And it’s not working.
May 30, 2021
We’d all be a lot happier if we learned this in grammar school — just because we believe something doesn’t mean it’s true!
At some point, whether we’re co-working, co-habitating, or simply co-existing on the planet, eventually our wants will clash with someone else’s. And then what? When we don’t take both sides into consideration — my needs and your needs — manipulation and bullying can become the norm.
Beliefs and Ideas Are Not Facts
We all have ideas about how things should be. People should be loyal. Even to someone who does horrible things? Homes should be neat and sparkling clean. Even if you have four children under eight years old?
We have endless ideas and beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world that we treat like facts when, in reality, they are a bunch of words strung together, and the only meaning they have is the meaning we give them.
We find it hard to see manipulative behavior in ourselves, although we see it clearly in others.
I remember my mom, in the later stages of dementia, whispering in a yell that the man across the room could look so much better if he’d shave his head and forget the comb-over. If we had let her, she’d have gone over to him and suggested, “Here, let me tell you what you should do about that.”
Even when we don’t have dementia, we can hurt people when we turn our ideas or beliefs into facts. We go to war based on concepts as simple as the examples I gave. One nation says this is true, and another one says that is true. So they manipulate each other to support or fulfill the concept they believe in.
We ruin families, nations, the planet by holding on to concepts and treating them like facts. And then work to get what we want through bullying, cajoling, guilting, and shaming.
When ‘my will’ is running the show, other people become objects to ensure our satisfaction. If they don’t step up, we divorce them, go to war with them, or disown them, in the case of children.
A more subtle, and often unconscious, form of manipulation is when we create a scenario to present ourselves as selfless. We do a few nice things to look unselfish and kind. But what matters is our intention. If we expect something in return — whether to be thought of favorably by a rich aunt or to be one step closer to life in heaven — we are the opposite of selfless. If I give a gift, the moment it leaves my hands, it is no longer my business. But how often do we offer a gift with no strings attached? And brother, you not only need to like it, but you also need to be forever grateful to me for thinking of you.
And when it’s time for you to give me a gift, it better be good. Or I will believe that you don’t love or appreciate me. That’s another concept of ‘my will’ that has messed up marriages for years. Our partners must satisfy all our wants, regardless of what they want, need, or are capable of.
What to Do?
First, notice when you feel compelled to convince, cajole, or coerce anyone about anything. How does it make you feel when you don’t get your way? Notice when you feel angry and more determined than ever to make them bend to your will — to believe what you believe. That’s bullying.
I recently saw several Facebook posts criticizing something in the name of God. The posts were high drama, talking about the end of times and requesting amens to their beliefs. Threats that I will be damned for all eternity will not convince me that you have ‘the’ answer. The world is not that simple. It is a complex ecosystem with enough psychosocial differences to keep us in an uproar for the rest of our days. There isn’t one answer.
Next, pay attention to how often one of your requests is actually a demand. A request is when you ask for something, and the other person has the freedom to say yes, no, maybe, or I don’t know. A demand is when there is only one acceptable answer to your request, and that is yes.
“Will you please stop playing golf on Saturday?” Demand or request?
Finally, see if you can catch yourself offering an unsolicited opinion about someone else’s customs or beliefs. Watch the facial expressions and the body language change in front of you. Their physical response will say it all.
We know we’re stuck when we see someone’s eyes glaze over because they’ve heard our rant too many times to count. Have you ever noticed that shift in the eyes of a teenager when you’re telling them for the fourteenth time how important it is to keep a clean room?
It’s uncomfortable to see ourselves as manipulative or self-absorbed. But if we don’t come to grips with our blind spots, we may too often be on the bullying end of the rope, just waiting for someone to pick up the other end so we can continue to prove to ourselves that our will is right.
I’m not saying we mustn’t stand up for ourselves or for someone else’s best interest. But thinking we have the wisdom chops to determine what’s right for everyone is crazy. That belief keeps us separate, angry, and lonely. We influence only those who already agree with us.
I haven’t mastered managing myself in ways that always feel clean. I still blurt unrequested opinions. A few days ago I sent my partner an article that frustrated me. I wasn’t sharing something for his benefit. I was on autopilot, restating a grievance to get support for my beliefs. I was unhappy with what I was experiencing in the world, so I sent it to make myself think I was doing something productive about it.
But it didn’t make me feel better because, of course, I wasn’t doing anything productive at all. When I dump my frustrations on someone else without actually taking constructive steps toward a solution, how am I helping?
I write about the things that I want to get better at. And my mission as a therapist and coach is to help people get out of their own way a little more often. To catch when a minor shift in thinking or behavior can get us a little closer to what we want than further away.
We can learn from each other if we are willing to open our minds to the idea that there is always more to be learned about literally everything. When we start by acknowledging, expanding on, and attempting to understand others’ perspectives without trying to manipulate, bully, or scare them out of what they think, we have a fifty-fifty chance they will open to having a conversation. They may even become interested in hearing our opinion.