Manipulation and Learned Behavior

PlainJane

Moderator
I've just watched a video about child therapy. It was short, but she had a snippet where she said children can't be manipulative. I am of the opinion that I was manipulative as a child, and I have to make a concerted effort to not be now. This therapist says it's a learned behavior to get needs met, and it's not the same as manipulation.

I can admit that I felt the need to try to influence things in order to have my basic needs met. So, yes it was learned and likely where being manipulative came from, but manipulation nevertheless. I do not think that it's a cognitive distortion to say "I am manipulative," but I could be wrong? Maybe, it's fawn? Does that negate manipulation?

What do you think...

Can children be manipulative?
Do you think you're manipulative?
Is it distorted thinking?
Does manipulation have to be only negative?
 

Weemie

MyPTSD Pro
I would disagree with this with caveats. Kids learn very early on what buttons they can push to get what they want and they will push them, simply because they want the thing that they want. What is true, is that kids don't necessarily have the same moral comprehension of what manipulation means that an adult does. That just because they impulsively want something in that moment doesn't always mean they should act on that impulse.

Impulse control is something that only starts to really get cemented in our 30s, so take that for what you will. And if you have a TBI or PTSD or a personality disorder or other mental illness on top of it? Yep yep, say goodbye to that window, too. As a child I was extremely manipulative. I don't remember never understanding that it was wrong, but I do remember that I was just concerned about my thing rather than the moral implications up until I was around 15-ish.

At that point I wondered if I did have beyond ODD/ADHD and into the realm of CD/ASPD. Therapist now thinks I likely have hit the dx criteria at a certain point (ASPD describes behaviors rather than neurological make-up or actual amount of affective empathy, it's a pattern of criminality, a pattern of disregard for the "rules" of society that results in harm).

But oh yeah, kids definitely have more of an awareness than we think. I knew "if I do X, they will do Y" and then deliberately did X. I'm diagnosed with a dissociative disorder and one of my parts is incredibly manipulative and seductive. She will encourage that behavior even off the slightest hint that things aren't safe. In her case manipulation was always intended to protect me and help me survive. There's a lot of positive aspects to manipulation.

I'd say these days I'm very deliberate but I'm not intentionally manipulative. I don't desire for people to do things against their will. As an adult I've leaned into the concept of voluntary association. For the most part we should all be doing what we want as long as it isn't destructive or antisocial or hurtful. Instead I will just set a boundary and try to be as deliberate as I can in my communication. Doesn't always work. Sometimes I misstep or get angry or impulsive. But it helps.
 

scout86

MyPTSD Pro
My T used to say that there wasn't actually anything WRONG with "being manipulative". Like the person you mentioned said, it's a means to the end of getting needs met. The motives behind it can be "wrong", I guess, if it completely omits the position (needs and wants) of the other person for example. He used the example of "manipulating numbers". No one thinks that's a bad thing, right? If I'd like someone to do me a favor and I offer to do something for them in exchange, isn't that a form of "manipulation"? But it's not really harmful, is it? It's certainly possible for people to be manipulative in ways that ARE harmful for the people they're dealing with. But that does seem like the type of behavior you're going to get from adults rather than most kids. (I said "most" because psychopaths are kids at some point.....)

Anyway, I've thought about this quite a bit and I think I'm now in the camp of manipulation is a tool and can be used for good or evil. And I'm kind of wondering how it happens that so many of us have such a strong "manipulation is bad" reaction. Where does that come from anyway?
 

arfie

MyPTSD Pro
i just love the nature versus nurture debate. i'd rather try to separate the wind from the air. it's in our nature to be nurtured, so does it really matter?

be ^it^ nature or nurture, ^it^ presents early in all the children i have ever loved. you oughta see my 3 year old foster daughter trying to keep my hubby from leaving for work. she loves her "gampy bear" and has proven extremely creative in her drive for his attention. call ^it^ what you will. one name is as good as another.
 

Friday

Moderator
It was short, but she had a snippet where she said children can't be manipulative.
It’s a precept of Developmental Psychology.

Babies have needs.
Children have wants.
Adults have agendas.

A 6yo throwing a tantrum because they don’t want their daddy to go to work? Doesn’t have the adult agenda of attempting to ruin Dad’s reputation, or make him lose his job, or to force difficult decisions upon Dad to make him “prove” that they’re more important than his coworkers, or, or, or, or. They JUST want dad to stay home from work. Whatever means have worked in the past will undoubtedly be used again (whether that’s smiling eyelash batting, or fullblown full body tantrums culminating in vomiting, or running away and hiding, or calling another adult to press their case on their behalf, or, or, or, or. If NOTHING has been successful in the past? Kids are natural little scientists exploring the world, constantly looking for new ways and means to achieve various ends.

From a baby dropping things (first on accident &/or to find out what happens, then in 10,000 different ways to find out if the “same” result follows…

(Eyes open? Eyes shut. One foot shoved under the tray. If first shoved into my ear? If the dog is in the room, or out of the room. If I have something else in my other hand. If I’m also biting it as I drop it? If it’s square, balled up, dry, wet, whilst screaming, whilst talking, whilst my other arm is banging a cup, or banging flat, or banging my head/shoulder/arm/back …10,000 tries later? Okay! If we drop something, it usually, but not always, falls to the ground!.). <<< It’s literally HOW our species learns. By repetition and association.

…to a child attempting various ways and means to achieve the end they desire. Like wanting daddy to stay home from work.

^^^
It’s one of those textbook definitions of manipulation on one hand, kinds of things… but absolutely not manipulation (perfectly normal/healthy/desired childhood development) on the other hand…as well as not manipulation in the sense that countless parents (who don’t understand that children are not mini-adults, with adult understanding and agendas; but instead are children, doing what children do) and drag their 6yo to therapy furious that their child is attempting to make them a laughing stock and cause them to lose their job! Um. Nope! That’s not what your 6yo is doing. That would be an ADULT motivation for the same behaviors. Not a child’s motivation.
 

PlainJane

Moderator
It’s one of those textbook manipulation on one hand, kinds of things… but absolutely not manipulation in the sense that countless parents (who don’t understand that children are not mini-adults, with adult understanding and agendas; but instead are children, doing what children do) and drag their 6yo to therapy furious that their child is attempting to make them a laughing stock and cause them to lose their job! Um. Nope! That’s not what your 6yo is doing. That would be an ADULT motivation for the same behaviors. Not a child’s motivation.

Oh my god, thank you! I have been consumed by this manipulation thing. I know I was getting hung up in the semantics a bit and reading way too much into what she was saying.

I like being responsible for my actions (HA!) If I didn't have the skills or intent, as the therapist claims, to influence outcomes then I feel like something is being taken away from me. It's like I'm just coming to terms with the fact that wasn’t a manipulative asshole, but I used manipulation as a survival technique. Now, I didn't even have the autonomy for that. It's more mind f*ckery. Wrong turn, oops.

Anyway, I've thought about this quite a bit and I think I'm now in the camp of manipulation is a tool and can be used for good or evil. And I'm kind of wondering how it happens that so many of us have such a strong "manipulation is bad" reaction. Where does that come from anyway?

Best guess, it typically feels bad on the receiving end of it, even when it seems benign or with good intentions.

I'm very deliberate but I'm not intentionally manipulative. I don't desire for people to do things against their will.

I like this reframe. I think it’s more appropriate.

it's in our nature to be nurtured, so does it really matter?

In the grand scheme of things, not much. I get lost in the rabbit hole big time with these discussions.

You ever get caught up in a fishing net? That’s what it’s felt like working this one out. Not life threatening but inconvenient, tiring, and frustrating.
 

arfie

MyPTSD Pro
You ever get caught up in a fishing net? That’s what it’s felt like working this one out.

i no experience with fishing nets, but i have gotten caught up in cleaver weed and your analogy fits. getting that stuff out of your skin, etc., is a memorable labor.

still conundrums do make great meditations. this one is especially good for folks in a position to influence young children.
 

Charbella

MyPTSD Pro
Honestly the difference between kids manipulating and adults is that kids are less able to think through the implications beyond the right now, adults know. Kids manipulate and they do it with intent. Like I want to stay home from school so I’ll say my stomach hurts but their intent is not for their parent to lose their job because they’ve missed too many days of work. Even if you tell a kid, things don’t have the same permanence to a child. The kid throwing a fit for a sucker just wants the sucker, not for you to look like a bad parent. Even the child who tells one parent how terrible the other parent is doesn’t think through the consequences of losing that parent, just the undivided attention of the one they’re talking to.

Manipulation is bad because it teaches kids to go around a problem so adults need to show kids how to deal with their emotions, get their needs met in a way that transfers into life skills. See situations from other angles as in not I want, I get. Kids need to learn boundaries and consequences for actions and that life is going to deal out no’s that we don’t like but must live with.
 
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