Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Manipulation Part Three- Us

I may seem to be obsessed with the concept of manipulation, as this is my third blog post about it. This concept, for me, represents how hard it is to create an entire world-view change in the treaters who work with our damaged kids. So often we teach the section in Risking Connection on manipulation, only to hear as I did the very next day a child care worked in the training say with indignation something like: "and I couldn’t believe that child was trying to manipulate me to get what he wanted, what did he think I was, an idiot? And by going to that other staff he did get exactly what he wanted!"

First of all, it actually isn’t a crime for a child to get what he wants. And if we would like to encourage direct communication of needs, we have to be prepared to say yes when ever possible.

Secondly, the question of what may have prevented this boy from asking directly for what he wanted was missing. And more and more I become aware that our systems prevent a child from asking directly- for more phone time, for an extra snack, for a later bed- because we are so wedded to our structure that we automatically say no. "He knows the rules. Who does he think he is?"

Yet we ourselves often ask for and get extra, against the rules- an extra cookie from the cafeteria staff, the ability to leave early just because we are tired from our supervisor, some extra telephone time (when we are being paid to be working) because our child is sick.

I have begun wondering why we get so angry about this. We feel angrier than we do for more severe behaviors, such as aggression, at times. One aspect, I think, is that manipulative behavior appears deliberate and calculating, within the child’s control, as opposed to an angry out burst which is clearly emotionally based. We lose sight of the factors beneath the child’s inability to meet his or her needs directly.

What do we feel when we have been tricked or manipulated? When we are vigilant to spot and stop all manipulation what are we guarding so heavily against?Staff comments give us clues: Does he think I am stupid? I felt like a fool. The rest of the staff will not respect me. He thinks he can get over on me. I looked bad in front of every one. I felt like an idiot because I believed him.

So, being tricked makes us feel foolish and stupid. It taps into our fears that we may be incompetent. We feel unsafe, exposed, laughed at. We imagine we look bad in the eyes of our peers and they are judging us as naïve, gullible. In short, we feel a type of shame. We strengthen our resolve never to feel this way again, and become more guarded and distrustful with the kids. We determine to be trickier than they are.

Can we use this experience to develop a new depth of empathy for our kids? After all, they feel this way most of the time. They have been tricked, used, and made to feel foolish. They have trusted and then discovered lies. They have been counting on someone and been left. They, too, have felt unsafe, exposed, judged, laughed at. And just as we do, they develop the protection of being hardened, guarded and distrustful- and indirect.

Humans, adults and kids, are vulnerable. We don’t like to be exposed. We don’t like to be rejected. We don’t like to be taken advantage of, tricked or lied to. If this happens a lot, we close down, form a protective barrier, hide our true hearts, and interact defensively. We try to get what we can through indirect, covert ways. When we feel safe and trusting, we are most likely to ask directly for what we need and want.

When we hear ourselves use the word manipulation, and we feel that familiar indignation, let’s look deeper into our selves. Let’s use what we feel to help us understand in a new way what our kids feel. Let’s use this understanding as a platform to create meaningful, caring discussion about the possibility and benefits of honesty between people.

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