In all my years of working as a psychotherapist, I’ve never read or heard about the issue of self-manipulation. I think that often when we become angry with ourselves, we’re really responding to having manipulated our own self into doing something we don’t really want to do! I include the entire chapter here, so you can consider this seldom-examined behavior pattern.
Most people do not realize we can manipulate our own selves.
Recall that manipulation describes a particular type of relationship in which one person has undue influence over another, pushing the victimized one to do things or give up energy without full agreement, to the detriment of the person being pushed. We can do this by allowing one part of ourselves to dominate and use another part.
How We Manipulate Our Own Selves
- We are all in a relationship with ourselves. The way we take care of our bodies or the self-talk we engage in when addressing our mistakes reveals how we treat ourselves. Most of us are not kind to ourselves.
- We allow one part of ourselves to have undue influence over another part of ourselves. This is usually accomplished when we do not identify what we want to do, but instead tell ourselves to do what we have determined we should It is a lot like one part of us is the parent and the other part is the child.
- No one likes to be told what to do, to be held to the expectations of another. This is true even if that other is part of our own self! So we rebel. We procrastinate, refuse, withdraw, distract ourselves, involve ourselves in addiction, get angry, or forget.
- The parental part of us needs us to do what we identify as important. To this part of us, it feels like our survival depends upon the completion of these identified behaviors.
- The parental part of us works to control the child part of us through manipulation. You’re going to feel terrible on Monday if you don’t finish these chores, we admonish ourselves. What will your friends think if you don’t put on makeup for the Zoom meeting? How selfish of you not to write that note of thanks!” By criticizing, guilt-slinging, and focusing on the picture we are presenting, the parent side of us pressures the child side to do its bidding when it doesn’t agree to do it and doesn’t want to do it. This is self-manipulation!
- The child part of us resists, digging in heels and refusing. Sometimes it is not so obvious that we are rebelling. We may determine that there is “something wrong” with us that is keeping us out of compliance with the parental part of ourselves. Children are pretty strong, aren’t they? Many people have to fight really hard to overcome such resistance!
- If you follow such a pattern in your life, watch how it all unfolds. You may get angry out of proportion to what is being said—with yourself. You may become exhausted, develop a desire to get away (think sleep, alcohol, or drugs), “forget” to do the things demanded of you, or recoil at the suggestion that you are “bad, wrong, or crazy” because of your response to these manipulations. Just watch!
This is the formula for self-manipulation: just insist to yourself that you must do something that you do not really want or choose to do, such that you feel forced to do what is being expected.
How to Get Out of Self-Manipulation
Return to the idea that we have all come to this earth to explore, learn, and grow. When we embrace learning and accept change, we have the opportunity to enjoy (be in joy) as we explore. According to Esther Hicks, we are supposed to be in joy as we live on this earth.[i] When we are experiencing manipulation—by someone else or by ourselves—we are not in joy. To live our best and happiest life, we need to stop self-manipulation.
“That means changing our relationship with ourselves, which can include:
- Identifying our wants and allowing ourselves to pursue them. What do we really want to aim for, do, or say?
- Loving and supporting ourselves. Give to our own selves the love we so desperately feel we need from others. All life is lived from the inside out. If we want others to give us love, we need first to give it to ourselves. If we want support, it means first supporting ourselves. Whatever we have inside of us, we attract from outside of us. When you love and support yourself, others love and support you too.
- Treating ourselves with respect. This means accepting ourselves just as we are, without believing we have to change a single thing. (If we want to make changes in ourselves, we can. But no have-to’s, and no controlling behaviors to push ourselves to do what we think we should.)
- Upgrading our self-talk. Instead of shaming, put-downs, judgments, or other negative communications to ourselves, we strive to be as loving, supportive, positive, and kind as we can be. When we make mistakes, instead of saying “You’re stupid” or “Idiot,” we say, “I wonder what I’m trying to teach myself by making this mistake?”
- Enjoying our own company. This means spending some time with us, by ourselves, in order to have the opportunity to be company for ourselves.
You might not even be aware that you manipulate yourself. If you discover that you do and you make these changes, be prepared to have more energy, feel lighter, and start living in joy!
In our next installment, we’ll look at one form of boundary setting, the powerful act of making personal policies. This one bit of information can transform your life!
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Ilene Dillon, MSW, has dedicated her life to helping people resolve personal challenges once and for all, then design life to be what they want it to be. A Transformation Specialist, she has worked 50 years as a psychotherapist and 15 years as a coach. She is a global speaker, Amazon International Best-selling author (The Wellness Universe Guide to Complete Self-Care, Volumes 1 and 2), podcast guest, and plans to give her first TEDx speech (on Anger) later this year. Ilene is also the author of Emotions in Motion: Mastering Life’s Built-in Navigation System and End Manipulation: Stop Being Jerked Around by Toxic, Energy-draining People. With her little dog, Pi, Ilene lives and travels full-time throughout North America in her RV, writing, teaching, and speaking along the way.