By: Jamie Klemashevich
In the last post, we explored action steps for dealing with manipulative people in a loving way. But what if your most beautiful, thoughtful, prayerful efforts to respond well have no effect? What if a person continues to cross boundaries and continues use manipulation tactics on you? Take a deep breath my sensitive friends because the answer feels awful…. You may have to refuse to respond at all if a manipulative person will not stop their unhealthy behavior. It seems terrible. To be honest, it feels terrible. Those of you who are parents and have had to let your child cry it out know the awful feeling! A person who is locked into the idolatry of manipulation has made you their idol. They have decided that if you would act a certain way, then their own distress would disappear. They are looking to you to fill something in them that they should be bringing before God. You have addressed the behavior and they refuse to quit. They refuse to get help. Sometimes, manipulative people are so trapped in their behavior that they will not stop when you directly address the behavior. They will continue to drag out the situation just to get some response from you that will feed the emptiness inside them. If you continue to feed it, then you are enabling their idolatry. By disengaging, you are loving them by giving them one less option to satisfy their longing apart from the Lord. How would you even do this?
If you have already communicated “no” in a respectful way, then that is all you have to say. If the manipulative person continues to pursue the issue, then you can reasonably refuse to respond. This reinforces your “no.” Do not change your answer just because someone is pushing you. Do not change your answer just because you feel bad. If you have struggled with setting boundaries and people pleasing, then you will likely feel guilty. However, feeling guilty does not always mean that you have objectively done wrong. Sometimes guilt and compassion get mixed up. That bad feeling may simply mean that you hate to see others suffer, not that you are doing something wrong. We cannot always save others from their suffering. If suffering is a consequence of the choices people continue to make, then alleviating that suffering can be harmful and destructive. Pain may be the very thing that convinces people to do something different. Manipulative people may try to put their safety in your hands by threatening to harm themselves. You can call 911 to keep them safe, but do not give them what they want simply because they threaten self harm. That would reinforce a destructive behavior. Usually, it doesn’t get that extreme. Sometimes, the manipulative person will try to make contact again “to apologize” or “to make things right.” Use discernment. If someone is truly repentant, then praise the Lord! Repentance and reconciliation are beautiful things! Remember, though, that some people will use false repentance to re-engage in the relationship so that they can continue using you like a drug. You will know the difference by their behavior. If the person continues to cross boundaries and manipulate, then they may not have the capacity to have a healthy relationship with you right now. It is loving to recognize that and refuse to engage with a person who habitually crosses your boundaries. You, unfortunately, cannot be the one to help them through their struggle. Sometimes, we must accept that we are not God. We cannot change hearts. We must entrust others to the care of God, continuing to pray for them, but no longer being in close relationship with those who continually hurt us. As one of my professors (Dr. Jeff Nave) puts it, “If someone is swinging an axe, we don’t love them by stepping into the path of the axe.” Sometimes, peace in a relationship requires distance.
It takes courage and strength of character to stand up to manipulation. It requires awareness and dedication to loving others even when that love requires uncomfortable conversations and counter-intuitive actions. God loves us this way. He doesn’t enable our sin. He sets boundaries with us and sticks to them. He never allows us to be God. You may need help on this journey toward loving manipulative people or leaving your own manipulative behavior behind. Contact us today to work with a counselor who is experienced in helping people move toward a more Christ-like way of loving others and themselves. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series! Stay tuned for our next posts.
Jamie is a PLPC and PLMFT who has
been counseling at Restoration since
Jan. 2018. When she isn’t counseling,
Jamie can be found studying for her PhD,
running, and listening to podcasts.