from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

“Dr. Crawford’s presentation was the highlight of the conference and a much needed reminder for all of us (especially nurses) to keep it all balanced. Bill’s psychology background surely protruded through his messages and I know it was well-received by all!”

Nancy Perovic, RN, BSN
University Of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago, IL

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“Compassion doesn’t make us more vulnerable to manipulation any more than understanding makes more vulnerable making bad decisions.”
~ Bill Crawford

Does Compassion Make Us Vulnerable to Manipulation?

I’m sure that we have all had the experience of feeling manipulated by someone, and chances are that that feeling was not good. Unfortunately, to keep this from happening again, many people simply decided not to care or have any compassion for that person because they were afraid that this would make them more vulnerable to being manipulated again in the future.

While this avoidance of compassion is understandable, I’m suggesting that it is not ideal, because it requires that we (a) see the other person as dangerous, or having the power to manipulate us, (b) define ourselves as someone without compassion, and as someone who is able to be manipulated, (c) hold on to the belief that fear of something (in this case, manipulation) will keep us safe.

Given that most of us do not want to make those who would attempt to manipulate us more powerful by thinking of them as dangerous, define ourselves as people without compassion, or use fear to be safe in interpersonal relationships, I suggest that we take another tact.

This more purposeful perspective on manipulation has its roots in neuroscience, and is a significant part of my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy. It begins by looking at the brain as divided in to three parts: the brainstem, the limbic system, and the neocortex. The brainstem and limbic system make up the lower 20% of the brain, and are designed to be reactive in nature, while the neocortex (what I call the “Top of the Mind”) is the upper 80% of the brain, and is more purposeful and proactive in nature.

This upper brain is where we have access to our interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, clarity, confidence, creativity and compassion. In other words, it’s not just the “logical brain,” but also the part of the brain where we define ourselves on purpose versus being made to feel one way or another by some person or situation.

How can this help when dealing with someone who is trying to manipulate us? Well, first, it helps us understand them in a way that minimizes their influence. In other words, if we know that the only reason someone would try to manipulate another is because they are afraid that this is the only way to get their way, we can then surmise that they are coming from the fear-based brain. Chances are they are afraid that we don’t like them, won’t listen to them, won’t do what they want us to do without manipulation, etc. This allows us to see them as frightened or insecure, versus dangerous.

Seeing someone as frightened allows us to have compassion for them without needing to do what they want. This not only allows us to see ourselves as someone who is compassionate (probably a quality that we admire) but this perspective is also good for all concerned.

How could this be good for them? Well, if a person believes that they must manipulate others in order to get what they want, and we allow ourselves to be manipulated, we are reinforcing their manipulative behavior by making it effective. On the other hand, when we respond with compassion, while at the same time letting them know that what they are asking for doesn’t work for us, we are giving them the message that trying to manipulate others isn’t really the best way to get what they want.

We might say something like, “Yes, I can understand how you might want me to do that, it’s just not something I’m comfortable with. If you’d like, I could give all of this some thought and let you know what would work for me.”

Of course, they may not see this as a gift, or agree with our position, but remember, this isn’t about changing them. This is about understanding that they are coming from the fear-based brain, and our being able to define who we are in a way that creates a healthy, loving boundary… in other words, it allows us to use understanding and compassion to stay safe.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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