This is the third installment of the series excerpting “Ending Manipulation.” Previously, we introduced you to manipulation and talked about what manipulation is and is not. It is not a mental illness, but a pattern of interaction between people. Now we’ll talk more about how that pattern gets started and its purpose, which will lend some understanding to why people manipulate one another and why most people accept manipulation as “normal adult behavior.”
We are all born manipulative.
“Because our little infant bodies and brains are not fully developed, we cannot function or survive without assistance, without having at least one agent. The agent is usually a parent or other caretaker. That person exchanges energy with the world on our behalf.”
“We’re hungry? The parent provides food. We’re tired? The parent offers opportunities to rest and sleep. Parents keep babies safe, fed, clean, and stimulated. Babies need parents to do these things for them because, they can’t do them for themselves. Babies in orphanages who do not experience this kind of care and touch die. Not having an agent to exchange energy with the world on their behalf leaves babies’ needsunmet and can be fatal.”
As infants our lives depend upon others meeting our needs; we cannot do it alone. As we get older, the fear of dying if we don’t stay constantly connected to others who we believe can fill our needs is what drives us to continue to manipulate.
“As a psychotherapist for the last 50 years, I have observed that people are not consciously aware of this fear, yet when we have drilled down to the bottom of their fears, it is being totally alone and dying that is the base fear.”
“We pay a price for being so helpless as infants: total control by others! We get fed when others decide to feed us. If they do not know our specific needs for touch, they will likely not touch us much as we need. Instead of keeping us safe in ways that are right for us, they may allow siblings to hit us, allow people to awaken us when we are sleeping, or abandon us. Our agent is a vital part of early life, and the agent is totally in charge.”
“Agents also take a cut. They get babies to perform, smile, and react, or to accept food when they are not hungry, jokes when they are sad, and help when they don’t want it. In these ways a baby’s agents take energy for themselves, just as a theatrical agent gets a cut of an actor’s pay.”
Is manipulation normal?
From this perspective, manipulation is totally normal. In fact, as children, we manipulate as a matter of course. My years of working intimately with therapy clients has revealed, however, that continuing manipulation as a normal part of everyday life when we’re adults creates all kinds of problems, for the manipulator and for those being manipulated. Realizing that children begin to want responsibility in their own lives by age two brought my attention to the design: human beings are supposed to outgrow manipulation, learn to stand firmly on their own two feet. By adulthood, our lives work better when we take full responsibility for meeting our own needs. Part of that responsibility can be asking others for their help. But it does not include using others to fill needs we are convinced we can’t be responsible for filling ourselves.
“Knowing the issue is about energy is important to our understanding and to successfully dealing with manipulation. Babies use their energy to stimulate energy reciprocated by their agent. That agent ensures the baby survives by meeting his needs. Parents enter (usually willingly) into a contract to be the agent for their child. That a child will use the parent’s abilities, strength, support, and finances for at least 20 years is a given when we welcome children into our lives.”
“We do not, however, agree to allow someone we think is an adult to use our abilities, strength, support, and finances for at least 20 years! We call such behavior manipulation. What is important about the nature-made arrangement of parenting is that without an agent, babies will die.”
“People need to exchange energy with others. For vulnerable infants, if this need is not fulfilled, they wither and die. If they do not get help to start becoming their own agent, children can continue to believe they must be connected with others in order to have their needs met. At the very bottom of this, the belief is that if they lose those vital connections with others, they will die.”
Two-year-old children cannot function totally separately from energy agents, which brings us to this question:
When Do Children Become Capable of Starting to Outgrow Manipulation?
A three- to four-year-old child has a sufficiently developed body and brain to do basic life tasks for themselves. They can ask for a drink of water, open the refrigerator to get food, and pull a blanket up on their body if they are cold. This is the crucial time when humans can start outgrowing manipulation. If children of this age receive help in becoming more self-sufficient, manipulative behaviors begin to fall away. . . ”
Why Three- to Four-Year-Old Children Do Not Become Self-Sufficient
You would think if parents knew that three- to four-year-old children can make amazing leaps toward maturity only with help to become more self-sufficient, then parents would do everything they could to support that self-sufficiency. Yet, most three- to four-year-olds are not encouraged to take as much independent action as they can. Why is this?”
We leave you with this question. Ponder on it and make your own observations. In next month’s post, I’ll reveal the three reasons parents don’t provide this help. You may be surprised! What is important is that when children don’t receive help in becoming increasingly responsible, they remain emotionally immature and manipulative. More next month!
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