By: Jamie Klemashevich
This is the hard part, friends. We’ve talked about manipulation and the need to recognize it when it’s happening. We’ve identified several of the behaviors that indicate the presence of manipulation. All that remains is how to love manipulative people without giving in to the manipulation.
Step 1: Be aware.
This includes awareness of your inner experience and awareness of interpersonal dynamics. Your own intuition and emotion can serve you well. Intuition is really just the nervous system responding to stimuli, and it can be extremely accurate (for more on this, check out “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin DeBecker). If your intuition is telling you that a person may be unsafe, then you have good reason to be careful around them. If your emotions are telling you that you feel used or hurt in a relationship, then it is worth exploring those emotions. They may indicate unreasonably expectations on your part, but they may also point to a harmful relationship. Remember, manipulative people try to make their reality more important than yours. To love a manipulator, you must acknowledge your own experience and recognize it as equally important. God created all people with equal value. Healthy adult relationships involve the experiences and needs of both people. It would be unloving to reinforce the manipulator’s delusion that their own reality is supreme. By speaking up about your own experience, you help the manipulative person see that their own experience does not trump that of others. The old Alcoholics Anonymous phrase is “get right sized.” We must all recognize that we are no more important than others, and we are no less important than others.
Step 2: Recognize your areas of vulnerability and find secure identity in Christ alone.
It is very difficult to manipulate people who have strong conviction about who they are and whose voice they will follow. It’s almost annoying to come across people so firmly grounded! God created all people with limitations and needs that were meant to be filled in healthy ways. However, vulnerabilities can be twisted into insecurities. If you are blind to your own sensitivities, insecurities, needs, and areas of vulnerability, then they can be exploited. Working with a counselor will help you recognize some of these areas. You can learn where they come from and allow God to use them for his purposes. You may even need God to heal some wounds so that you are better able to walk by the Spirit. Old wounds and insecurities can lead us into people pleasing, shame, self-doubt, and inappropriate guilt. Old wounds can also lead us into manipulative behavior, idolatry of control, narcissism, and lack of identity. Either way, we love others (and ourselves) by pursuing healing of those wounds.
Step 3: Directly address the behavior.
It is loving to directly address inappropriate (e.g., harmful, intrusive, controlling, obsessive) behavior. The manipulative person might get angry. However, the responses of others cannot dictate our behavior. Jesus did not let the responses of others keep him from speaking truth or acting with integrity. The most loving thing you can do for a manipulative person is to expose the behavior for what it is. This doesn’t mean that you shout, “YOU ARE MANIPULATING ME!!!” That might be a bit much. You may say something like, “I understand that you are sad, but it is still inappropriate to demand that I fix that because I can’t.” You may end up saying, “I can see that you are disappointed, but that does not change my decision.” You may even say, “It seems like you are needing more help than I can give you. Have you considered professional counseling?” These responses are compassionate and honest. They communicate what you are willing to offer and what you are not willing to offer. You do not need to justify these responses. The more you try to explain and justify, the less clear you become. Communicate directly and clearly. Determine what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do. You will likely feel like a terrible person. The manipulative person will capitalize on this and may use guilt or accusation to get you to change your mind. Giving in when a person tries to manipulate like that actually does them a disservice. They will learn that they get what they want when they act in these unhealthy ways, and you will end up resentful. It is not kind to give more than you are willing to give, and it is not loving to allow another person to determine your course.
With most people, these responses will be enough. It will be enough to set your boundaries and stick to them. The person will recognize that you are not going to do what they want, and they will move on. They may protest at first, and they may try to make you feel like a terrible human being, but they will eventually move on. Sometimes that is not the case. I originally said that this series would be three parts. As I wrote, I recognized that we need a fourth part to address those situations when direct communication and simple boundaries are not enough to bring peace to relationships. In the final post in this series, I will enter territory that my friends who struggle will people pleasing may hate. It will be difficult to talk about and some may disagree with me. That is ok! However, I want to acknowledge that sometimes our most calm, wise, and healthy efforts are not enough to keep a relationship healthy and peaceful. So then, what does it look like to “live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18)?
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 playing with her dog.