Monday, February 18, 2008

Controlling and Manipulative Behavior

We all claim to not like contolling or manipulative behavior and yet many of us have no idea really all that entails. Most people are actively involved in such behavior on a regular basis but have no idea that is what they are doing or the consequences the behaviors entail.

As a simple example, if we think that we can avoid hurting Aunt Bessie's feelings by not telling her the birthday gift she gave us is ugly that is erroneous thinking at best.

In the first place, we are not responsible for Aunt Bessie's feelings, Aunt Bessie is. If we are honest and tell her the gift doesn't fit or doesn't suit our tastes she has choices about how she will react.

If she truly cares about us and wants our gifts from her to be special, she will be interested in knowing when she is off base about our tastes and/or needs so she can get it right in the future.

If she's giving us a gift because she feels that she must, it probably doesn't matter to her if we really like it or not. What matters is that she look good by doing what she feels she has to(which is manipulative behavior in itself. The gift isn't given out of love but to control how others feel). That means in her mind we should be grateful for whatever it is she got for us so she can look like a star.

Now I know that this will sound foreign to many, many people. I heard "white lies" discussed on the radio this morning as totally acceptable. The justification for those "white lies" was dear old Aunt Bessie. But this behavior is manipulative and destructive.

The problem is that teaching a five year old it's ok to lie to Aunt Bessie but it's not ok to lie to mom and dad is not within the child's realm of understanding. Right from the start we are teaching that child that she/he is responsible for Aunt Bessie's feelings when the truth is no one can make Aunt Bessie happy, only she can control that.

We are also teaching that child it is ok to lie to make someone feel good. (So why isn't it ok for that child to lie to keep themselves out of trouble. That would feel good!) Anytime we teach a child that she/he is responsible for the feelings of anyone other than themselves we are setting that child up for a life of distress. Despite the common belief that such behavior will make the child happy, the fact is such behavior is just the tip of the iceberg in manipulation.

Another common form of manipulative behavior is withholding information because we think we are protecting someone. There is no way keeping things from people you supposedly care about or those who are there to help you, will do anything but cause problems. Because we tend to judge how others react towards us as a measure of how they care, leaving important things out makes it next to impossible for those concerned to "figure out" what we need.

When we expect them to be there when we need them, but don't really give them the information they need to know how much we need their support, we are really setting them up to disappoint us. Some people withhold information from their friends, spouses, significant others or therapists when they really need help. The person withholding the information feels unloved and uncared for when she/he needs help and no one is there. Yet the reason the help is lacking is no one knows there is trouble in the first place.

The result is a downward spiral for the person needing help. Caught in a trap of negative self talk derived from feelings of rejection that all stem from manipulative behavior in the first place. It's not only unfair to judge those we expect to help us based on their response to our manipulations, it's downright destructive. There is now way we can get our needs met in a healthy manner that way.

to be continued.......

Next post in series


Perfect said...

Thank you for this. An excellent & thought provoking post that will definitely make me think twice about some of the lessons I teach to my DD.

Kahless said...

I don't entirely agree RR.birthdays aren't that important to me. Yea a moment of fun but that's it. They mean more to my partner. Now she will spend time choosing me something which she thinks I'll really like. If I don't, I am not going to say this is not what I want. I am indifferent to the whole birthday thing and she wants to make me happy. I can give her that whole experience of pleasure in my joy. Why would I deny her that? Neither is manipulation and we are not role modelling for anyone else. I am just being grateful for the effort put in, in a complete way don't you think?

lovelee said...

This one made me think. I work hard at being completely honest, but sometimes with certain people the frank honesty is more work than it is worth. If I am invested in the relationship, you can bet on honesty. But for those that I usually keep to a minimum, not so much. For example "Aunt Bessie" sends me something hideous I wouldn't go out of my way to say "I hated it", if asked did you like it, I would say "I love getting presents", if asked if it was the right size or color "No". Basically with the Aunt Bessie in my life, I would hear about it from other people too, and it would be a huge can of stinking worms. I enjoy the relationship, jsut on a very limited basis, and I don't want a blow-up over something little like a birthday present. With those, I pick my battles.

Fallen Angels said...

I have to agree with kahless and lovelee. Why hurt someone over something that isn't important? No one has to give anyone a gift, so really, the fact that someone did is a gift in and of itself. Also, it's pretty hard to miss the mark with a gift for a small child. By the time the body was 6, we could easily distinguish the difference between thanking Aunt so-n-so for a gift we didn't really like and lying to the parents. The difference was and still is huge.

Rising Rainbow said...

perfect, there is a lot to think about in this post. Glad it made sense to you.

kahless, lovelee and fallen angels, don't get lost in the details and miss the point. I will do some more posting on this subject to try and make myself clear. Keep in mind it's not really about the gift, it's about trying to control how someone else feels. This was just an off the cuff example.

While the gift itself may seem like a little thing, it is the behavior that can be troublesome.

lovelee said...

Yes, I can see the point. Boils down to taking responsibility for only your own feelings. I have mostly eliminated those people in my life that require me to "Walk on Eggshells". When I do withold, it is more for my protection. However, if I just give my opinion on anything and everything to anybody, nobody listens anymore anyway.

Kahless said...

Yeh, I get my head in the detail a bit too much at times and need to be told to step back out. Just as well I work with numbers and detail is important.
I think I get your point.

Bill Evertson said...

Wow, great post. Until I started unspooling this blog, I didn't realize how Mom's manipulations have effected me. I'd like to lay it out, but I think I'll save it for later. Thank you for sharing this portion of your life.

BarnGoddess said...

good post.

My husband is #1 in with-holding information to save someone from feeling hurt. I am also guilty of this with my boys.....

Lily Strange said...

I've taught my son to be honest about such things and with me and his father, he always is. On the other hand, he knows full well that if my mother gives him a gift and he doesn't really like it she may well mope around the whole day and make everyone else miserable. So in that case, unless the item doesn't fit, he opts for the white lie. There are some folks that you just have to do this with or the negative energy becomes a psychic atomic bomb!