(This blog will take the average adult about 3 minutes to read.)
They say it takes one to know one.
Consider me an authority on manipulators—because I am a champion among them.
I can spot a manipulator and a liar from a mile away—because I know it intimately within myself.
Note: I think you’ll find some of the most skilled manipulators among those who have been deeply emotionally wounded. Manipulation is an outpouring of a desire for control. Often, when one’s life has been chaotic and painful, one attempts to control one’s own little worlds, and manipulation plays a huge role in that. I know this is the case for me—and I’ve seen it time and time again in others. Chaos, pain, gangrenous emotional wounds—and manipulation—seem to often be a package deal. A manipulator’s backstory may make it understandable, but it does not make it ok, or something to be tolerated.
Yes, I just compared manipulators to Satan. I just compared myself to Satan. I think it’s important to call it what it is. The fall of man started in the garden with manipulation. Satan is the first, and most convincing manipulator we see in Scripture. He exchanges truth for a lie in attempt to gain control. When we choose to manipulate, we choose to emulate Satan.
In December of 2013, the Holy Spirit very directly confronted my use of manipulation as sinful—and a choice. In a very specific situation where I was tempted to manipulate a friend into acting how I wanted him to, the Holy Spirit very clearly told me three things:
- You can make a conscious decision not to manipulate this person.
- You do not have to manipulate anyone any longer. Go, and sin no more.
- Trust Me for the outcome.
I used to be proud of my ability to manipulate people. But over that time, God started making it clear to me that my skill at manipulation was nothing to be proud of, but a reflection of The Accuser. He started speaking to me about how the root of manipulation was a lack of trust that he was sovereign—and good—and how at the end of the day, I thought I was a better God than He is. (I am my favorite idol.) Manipulation denies that God is soveriegn, and relies on our own fucked up sovereignty in our own lives—and over others’. Manipulation says: I will protect and defend myself, and control my own life.
Manipulation says nothing to the sovereignty of God—of that he is my protector. It brings the entire weight of my own emotional/physical/spiritual safety onto my own shoulders—and I cannot shoulder that weight. For me, the decision to not manipulate stems from learning to trust God that his outcome, no matter what it is, will suffice. In the past three years, I feel like I’ve had to repent of my distrust and self-idolization thousands of time. And He is faithful to convict me of my sin, and meet me with grace. Manipulating is still my natural gut response, and opting to not manipulate requires power beyond myself. Choosing to not manipulate still requires repentance for me—but He has been faithful to “keep me from stumbling”.
(And for the record, passive aggression is really just another form of manipulation. We can talk about that later, I suppose.)
As a grade-A manipulator myself, I tend to have a strong reaction to being manipulated. The second I catch a whiff of that toxic air, I rebel against it with fervor. Attempting to manipulate me is a surefire way to achieve the exact opposite outcome of what you want. (And don’t try reverse psychology, either. That’s manipulation, too.) To this day, I reel against manipulation. I become withholding. I withhold the manipulator’s desired outcome. I withhold myself. I withhold love, grace, and mercy.
In other words, to this day, when I see manipulation fast encroaching from the horizon (and I do spot it from a long way off), I respond with manipulation. Only very recently did I realize this—that despite so much repentance and change in my heart and actions in terms of being an instigating manipulator—I am still a responsive manipulator through and through. And it has been hard for me to repent and change because it happens literally in seconds. In the aforementioned style of manipulation, I’m given time to respond—to decide. In the latter, it still feels like a gut reaction. That filth wells up in my heart like a flash flood.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think it is wise, when we spot encroaching manipulation, to not just give in—or allow it to persist. However, withholding love, grace, mercy—myself—from a manipulator is just the other side of the same coin. It is an attempt to bring the control back into my grasp when someone tries to strip it from me. It still says, “I will be the sovereign ruler of this situation.” and says nothing to trusting the sovereignty of God.
As Christians, we’re not really invited to choose to which situations and which people we respond to with love, grace, and mercy. We do—but we shouldn’t. Like I said, I think it wise to react to manipulation with… wisdom… (There’s the pull quote!) but we should respond in wisdom with love, grace and mercy—a reflection of the divine love given to us by God through Jesus.
The desire for control, and ability to use manipulation to achieve it, is like a festering gangrenous wound for me. And I can’t take care of it myself. (But I wish I could!) I need a doctor to come in and scrape the infection out—repeatedly. For me, the Holy Spirit started scraping out that wound a few years back—and I still need him to dig deeper and remove more gangrene. It’s not pleasant. It is painful—not just to have that wound scraped out, but to realize time and time again that the gangrene is back—or more aptly put, that it never fully left.
For now, I cling to the hope that He is making all things new. And I love that it is “making” not “made”.