We are all masters of manipulation. We learn this form of communication from birth by copying what we experience with our parents and siblings. Monkey see, monkey do. It’s a form of emotional blackmail, hiding what our true needs are. You’ve manipulated others, and you’ve been manipulated, too. Do you see that’s the truth for us all?
Conversely, when children are raised with respect and their differences are celebrated, they become accustomed to being clear about what their needs are. This does not mean that they always get their requests met, but it does mean that they are heard and taken seriously.
Acknowledgment of one’s needs is a clear statement that someone is listening and someone cares. It’s not about enabling; it’s about being heard.
Children can often “read” their parents better than parents know their own children, odd as that sounds. Young children, for the most part, have no hidden agendas. They are innocent and pure. The manner in which they are socialized is what throws them off track. They develop an adapted persona to mask their authentic selves so they can survive their environment.
Getting one’s needs acknowledged is fundamental for a young child to feel whole, visible, and to have an intact sense of self. What and how children feel is their own identity.
It’s not unusual for a child who comes from an unsafe environment to use manipulation as a primary method to get their needs met. It goes on all day, everywhere; parents bribe their children to finish their plates, clean their room or clean up after the dog.
Such a child is totally unfamiliar with the concept of being direct, and finds it too revealing. This causes feelings of shame and vulnerability. Masquerading is easier and almost becomes a lifestyle. These young children grow up with a finely tuned antenna, trying to pick up clues before they act; their eyeballs can hear, their ears can feel the energy shift, and their noses can sniff the changes of wind, much like the female wolf trying to protect her pack. They are on high alert.
Psychologist Elaine Aron, in her book series on The Highly Sensitive Person In Love, comments that people who are polarized into being “highly sensitive” have a harder time expressing their needs in a direct and clear fashion; they are more secretive and prone to avoid situations that may call them out of the shadows. They tend to isolate more and spend more time emotionally evaluating new people and circumstances before joining in.
Manipulation is very sophisticated dance step, and a pre-selected partner (parent) becomes an unwitting pawn in the tango. The irony is that parents are responsible for this distorted form of communication. Early on in their child’s development, they did not make that child feel safe, they did not take their child’s separateness as a positive statement; instead, they found it threatening. Siblings will make the family stew even more complicated.
There are seven typical behaviors of emotional extortion:
This behavior diverts attention from the actual issue to acting as if some “wrong” has been committed. In fact, the behavior is masking anger: behaviors, such as withholding affection, pouting, screaming at the dog, acting apathetic. Saying “yes” when “no” is what you feel, or “no” when under calmer circumstances you might be saying “yes.” Clouding our true feeling gives us the illusion of control in the hope that the other person will “get” it. It’s also a great attention magnet for people who do not trust themselves to be clear about what they want.
These people are sensitive to approval from others. Their instant reaction when there is a slight whiff of disapproval is: “Oh my God, I think he’s mad at me!” The need for acceptance then distorts what they really feel and want. They will be hyper-vigilant to any subtle mood shifts in the people around them.
These people often are critical of others and reject them before they themselves can be the targets of rejection. They act angry, wronged, almost to the point of indignation. They create this cloud of cause and effect: “If you don’t come to Thanksgiving dinner, everybody will be disappointed.” The truth being: “I have an agenda that needs to get met…it’s about me, not you and not what you want.”
Protecting One’s Sense of Adequacy:
These people can be manipulated by challenging their character. A father who harbors strains of not being attentive enough to his children will have an opening in his fence, a place where when he fails to do something, his child can criticize him for not being a good enough Dad, playing on his already existing sense of inadequacy.
This is the number-one card everybody plays at one time or another. It’s a door that swings both ways. If the parents will convey to the child that unless he does what’s requested for them, his life will be altered. Young children do the same with their parents; they insist that unless they get their way, they will be unhappy and even scarred for life.
This removal of one’s presence, more emotional than physical, touches off an acute sense of abandonment, which is the source of all angst. At the end of the day, what we all want is to feel valued and wanted, the missing link in our early childhood. Apathy is conveyed as if the relationship does not matter; therefore, we don’t matter. We don’t exist.
Intimidation is the precursor of all these behaviors; in and of itself, it can be a doozy. When a parent, and then a child, has a meltdown, it can be scary, especially when the child witnesses a parent going through it. Since there is no safe place for a child to hide, she learns to retreat into a private space, bedroom, the parts of the brain that help remove herself from the moment. Ergo, as these children grow up, they have difficulty being in the moment because when that “in the moment” happened as a child, it was too scary.
Much of our lives we spend in reflection rather than introspection, which, at the moment is having what’s in front of us be exactly what we need to learn and heal from. From is the key word here — moving away from the damage we experienced and imprinted as a child — and looking within so that we can move toward healing thoughts and actions.
The remedy as adults? Build self-respect by being in the moment, direct and honest about your needs, and letting go of the outcome. By not trying to control another person to do what you want, via a disguise of your authentic self, you will have more respect for yourself.
As we gain self-respect, which ushers in self-trust, we gain confidence and clarity. This demands that we be clear about our desires without judgment, without apology; in fact, that process becomes the cornerstone of our identity.
Robert’s parents are in their late 80’s, and he has a brother who is an alcoholic and refuses to go to AA, denying that he has an issue. His parents are constantly trying to make Robert feel guilty and to be more involved with the family. His sister lives across the country, and another brother lives in Northern California. His mother constantly complains about her health and even has accused him of being a neglectful son. He shops for them every week and takes her to get her hair done weekly as well. He feels ashamed to say that sometimes he wishes they would just “go” and leave him in peace, and then he’s afraid of the day that will happen and leave him feeling even more alone.
This family lives with secrets. The fact that his brother denies that he has an issue sends a message to the entire family that they feel shame and wish they could hide it under the rug. And that protecting him is more important than Robert’s needs. It’s no wonder he feels so much rage that he’s pushed to fantasies of them “moving on.”
His constant state of aloneness and isolation has been with him forever, despite a 15-year marriage. When an adult has a childhood where he does not feel celebrated for being who he is and valued for being an individual, separate from others in the family, he starts to shut down. No one is meeting his needs today and nurturing him in a way that makes him feel whole. He needs to start giving himself permission to have his own needs met. The irony is that even if he lived with his parents, his mother would still accuse him of being neglectful.