty taking total, and I mean total, responsibility for our life. So here is the bottom line: We do what we do because of who we are, not because of someone else’s behavior. We are responsible for our life, for our feelings, for our actions, for our self-esteem, for our beliefs, and for our response to those things that are out of our control. If we are overly influenced by our partner’s behavior, then we need to take responsibility for that too, which means learning how to stand on our own two feet, grow up emotionally, and learn how to support ourselves to become the person we want to be.