by: Jamie Klemashevich
We’ve all been there: kicking ourselves for catering to the demands of others, finding ourselves in situations where we feel trapped, thinking that loving others surely doesn’t mean feeling so enslaved in relationships. Often, the reason is, “I felt bad (or guilty or mean or rude).” These feelings are actually coming from breaking social customs, not necessarily doing something wrong. Social customs allow us a sense of expected behavior. They provide predictability in interactions, and they oil the gears of social interaction. However, social customs are not scriptural commands, and we need to be cautious about confusing the two. In some societies, it is social custom to kill all outsiders. This allows the society to feel safe, but clearly does not align with scripture! Social customs can also be dangerous because manipulators know these social rules and harness their power to control the behavior of others. When manipulation is obvious (“I am going to hurt you if you don’t…”), we tend to recognize it. However, most manipulation is subtle, so subtle that it escapes our notice.
Some people want to believe the best about others. I have friends who could get stabbed and still try to tell me that the guy was “just having a bad day.” *EYE ROLL* I love and need those beautiful optimists in my life! The problem is that people do not always have the purest motives. If the heart is truly desperately sick, as scripture describes, then none of us actually has entirely pure motives (Jer. 17:9). If you want to love manipulators, then you must acknowledge the inherent sinfulness of man. Scripture teaches that we should “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). The truth is that we all have a propensity toward sin. Scripture says that Jesus did not always entrust himself to others because he knew what was in the hearts of men (hint: it wasn’t pure motives). Jesus knew what people were thinking and their intentions (John 2:24-25, Matt. 12:25, Matt. 22:18, Luke 16:15). He did not “believe the best” about people. He believed the truth. His view of others was compassionate without being naïve. Of course, this does not mean that we must always assume ulterior motives. However, we should allow for the possibility.
Denial almost always becomes part of a manipulative relationship. Here’s the problem: denial is sin disguised as “niceness.” It is a lie that we tell to ourselves and sometimes to others. It says something is not happening that is in fact happening. Scripture speaks to denial (Jer. 6:14, Jer. 8:11, Ezek. 13: 10, 16). God does not want or expect us to say “peace, peace” when, in reality, there is no peace. In context, these verses speak of injustice, sin, and “smoothing things over” to avoid true repentance. In denial, people are often trying to avoid conflict, avoid offending someone, or avoid uncomfortable truth. If you do this, you are playing into the manipulator’s hand. Christlikeness means that we speak the truth in love. It is not loving to ignore your own feelings and perceptions. It is not loving to say that someone’s actions are “fine” when they are not. It is not loving to pretend that all is well, when all is not well. It usually feels “nice,” but it is not truly loving.
These are difficult truths to face. In recognizing the depravity of the world around you, it is important to hold on to the hope we have in Jesus. Recognition of sin allows for the healing balm of grace to be applied. Next week, I will introduce you to common tactics of manipulators. When you recognize manipulation tactics, you are far less likely to fall victim to these tactics. In part three, we will explore loving ways to respond to manipulators. We will also explore ways to inoculate against manipulation. These posts are not encouraging a game of cops and robbers, or what I like to call “Catch The Manipulator.” They are about recognizing unhealthy, often sinful behavior and responding to it in the most loving way possible. I look forward to walking through part two with you as we learn to identify manipulation!