If You’re Manipulative and You Know It... (Part I)
By Janel Breitenstein
Hi. I’m Janel, and I’m a former manipulator.
I know I’m not alone. From childhood up, we’ve all acquired healthy and unhealthy ways to obtain what we crave. Certain dynamics in our home of origin, like addiction, for example, or an unhealthy emphasis on appearance, can make us more prone to manipulating.
Whether we’ve crossed the line into manipulation has a lot to do with how direct we are about stating what we want or need. Of course, there are times subtlety can preserve someone’s dignity (think Queen Esther’s approach to her husband), or even a relationship. Sometimes, it’s just good manners (“Would you be open to spending some time together this weekend?”). But even when we’re being honest with ourselves and others about what we want or need, “direct” can still be “controlling.” (Esther 5-9)
Would you believe there were times I was the last to figure out I was being manipulative? Consider whether any of these “warning lights” might be true of you.
- If I’m yearning for a compliment from my spouse, I say or do something without actually asking for the compliment.
- I allow my spouse to do something but later make him or her feel guilty.
- I occasionally give things, resources, or time to my spouse and expect something in return (even if it’s just appreciation).
- If my spouse doesn’t do what I want, I employ subtle ways—or sometimes sarcasm or criticism—to change his or her mind or behavior.
- Sometimes I fib about how things went down.
- I withhold things—like sex, affection, money—to get what I want.
- I give my spouse the silent treatment when I’m angry.
- I threaten or give ultimatums.
- I have a hard time admitting when I’m wrong. I’m often defensive.
- When I show disappointment, I can be a little over the top.
- I occasionally self-deprecate so someone will encourage me.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about what you can do if you see yourself in this list.
The good stuff: Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being. (Psalm 51:6)
Action points: It can be hard to identify when we’re manipulating someone when we don’t even realize we have an agenda. If you saw yourself in the list above, get in the habit of running through these questions in your mind:
- When you’re engaging in even a mild conflict of interest with your spouse, ask yourself, What do I want (even if it’s not right or makes me look bad)? Confess this to God.
- Acknowledge what’s both healthy and unhealthy about your desire.
- Ask God to help you trust Him with what you want, rather than seeking to control your spouse to fulfill your desire. Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, who both recognized His desire and surrendered it to God’s will.
- Calmly and openhandedly express your desire to your spouse.
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