Most people who manipulate others don’t see it as destructive. They tell themselves that what they want or need is so important that the ends justify the means.
For example, Christine believed that all her adult children should come to her home to celebrate Christmas together. She said, “We don’t see each other often and spending one holiday together isn’t asking for too much.”
There isn’t anything wrong with what Christine wanted except when one of her children said that he wasn’t coming home last year, Christine started crying. She told him how selfish he was and how much he was hurting her by his uncaring attitude.
She hoped that by telling her son her honest feelings, he would change his mind and come home. Christine was playing on his sympathies with an added dose of the guilt card in order to get her son to do what she wanted. That’s called manipulation.
When we regularly manipulate someone and refuse to graciously accept their “no”, the relationship deteriorates.
Even if Christine got all of her children to comply in coming home for Christmas each year, when they do it out of guilt with the underlying feeling of resentment, is that going to give her the family closeness she craves? No way.
All healthy relationships require the freedom to say no to the other without fear or pressure. When freedom is absent, or you don’t allow someone to say no to you, or have their own opinion, without you making them feel guilty, pressured, afraid, or stupid, then you won’t have a healthy relationship with that person.
Part of good emotional, mental and spiritual health is your ability to tolerate your own pain and disappointment when someone doesn’t do what you want. No one always gets what they want all the time, even if what they want is good.
Recently someone e-mailed me a question and asked,“My wife says I’m controlling. She says I never allow her to have her own opinion.I disagree. I just think I’m passionate and assertive and she avoids conflict. Am I controlling and manipulative like she says? I don’t see it?”
I encouraged him to invite honest feedback from those who know him well. Ask work colleagues, family members, children, and other friends how they experience him and to encourage them to tell the truth without fear of retaliation. Most of them said he was intimidating and controlling. John was flabbergasted. He had no idea. Now what?
Once you see you have this tendency to push for your own way, your own agenda and manipulate others to comply, if you want to stop doing it, you must humble yourself and confess this problem. Confess this sin to God, repent of manipulating people’s emotions just to get your own way. Ask him to help you be aware and be willing to not demand your way all the time.
Next, ask people closest to you to give you direct feedback when they feel you are being manipulative toward them.
Old habits die hard.
Even when we want to change, we don’t always recognize what we are doing until it’s already done. When you invite people to give you feedback, you are asking people to stop you right in the midst of your manipulative tactics which shows them that you are serious about changing them.
Next comes the hardest part. When they give you their feedback, you must stop doing what you are doing. You can’t keep pushing, bullying, arguing, or guilt tripping. Thank them for their feedback and stop and reflect on your actions. Ask God to help you see what you’re doing as well as for help to handle the disappointment of not getting what you want.
To stop destructive patterns you can’t do it alone. We must have other people who can regularly speak into our lives because the Bible tells us we all have a tendency to lie to ourselves (Hebrews 3:13, Jeremiah 17:9).
If you practice these four steps:
See (become aware)
Confess to God and to people
Ask for Feedback
Stop when you are engaging in the pattern of manipulation.
Your friends and family will know you mean business. They will see you sincerely want to change this destructive pattern. Change doesn’t happen overnight for anyone. Just because you see something needs to change, the actual changing takes time, practice and persistence.
But I promise, if you practice these steps, you can stop being a manipulator and learn to be better friend, spouse, colleague, and parent.