It’s never easy to say “no” to someone you love and care about. Saying “no” can make you feel selfish, especially when you find yourself debating whether they are making a reasonable request. When you’re dealing with a manipulative person, you may find that you struggle even more.
Matthew 7, in the New Testament, has a lot to say about manipulative people. In verses 15-19, Jesus warns about ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’. What this means is that although people may say that they are concerned for your welfare or have your best interests at heart, this is not always necessarily true.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit, you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit, you will recognize them.” — Matthew 7:15-19
Jesus says that you can recognize wolves in sheep’s clothing (or manipulative people) by the results of their conduct. You can recognize manipulative behavior by asking yourself who is actually going to benefit from what they’re requesting. Compare this truth with what they are claiming the benefits will be.
For example, if a person you suspect of exhibiting manipulative behavior asks you to make some kind of compromise, and suggests that it will be beneficial for everyone concerned, you need to figure out if this is actually true. Will others benefit – or is it just the manipulative person that’s going to reap the rewards?
Are You Being Manipulated?
Identifying a manipulative person can be a challenge sometimes because there are a variety of different manipulative strategies that can be used. That’s because manipulative people understand that every person is different and they will change their tactics when manipulating their victims in order to guarantee success.
Let’s look at a couple of ways that manipulative people are able to take advantage of the people in their lives.
Preying on Insecurities
Emotional manipulation is a technique that many manipulative people use a lot. Manipulation in relationships often hinges on manipulative people being able to capitalize on your feelings for them and your own insecurities, such as a desire to be recognized as being a ‘good person’. You don’t want anyone to think that you’re being selfish or that you’re cold and unloving.
To capitalize on your insecurities, expert manipulators will know exactly what to say. If you say no to something, or make an excuse, they may respond by saying, “If you really loved me you would…” This is a really successful manipulative behavior because when you love someone you do feel bad (or guilty) if you say no. Manipulators know this, and they take advantage of your guilt.
As a psychological technique, gaslighting is a term that comes from a play based around an abusive relationship. When manipulative people engage in gaslighting, it can often feel like they’re trying to make you feel like you’re losing your mind. They start to question and cast doubts on the way that you view and understand events that have happened – so you start to doubt yourself, too.
Extreme gaslighting can make you feel as though you’re delusional or that you’re being unreasonable in your interpretations of events. A perfect example of this is the way that alcoholics can convince their partners that they’re not really drinking as much as their partner claims they are. While the partner knows that they’re not overestimating the problem, a manipulative alcoholic can, by coercion and guilt-tripping, eventually convince them otherwise.
Another funny but painful example for sex addiction can be seen in the Carol Burnett show in a clip titled Wrong Number. Click the following link to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uP3WgoGw4Mw.
Responding Well to Manipulation
While it’s easy to give in to manipulation and hard to take a stand against it, you need to understand that you’re not being loving when you give in to a manipulative person. You’re not helping the situation, and you shouldn’t feel guilty when you refuse to give in.
There’s a big difference between giving and giving in. Giving is something you do from a position of love. But giving in is something that you do when you’re afraid of the consequences of refusing.
Manipulation in relationships is common, but giving in to your partner’s manipulative behavior will not help (or save) the relationship. Your manipulative partner may attempt to convince you that if you give in to their demands your bond will be stronger, but this is simply not true. Giving in turns you into a victim of manipulative behavior – as well as giving your partner the message that they have free reign to manipulate you.
You may still struggle with the idea that you’re being selfish when you refuse to capitulate to a manipulative person, but it’s important to remember that you have a right to have boundaries. We all need healthy boundaries that define what is an isn’t acceptable or good for us, and when dealing with manipulative people it’s vital that you’re able to maintain the boundaries you set.
Manipulation is different from the normal give-and-take in relationships, and you need to realize that your safety and your values are something you shouldn’t compromise on. If you have even the vaguest sense that you’re being manipulated, listen to that inner voice that’s telling you that something’s not right in the relationship.
Christian Counseling for Manipulation
In I Corinthians 13:5, we read that love is not self-seeking and love never keeps any kind of record of wrongdoings. A manipulative person may seem to have a long list of occasions where you’ve let them down in some way and seize every opportunity to use these to make you feel guilty. These lists are their ammunition in the battle to control and coerce you.
Recognizing manipulation is easier when you remember that genuine love is that which gives you strength, comforts you, and is beneficial for both parties, not just one.
If you’re struggling with manipulation in relationships, a Christian counselor can help you work through your feelings and recognize the true signs of manipulative behavior. In situations where there is substance abuse, addiction or violence, getting help immediately is vital. This is even more important if your partner is using you or your children as primary excuses for addictive or violent behavior.
Working with a professional Christian counselor can help you to build a genuinely loving relationship through biblically based therapeutic techniques – the kind of relationship that I Corinthians 13 describes.
“Rear View”, Courtesy of Matthew Fassnacht, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Puppet on Strings”, Courtesy of Yomare, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Manipulator”, Courtesy of Janrye, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Argument”, Courtesy of Jonathan Sharp, Unsplash.com, CC0 License