Most of us are guilty of manipulation at times. We all want to have our own way and sometimes communicating our desires requires a skill set which we have not yet acquired. Or perhaps we have learned manipulation in our childhoods from parents who learned it from their parents.
Manipulation in any form is an illegitimate way of getting what we want.
Manipulation, at its ugly heart, is dishonest.
The good news is that normal, well-intentioned people respond well to both honesty and genuine attempts at communication. After all, the main goal of real communication is to reach understanding, if not agree with another person. Learning to ask for what you want or need is easier for some than others. But adult relationships require this kind of give and take.
I am always a little convicted by these kinds of posts. Lists of manipulative behaviors mean that I have to look inside myself for times when these have bled into my relationships. But my real concern here is to help my readers identify whether or not they have predators in their lives. Several years ago, I had a boss who was predatory. She used most of these methods of manipulation on a regular basis. It took me a while to realize it, as it does most people.
But one day, as I heard her walking down the hallway, pounding her heels into the floor so that her steps would echo, I saw the truth. I wasn’t having a personality conflict or a difference of opinion with her. She was on a crusade to assert total dominance over me because I had done the unthinkable. I had pointed out a repeated error that affected the lives of many of our students. She felt humiliated and so began the weapons of manipulation in full swing.
Here are just a few to help you think through your relationships. Just because someone occasionally resorts to manipulation doesn’t mean they are a predator. But repeated and worsening episodes should be a giant red flag to you.
1: They don’t tell the whole story
If anything, the last couple of years should show us what happens when stories are twisted in order to manipulate the audience. Fake news is manipulation at its most dangerous as it seeks to deceive and inflame the audience. So too, the predator can wring the life out of a story, leaving only enough behind to make them look like a victim, or worse, cast you as the bad guy. If someone you know leaves out key details on a regular basis, withdraw your trust immediately.
2: They pretend innocence
If you bring up an issue with someone who has predatory characteristics, their act of innocence makes you question yourself. That’s how good they are. I remember getting a phone call from a teenage girl who was staying at the home of her pastor and his wife. Her parents had kicked her out so she sought refuge with the one person who she thought she could trust. When she called, I could hear him in the background pleading with her to come out of the bathroom.
She had locked herself in to avoid his unwanted advances. I could hear him pleading with her to come out and let him just “love” on her. He wouldn’t hurt her. He just wanted to touch her. I dispatched the police and they got her out without incident. However, his act of innocence was so touching, so convincing, that his congregation fell for it hook, line, and sinker. A couple years later, he was arraigned on charges of sexual assault, still maintaining his innocence.
3: They use guilt
But I thought you loved me is the cry of every predator, sexual or otherwise. It seems an easy one to identify as bologna but its hooks grab deep, particularly for young women. I read a lot as a young person and so had come across this idea many times that a man who loves you won’t pressure you. And yet, even knowing that, I fell for it as a senior in high school.
Use this rule of thumb to discover whether you are a victim of regular, focused guilting. Are you made to feel as though everything is your fault? Does your partner or friend accuse you regularly of being hurtful, even though you can’t recall hurting them? Do you have a sense of dread even thinking about them, knowing that you will have to defend yourself again and again? That person in your life is using you. They intend to drain you dry and only you can extricate yourself.
4: They minimize
I was only teasing. You are too sensitive. Or I don’t know why you are making such a big deal out of something so small. If you hear these words often, then you might have a user in your life. This form of manipulation is intended to belittle you to the point where you are confused about what matters and what does not. Don’t fall for it. Someone capable of empathy will care about your life.
5: They punish those who stand up to them
Punishment comes in many forms. The silent treatment, emotional withdrawal, constant recriminations, and mean-spirited criticism are all forms of it. So are sulking, yelling, throwing things, gossiping behind your back, and making threats. Even teasing can be a form of punishment. I remember watching a young couple tease each other pretty hard, thinking to myself that underneath that slightly mean play was some anger.
When we get angry at others, we often are tempted to hand out a punishment. But any kind of punishment within an adult relationship is manipulation. It takes vulnerability to say you hurt me or this arrangement isn’t working for me. But a predator learned early on that manipulation got him or her what he/she wanted. Their reasoning must be don’t fix what ain’t broke.
When Jesus said let your yes be yes and your no be no, He was talking about manipulation. Learning to get rid of our own manipulative habits and respond appropriately when others use it against us is one of life’s biggest lessons. And it seems like this is a class that we never get to stop taking.
But if you find yourself in any of these, (and I know I do), then reflect on the notion that the very first manipulator was the serpent who didn’t tell the whole story. The second was Adam who shifted the blame and pretended innocence. Ironically, Eve was the only one in that scenario to tell the truth. She had been deceived and so ate the apple. Don’t be fooled by manipulation and refrain from the temptation of using it. Such manipulations led to the Fall, and continue to lead mankind down spirals from which they cannot always rescue themselves.