A year or so ago I had a startling epiphany. Maybe you’ve already discovered this life truth (though likely never speak of it), but for me, the realization was profound:
Every. Thing. Is. Manipulating. You.
You’re being manipulated constantly by every person, every image, every interaction you have.
But there’s more.
YOU are also a manipulator. A master manipulator. Your manipulations are so ingrained in you that you most likely don’t even realize you do them. Every interaction you have with another person? You’re manipulating them.
I’ll pause while you’re letting this sink in and your mind is trying to refute it.
I know you disagree with me.
I know this is the craziest and worst idea you’ve probably heard all day or maybe even all year/ever.
But it’s true.
And you should be aware of this truth so that you can stop letting other people take advantage of you. I’m pulling the wool off from over your eyes, now it’s up to you to choose to accept this or not.
That was pretty heavy, right?
Keep reading, I’ve got three truths for you:
1) TRUTH ONE: Manipulation does not only mean bad.
Remember when you were a little kid in elementary school your teacher would give you little plastic cubes or shapes or circle-shaped counters (or dice or dominoes or fraction bars, etc etc) and you had to use them to do math problems? Do you know what those little things were called?
Look, here’s even a wikipedia article on manipulatives in case you don’t believe me.
Know why they’re called “manipulatives”? Because the whole point of them is that you’re supposed to manipulate the objects and learn something about the fundamental nature of mathematics through your manipulations.
Mind blown yet?
Manipulations aren’t just useful for understanding math. Manipulations are also useful for understanding society and relationships and our self-identity and our perspective of reality.
We’re all natural manipulators from the moment we’re born (or maybe even before? who knows?).
But our manipulations of our surroundings (including our manipulations of other people) are not always a bad thing. In fact, they can often be considered GOOD. I’ll explain more about this a bit later.
Whoa whoa whoa, back up there. Did I just say that babies are manipulative? Hah. Yes, I did. See next:
2) TRUTH TWO: Manipulation is a human instinct.
There are very few things that we are born knowing how to do. With each of my babies, in those precious moments directly after birth, before they’ve been influenced or socially conditioned or taught to do anything, but that they just ARE – I’ve pondered their few instinctual abilities. Mainly these consist of two things: cry and root.
“Rooting” (btw, in case you’re not familiar) is when newborns try to find food. They turn their face and body toward their food source (aka moms boobs) and try to squirm that direction. As soon as something touches their cheek, they turn their head and try to suck it.
Even at moments old – human life is all about survival. Food. Security. Connection. Why do babies cry? To get someone’s attention because they want/need something. Crying is their only recourse and it’s an effective one. They might not be consciously aware of their decision to cry or not cry in any given moment – but their cries serve one main purpose: to manipulate someone into coming to their aid.
So yes, I did just say that even newborn babies are unknowingly manipulative.
Remember that manipulation =/= bad. Babies’ manipulative instincts are necessary for their survival.
This instinct doesn’t change as we get older either. The way we manipulate will change as we try new ways to get the things we want (i.e. toddlers throw tantrums, bigger kids whine, eventually kids discover that there’s personal benefits to behaving appropriately and being liked), but we continue to manipulate as a means of survival until the day we die.
3) TRUTH THREE: Every relationship you’ve ever had (familial, romantic, etc) is based on manipulation.
I’d do mic drop here, but I’m not really into mic drops so I’m gonna keep talking –
Yes, I said it.
You probably don’t believe me and that’s ok, so if you need to walk away from this blog post for awhile and come back to it once you’ve let things sink in, that’s fine. I’ll keep the post up on the good ole WWW for you.
Awhile back, I was in a blogging chat group and the guy who runs the program was talking about relationships with your audience and someone asked about not wanting to feel like the relationship is based on manipulation and the guy mentioned something about how all relationships are based on some form of manipulation and even though the conversation went on from there to something else – that comment stopped me in my tracks and planted the seed for this entire grand manipulation realization and stimulus for this blog post. (don’t judge me for the run-on sentence, k? I like it.)
Another quick reminder here that not all manipulation is bad.
A relationship can be founded on manipulation and still be a GOOD relationship. In fact, it’s impossible for a relationship NOT to be founded in manipulation. Because, remember, everything is manipulation. And that’s ok.
My husband and I got married because at the time we each manged to influence the other to fall in love with us and presented ourselves in a way so that we seemed highly compatible. Early in the relationship, we wanted the other person to continue to like us, so we’d do things that we knew the other liked. We laughed at each other’s corny jokes, because we knew it made them happy, and we liked when the other person was happy.
When you feel loved by someone, you are much more likely to do things that make them feel loved in return.
(Ever heard of the famous relationship book “The Five Love Languages“? The idea of giving your spouse the kind of love they want as a way to get them to give love back to you in the way you want is basically the entire point of the book.)
In short – my husband & I manipulated each other into loving each other. We each had things we were willing to give in a relationship in return for things we were wanting to gain from it. All of dating had unknowingly been a back-and-forth exchange of testing to see if the other person was going to give us what we wanted for what we were willing to give them.
Of course, we were unconscious of any “manipulation” business like that. Consciously, we followed the awareness of our emotions instead: that we were “in love”, happy together, seemingly compatible on general issues, and desiring the allure of future companionship stability.
Emotions are a funny thing.
Emotions are manipulating.
Some emotions/manipulations are good and bring us together to form stronger bonds.
Some emotions/manipulations are misleading and cause us to do things that aren’t necessarily in our best interest.
We make judgments about our relationships based on our emotions about them.
And we form relationships based on manipulations of what the other can offer us.
I realize that your mind may still be spinning on this, so if so, I’m gonna take a few moments below to answer some questions you may be asking.
How can manipulation ever be considered a good thing? Isn’t it always wrong to manipulate others?
a) So I just potty trained my 2-yr old. You know how I did it? I gave him candy (something he wanted) every time he kept his underwear dry and went peepee on the potty (something I wanted). I used manipulation to teach him something good.
b) Let’s say you want to learn about the theory of relativity, so you watch an educational video. Guess what? The entire video is manipulating your mind; it’s a pre-set sequence of scenes & animations & audio that you mentally follow along with, step-by-step, until you understand what the video wants to teach you, in the order the video’s creator thinks you should be presented the information.
c) The road system/ability to drive and transport ourselves wherever we want to go is generally considered a good benefit to society. However, it only works by manipulation. We require everyone to follow the same rules because we want things to be fair and safe. If someone disobeys, excessively speeds, drives the wrong way down the freeway, doesn’t stop at a stop signs, cuts people off, etc – we find a way to manipulate them into complying with the rules. We either send law enforcement after them to legally punish them, and/or we socially punish them by honking/yelling/driving aggressively back. Either way, we take it upon ourselves as a community to let them know that their behavior is considered inappropriate and should be changed.
Everything is manipulation. There’s bad manipulation and good manipulation.
But Ronni, how do I know **YOU’RE** not manipulating me right now and trying to get me to believe you?
If you thought ahead to ask this, before I even prompted your brain by typing out this question, then awesome for you! You SHOULD be asking this question. All the time. Maybe not out loud (you won’t make any friends that way 🙂 ), but it’s something you should think about possibly more often than you currently do.
Because the answer is: Yes. I am manipulating you. I’m trying to convince you of two things:
1) That I’m a trustworthy and honest person. And
2) That it’s up to *you* to wisely choose what you will trust as truth.
I’d say (and would like to think) that I’m trying to manipulate you in a GOOD way, and in a way that you want to be manipulated – but ultimately, YOU’LL have to be the judge of that and choose what you want to believe.
Also Ronni, aren’t you just arguing semantics of the word “manipulate”? Why do you make everything so annoyingly complicated and confusing?
a) Maybe. But sometimes semantics matter and challenge understandings. Either way, I feel it’s worth pursuing.
b) Oh you have no idea, lol. I actually have a whole other crazy and way more confusing theory regarding reality & perspective & manipulation & quantum entanglement, but I’m still formulating my thoughts so I’ll have to go into all that another day. (I didn’t call myself Think Too Much Mom for nothing, lol)
c) Also, rest assured that I don’t make things complex in order to annoy people, but because I believe that details often matter more than people realize and that being aware of details gives greater appreciation and understanding to issues.
Ok, Ok, Ok Ronni. I believe you. Everything is manipulation. But now I feel like crap and life feels doomed. What am I supposed to do now with this sickening revelation?
First, give yourself space to let it sink in. Let your mind do its’ thing where it keeps trying to find an argument against it. Who knows, maybe you’ll be able to convince me that my manipulation theory isn’t a sound argument. Or maybe you’ll come to accept it to. There’s no rules here. You mind works as it does and needs the time and space to understand as it does.
Second, nothing has changed, even if it feels like everything has. All of your morals? Still intact. You probably feel like it’s wrong to knowingly, and negatively, manipulate someone into thinking/doing something they don’t want. This is still wrong. But there’s a difference between knowingly and unknowingly. You can’t be held accountable for not knowing. But now that you’ve read this blog post and know – now you’re held to a higher standard. You can better recognize your own actions and when you might be manipulating others in a negative way.
Third – and maybe most important – you can stop allowing yourself to be manipulated so easily. You can better recognize instances when others are (consciously or subconsciously) trying to manipulate you. And then you can decide how to handle it.
You can – for example, in the case of “dating” like I wrote above – dole some manipulation back at them, as a kind of playful mental negotiation.
Or – in the case of political or societal manipulation – choose how much you want to engage. You can allow yourself to be emotionally affected/manipulated, or you can choose to dive into the fray and manipulatively steer the manipulation your preferred direction instead, or you can stand your ground and neither manipulate nor be manipulated. Or any mixture of the above.
Or – when it comes to knowledge – you can refuse to take things at face value (at least until you know you can trust the source, and even then, periodic reevaluations of trustworthiness are a good idea). Instead of being at the whim of possible manipulation you can question and pick apart arguments based on impartial logic rather than emotional persuasions.
If you’ve read down here to the bottom and kept an open mind to this idea, thank you.
I feel like there’s a bit more to unpack in all this and at some point I may write a Part 2 to this post. But this is long enough and probably already a lot to think on, so I’ll continue my thoughts on all this later.
I’d love to hear your thoughts too though! Feel free to comment below or email me and present counter-arguments or ask questions or whatever you what to say to try to manipulate my opinion written here. lol ?
(however, while I do deeply appreciate and respect religious beliefs, bible verses are not an appropriate argument in this case as they, unfortunately, are a form of manipulation themselves as they require that one must accept their truth without question.)