A random ordinary thing happens in our lives. You react. With joy, with glee, with sadness, with anger, with fear, with uncertainty, with hesitation, with upset, with confusion, with jealousy, with assertiveness, with argumentativeness, with a refusal to budge.
A memory pops into my head. A memory of being small. Intense. Vivid. Photographic. All the details are there. I remember feeling that feeling that I see on your face. But I was your-size not my-size. I was small and tiny and this memory is long ago with me surrounded by adults that reacted in many different ways.
I want to tell you about how I discovered some important truths about the perceptions of adults and how self fulfilling prophecies about manipulation and manipulators come to be. The truth, kiddos, is that manipulation is a cloth woven from ordinary feelings warped by bad guesses.
I’m deaf. I have a reverse curve hearing loss. This means that the low sounds disappear and the high sounds are what I can hear clearest. Most deaf people hear low sounds better than the high ones.
When a thing doesn’t conform to what people know about a thing, they make many bad guesses. Especially when combined with the assumption that children are manipulative and liars.
My experience was driven by ever-rising pure tone beeps blasted in to bulky headphones in a soundproof booth full of toys. Little dots etching out a curve that contradicted what people knew about “deaf”. A little piece of paper showing a curve that labeled me as deaf without the words to explain to the every day ordinary people that I would interact with as a child.
Then when I left that booth.. When I walked into the real world where I could hear the hiss of a car’s wheels through the pavement but not the roar of its motor. When I walked into the real world where I could hear the ringing that a jackhammer made when it struck against stone, but where it was otherwise almost silent. Where I responded to quiet sounds but seemingly ignored a person speaking to me across the room or even just behind me.
I remember as a child having to learn that people made bad guesses. That I would be called a liar when I was telling the truth. I remember being caught between desperately wanting to conform to expectations that I physically couldn’t meet. I remember pinballing to the other side of not caring. Not really “not caring” but trying desperately to not care.
As a child this made me aware of the assumptions that people made. I think that most kids learn that they are manipulative. I learned to watch myself. To take snapshots of what I was feeling and experiencing. To try and piece them together later.
What I learned from this experience was that I was not trying to manipulate anyone. I was trying to meet a need that I didn’t understand. Sure, I was making bad guesses sometimes.
I was six years old. Seven. Eight. Ten. Fourteen.
As an adult I am able to understand my needs better. I’m able to dig down deep and figure out what it is that I’m feeling and why and what I can do about it that will actually help.
I couldn’t do that at six. I couldn’t do that at four. I couldn’t do that at two.
I could only make guesses.
I see my children making those guesses today. I help them dig around and figure out what is really happening.
So instead of getting angry because my child is throwing a fit over a doll in a store.. Instead of thinking “YOU ARE MANIPULATING ME AND EMBARRASSING ME IN PUBLIC…”
I think “You are upset because you are tired. You saw a doll that you really really want and you’re upset that you can’t take her home with you today and you can’t play with her because she’s in a store and we’re not going to buy her. The upset feels REALLY FREAKING HUGE because you’re tired and you’re stressed out and you’ve had too much big stuff build up inside of you without the rest and reset that you need. So you are crying. And I’m sorry. I know how hard it is to deal with disappointment when you’re not at your best. Let’s go someplace safe away from bad guessers and we can get you the rest that you need.”
I understand that you’re making two-year-old or four-year-old or seven-year-old sized guesses about the reasons for the strong feelings that you’re having.
I don’t need to make thirty-four-year-old bad guesses that draw on years of hearing terrible negative things about children. I can make my guesses from a place of understanding your developmental level, your stress levels, and by believing that you are fundamentally a rational whole human being that simply hasn’t experienced everything that I have just yet.
You’ll get there. Even if most adults sometimes seem like they never made it there.
If I view you as manipulative instead of trying to help you learn to organize your thoughts and feelings.. You’ll just learn that you have to learn to be a better manipulator if you ever want those needs of yours met.
I don’t want to teach you that. I want to teach you to understand your feelings, to live with them, to cope with them, to embrace them, to understand them, and to build your own road-maps to feeling okay.
It is okay to be angry.
It is okay to be sad.
It is okay to be frustrated.
It is okay to be upset.
It is okay to not understand why.
It is okay to struggle.
It is okay to have a bad day.
Slow down. Spend some time in your moment. You’ll find your way out.
Manipulation is a cloth woven from ordinary feelings that are warped by bad guesses. It is a self fulfilling prophecy. A child has a feeling. Makes a bad guess about what that feeling is and what the solution is. Asks for the solution. The adult gets angry at the child. The child never learns where the feeling came from or what the real solution is, just that they have to lie and manipulate in order to get what they assume (often incorrectly) will make them feel better.
Why would I teach you that when I can teach you that feelings are okay, that feelings are not always a reaction to what has happened but sometimes they are a reaction to ourselves.When I can teach you that you can survive the intensity, ride it out, come out on the other side.
Why would I teach you that you should just suck it up, that your feelings will make me angry, and that the only reason you have them is because you’re hoping to make me a puppet that will dance on your strings?
Your feelings are real and valid things. You’re learning to understand them and control them now as a child so that you won’t have to spend years struggling as an adult.