A basic goal of therapy is gaining an ability to better manipulate ourselves and other people. This means learning how to directly influence ourselves, which will indirectly influence other people. Manipulation is the opposite of force and allows us to establish and maintain healthy relationships with ourselves and others. One of the main tools of manipulation is validation, which is simply letting the other person know that you understand their point of view, without criticism and judgment. Validation is the foundation for change.
We all function on scripts. Our sense of safety is based on our ability to establish control in the moment and maintain it in the future. And our ability to maintain safety in the future is about our ability to correctly predict and prepare. This is why we write scripts in our mind about the next steps. This is not a fully conscious process, we do it automatically without even noticing. Such as when we are going to a store, we write in our mind a script with a sequence of events – “I will get into a car, drive to a store, park, buy these groceries and come back home.” And we try to stick to our scripts, as this gives us a sense of control – “I know what is happening and what will happen one minute from now and I am right about my predictions.” Being right is very important to our sense of safety, we usually get angry when we are proven to be wrong, or something interferes with our plans.
When people want to get something from each other, they also have prepared scripts – “I will say this, she will answer that, and this is how I will follow up.” And, of course, we want the conversation to follow our own script. Frequently what we get out of this tendency is not a desired outcome but an argument. The main products of an argument are anger and each person insisting on their own perspective, trying to prove that “I am right, and you are wrong.” This is an example of using force and this tactic is indeed insane, as when we want t increase our chances of getting what we want from another person, the last thing that we need to do it make them angry and defensive.
What should we do instead? Instead of force, we need to use manipulation. One of the main tools of manipulation is validation. Validation is communication of an understanding that the other person’s perspective makes sense to us, given its causes, even if we do not agree with it. Validation is acceptance and not approval. And since our world is built on a dialectic of everything having two sides, which are not the same but complimentary (e.g., day/night, good/bad, live/death), everything has validity. Everything is valid and invalid at the same time. Paradox is the only norm of our existence.
Example – a child had a fight with his brother. He runs to his mother to complain or explain what happened. He has a script in his mind, in which his mother is going to probably say the usual – “fighting is bad, you should never yell at your brother” and he has prepared answers defending his actions “but he started it first and broke my new firetruck!” Of course, it is true that screaming is not the way to solve problems. However, stating this is not the best tactic to help the child reconsider his behavior. If his mother follows this script, she will just have another temper tantrum on her hands. We cannot win a game, playing by someone else’s rules. We need to make them play our own game by our rules. But never through force. In this situation the game changer is validation. Instead of meeting the child’s expectations of being reprimanded or punished, the mother is saying “Wow! This is terrible! I would also be very angry of someone broke my favorite toy!”
What just happened – the mother simply said exactly what the child wanted to communicate instead of her child. She communicated that his feelings have validity, given what happened. She did not say “great job screaming at your brother.’ She communicated acceptance, not approval. What are the products of validation: 1) the mother took away the child’s need to defend, argue or insist; 2) by communicating that she understands, accepts and does not judge, she reduced the child’s emotional arousal; 3) she deviated from the child’s script, which introduced a moment of confusion for a child – “now what do I say?’, which opened up an opportunity for his mother to introduce her game by her rules; 4) she now has a chance to process with her child what happed and write a new program on what to do instead in the future; 5) she now can also work on developing the child’s capacity to follow through with the new plan in the future by practicing the. new response in the moment and reinforcing it with praise, rewards, or points.
Now this is what we call manipulation!