Manipulation and Getting Our Needs Met!
When we say someone is manipulative we are often taking a short cut. As people and as clinicians we often describe someone as manipulative as a means to describe undesirable and unbecoming behavior.
The fact is when we feel that someone is manipulative, what we are suggesting is that someone is manipulating us. Being manipulated by someone can only occur with your consent.
The truth is everyone is trying to get their needs met. When we blame someone who is trying to get a need met by behaving in ways we don’t approve of or by behaving in ways that challenge our own boundaries, we have to be careful that we do not let that blame keep us from exploring the root cause.
We have very “real” needs, as Abraham Maslow so artfully illustrated in the “Hierarchy of Needs.”
We have physiological needs. We have the need for food, good health, sleep…
When children are in the care or custody of the state (placed in foster homes and group homes), it’s not uncommon for them to take food. I’ve heard it presented as “stealing or hoarding.” But I think those labels are misleading.
Deprivation and neglect leave a lasting impression. If you’ve gone without food or even had food but lacked proper nutrition (starving while being at a healthy weight or even overweight), then the opportunity to get one’s needs met may come with some mistruths and deception.
Yet these acts are labeled in ways that can lead to very serious diagnoses and can also lead to children being removed from their assigned housing. So they experience continued disruption in their safety and security needs due to undesirable behavior that is very much a part of their symptoms and what needs to be healed.
Security and Safety
We have a need for safety and security, to feel safe from harm and that means:
- to have shelter;
- and to be removed from danger.
To achieve this we need resources and people to support us. Often when people have limited financial resources or lack sufficient supportive people in their life, they pursue getting their safety needs met in ways that also risk that very safety.
They are valuing their physiological needs over all else. Sometimes earning income through criminal means: risking loss of freedom to provide for those baseline physiological needs, and refusing to tell the truth or even lying if the truth risks injury (corporal punishment) or loss of housing.
For example, people who are in residential substance abuse programs, specifically those of low income and resources, often have to make these types of choices.
The drug addicted person has developed a physiological dependency. It’s difficult for them to follow all the rules that restrict their access to drugs and alcohol. When they break a rule they risk their shelter (safety needs), often being put back out onto the streets where physical harm occurs.
Love and Belonging
We all have a need to belong. We need love and affection. We need to be part of a group including family, friends and community.
When people don’t feel like they belong and don’t experience love and affection they may try a variety of ways to get those needs met. We need:
- sexually intimate relationships;
- family; and
- connection and belonging in many forms.
Couples who are disconnected from one another (emotionally, physically, spiritually, psychologically etc…) will fight and plead to get their partners to meet those needs. Sometimes this includes deceptive behavior and seeking to get these needs met outside of the relationship. This could be emotional or sexual affairs to try to meet their social needs when they are unable to achieve the breadth or depth of those needs satisfactorily within their primary relationship.
Because we view faithfulness and loyalty as both a function of character and anthropologically as traits that contribute to the safety of the family (tribe), we can sometimes fail to adequately address the factors that contribute to poor relationships; specifically, each person’s unique attempt to get their social needs met and the struggle to learn and understand how to provide that to a very unique desired “other.”
We have needs for esteem:
- to be respected;
- to achieve success;
- and to be viewed positively by others.
When we look at what drives people from time to time to boast of achievements that they haven’t met or invest in expensive luxury items that they may not be able to afford; they are engaging in a quest for esteem – a desire to feel good about one’s self and to look good to others.
People may invest in expensive and/or dangerous procedures on their bodies to change their appearance and seek to once and for all feel good about themselves or to be viewed favorably by others. Sometimes people use excessive editing of their pictures or wear toupees and excessive makeup in an attempt to feel good about themselves or at least less self conscious.
We could view these sometimes misguided actions to improve one’s esteem as dishonesty, as false advertising; as a desire to manipulate others and trick them into believing something about them that is not really accurate. The truth is most of these types of actions to have esteem needs met have become fairly socially acceptable. We don’t overly judge people about their appearance (or at least we don’t express it directly toward them).
Self Actualization (Our Best Self)
Lastly we need a movement toward self actualization:
- to be our best selves;
- to be creative;
- to problem solve;
- to be free from obstructions (like prejudice).
As individuals and communities grapple with self actualization we engage in various values differences and debates. We see people trying to overcome the confines of social norms to identify their whole-selves, some after many years of hiding or even lying to themselves.
To meet our needs to become our best self we must form moral beliefs and subsequent responsibilities to the larger culture. We must come to terms with our inter-connectivity. This is why our greatest examples of those who have “self actualized” include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa. They were working toward their highest potential and endeavored toward the greater good of all of humanity.
Manipulative or Needy?
I’m not justifying problem, hurtful, or dangerous behavior. Sometimes people engage in behavior (words and actions) to get a need met. We can call it manipulative, but that may blind us to the heart of the matter and to the effective use of our skill sets.
I’m not saying that adults should not be held accountable for their actions. However, therapy in its truest form is not able accountability. There are natural consequences for dishonesty in all relationships. However, we often know when someone is dishonest. I don’t think we need to be offended. We need to understand the reason for the deception.
I’m saying….of course people lie to get a hospital bed for the night if they are homeless and it’s cold outside. People lie, plead etc… to try to get their needs met.
Sometimes we need to hold the line by having better boundaries. We also always need to try to address the root of the problem. We should not put people down…instead we should try to hold them in positive esteem.
We should give people opportunities to get their needs met honestly, while providing them with treatment until they become more trustworthy.
Copyright © 2016 Ruby Blow. All rights reserved.