Manipulation, Irritation and Delight: Empathy for Mysteries of the Left Hemisphere – January 2015

Manipulation, Irritation and Delight: Empathy for Mysteries of the Left Hemisphere – January 2015

Manipulation, Irritation and Delight: Empathy for Mysteries of the Left Hemisphere – January 2015

 January 15, 2015

Sarah Peyton

How to tell if you (or others) are being “manipulative”

Using the word “manipulative” opens a tricky door. It implies a lack of heart, inauthenticity, and even ill-intent. And yet it is our human nature to think ahead, to anticipate how the other person will react, to take into account what we predict they will do, and to act accordingly. It is impossible to remove ourselves from our distributed location in time: remembering the past, breathing in the present, and anticipating the future. And yet we continually strive to come back to our breath – in our spirituality, in our mindfulness and in our language, with the help of the practice of Nonviolent Communication. This commitment to the present moment is our path into integration of our left and our right hemispheres, and to deeper intimacy and peace.

Here are the behaviors we engage in to try to manage our tripod base in the movement of time.  As you read through the following behaviors, notice that every one of them takes us out of the present moment into the future or the past.  How many of them are in your personal repertoire?  How high do the stakes become before you find yourself engaging in them?  How intensely do you need to be in fight or flight before some of these things become likely? Can you hold yourself with gentleness and self-compassion in these strategies for self-regulation by managing others?

Mildly disruptive of connection:

  • Editing the truth

  • Simulating interest

  • Diverting the flow of conversation

  • Taking action or choosing words that will elicit a particular response from another person

Moderately disruptive of connection

  • Suggesting to the other that he or she does not care enough, is too selfish, or has it easy

  • Fighting about who started it

  • Blaming the other

Very disruptive of connection

  • Shaming the other: eye rolls, turning one’s back on the other, questioning competency or motivation, contempt, sarcasm, insults

  • Choosing the “silent treatment” as a response

  • Making threats

  • Refusing to acknowledge the other’s experience

  • Telling the other that they are “crazy”

  • Telling the other that they are an “abuser”

  • Namecalling

  • Using anger to avoid confrontation or avoid telling the truth

Difficult to recover from:

  • Only losing one’s temper or making a certain kind of remark when alone with the other

  • Traumatic one-trial learning (Responding with explosive anger which can condition the other into “walking on eggshells”)

What’s the good of reading this list? As we begin to recognize the behaviors we engage in when we are out of balance, and introduce compassion into the mix, we may find that we have more breathing room in the friction of intimacy when the stakes are high.

Being able to recognize the self-protective strategies that promote disconnection helps us with a deceptively simple foundational skill of Nonviolent Communication: the art of clear observation. The relationship between any two people, be they partners, friends, co-workers, or parent and child, becomes murkier and more mysterious the closer they become. The interplay between the nervous system states of presence, upset and dissociation is most often the culprit in spiraling, long-term, relational pain. Instead of playing the blame game of “who started it,” there is more reward in starting to notice and take responsibility for our own protective shifts into the left hemisphere, and using clear language to ask the other about their left shifts.

The formality and precision of the NVC observation, i.e. “When I think about how I was talking about my worries about money, and you responded by talking about your mother’s health, I feel…” or  “When I remember when I was talking about the dates of my business trip, and you told me I was selfish, I feel…” allows us to bring past events into present time.  When we do this with care and curiosity, rather than with blame, we can begin to uncover the nervous system states alive in both parties. We might discover the shame and overwhelm that may accompany discussions about money.  We might discover the pain and fear of abandonment that accompany physical separation.

In honor of this material and to build these skills, this month’s IPNB teleseminar is called Manipulation, Irritation and Delight: Empathy for Mysteries of the Left Hemisphere. On Tuesday evening, January 27, at 7 pm, we will explore the research that reveals the man behind the curtain inside all of our brains (our left hemisphere), looking at the strategies we use to try to manage one another, including the list above, and adding the bonus of self-comparison.

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