September 18, 2016

Why we’re all Manipulative (& What to Do about It).

Sarah Swinton/Unsplash

We are all manipulative. Yes, all of us, including me.

And, we’re all manipulative for the same reason.

When we were growing up, we were taught that certain behaviors were “good” and certain behaviors were “bad.” We learned that the “good” behaviors resulted in our parents loving and approving of us, and “bad” behaviors resulted in disapproval and feeling unloved.

For us small, sensitive children, feeling unloved and disapproved of by our parents was nearly unbearable. So, we learned to manipulate our behavior to match the behaviors that got us approval. We learned that our authentic selves were not good enough—that we had to change to get love.

As adults, we continue to change our behaviors to try to get love from others, essentially manipulating them into giving us what we want.

But, this a lose-lose game, because no one has love and approval to give. They learned the same thing as we did—that we’re not good enough—so they are busy trying to manipulate us to get the same love and approval.

When I’m working with private clients in my coaching practice, I teach three ways to break out of this cycle:

1) Make love and approval an inside job.

We are all so conditioned to try to get love and approval outside of ourselves that it has become an addiction. Addictions are never easy to break, but it is possible. When we find ourselves grasping for love and approval outside ourselves, we can turn our attention inward.

Can you love and approve of yourself? Can you love all the parts of yourself that don’t fall under the category of “good” behavior?

When we’re loved starved, as most of us are, it can be difficult to locate a feeling of love inside our bodies. The good news? We can ask for help. Ask God/Your Higher Self/The Universe (whatever language you use) to show you how love feels. You can also think of someone or something you love unconditionally (often this will be a baby or a baby animal) and feel the love that opens inside of you when you think of them. Then, send that love to yourself.

When loving and approving of ourselves becomes an inside job, we naturally start to drop love and approval seeking behaviors

2. Replace Your Love- and Approval-Seeking Behaviors With Honesty.

Some typical love and approval seeking behaviors can include:

>> Being nice.
>> Care-taking.
>> Putting other’s needs first, and forgoing our own needs and desires.
>> Not asking for what we want, and pretending we don’t want anything.
>> Playing small.
>> Pretending everything’s fine when we’re angry or sad or any “negative” emotion.
>> Saying yes when we want to say no.

The tricky thing about a lot of these behaviors is that society will often congratulate us for them. Society will tell us that we are “good.” But, these behaviors come with a great cost, because we are denying our truth.

The only way to break an ingrained behavior is to go against the grain of the behavior and do the opposite.

For example, if we usually say “yes” when we are really a “no,” we can start saying our honest “no.”

Or, if we traditionally don’t ask for what we want, we can start asking for it.

Doing the opposite of our love- and approval-seeking behaviors will feel incredibly uncomfortable at first. We are going against years of conditioning and risking disapproval.

But, the more we do this the easier it will become, and eventually we will begin to feel more empowered and free in our lives. When we feel more empowered and free, we naturally stop seeking love and approval outside of ourselves.

3. Heal the Mother and Father Wound.

Mom and Dad were usually the most central figures in our lives, and the ones who taught us most of our love- and approval-seeking behaviors.

As children, when we felt unloved or disapproved of by mom or dad, it created a deep feeling of wounded-ness inside. That wounded feeling is the reason why we incessantly seek love and approval from others.

We think if someone else loved and approved of us, we would feel less wounded. But, it doesn’t work, because everyone else has a mother or father wound as well.

The only thing to do is work on healing the wounded feeling inside of us. The above two steps can help heal the wound, as can working directly with the mother/father wound.


When we stop manipulating our behavior to try to find love and approval, we shed a false layer and discover our authentic selves.

We may be a lot less “nice,” but we will be real.

Welcome home.


Author: Sarah Kennedy

Image: Sarah Swinton/Unsplash

Editor: Toby Israel


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