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Emotional Manipulation #20110505emotional woman
Some people know just what to say to get us to do things you really don’t want to do. They size us up, tell us what will move us the desired direction and use us for their own purposes.
Learn more about how these people operate in Emotional Manipulation, part of our ongoing series on Mental Health and the Bible.
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In my counseling practice, I always try to be very straightforward with new people and explain to them how hard it is to do psychotherapy. I explain to them that sometimes people start to miss sessions because they just can’t bear to come to their therapy anymore. And then I have a contract that I give them that explains what I’m going to do if they start missing sessions. Basically, it says that I’m going to charge them for the sessions if they don’t let me know ahead of time. Or, if their insurance company won’t let me do that, then I’m going to refer them to someone else, because there is no sense in me sitting in my office when they’re not there to do the work. I’m very positive about therapy. All good therapists do that. They’re very pro-therapy. So I am. And all my clients – because I’m so positive about it – want to think of themselves as wanting to get better. So, instead of telling me that it’s too hard when they miss sessions, they just make up excuses so they can skip the sessions without being charged. Sometimes they let me know ahead of time; sometimes later. But I think they size me up – some of them have told me this – as sort of a caring person who wants to help them, and so they try to take advantage of that. They think, “Well, you know, he wants to do the therapy with me more than I want to do it, so I’ll just see if I can get by with it.” That’s a manipulative tactic, isn’t it?
So today we’re going to look at the manipulative personality, how people manipulate others, what causes it, and also what Christians can do to avoid manipulating and being manipulated – all that in thirty minutes.
The manipulative personality is, essentially, an aggressive personality. Now there are people who are overtly aggressive. Those are the people that we’re afraid of or intimidated by, and it’s very clear that they are aggressive. Then there is the covert personality that is aggressive in a covert way – kind of Hans Landa type – if you saw that movie. Most manipulative people are the covert type. They’re not overtly aggressive. They just kind of sneak it up on us.
That personality type is also self-centered. They’re narcissistic. They’re self-involved and they lack empathy for other people. So it’s all about what I want and what I can get other people to do for me, instead of what I can do for them.
They tend to use other people. And they do that in a number of ways. One is to just outright lie. They’re dishonest. Or, they’re deceptive about it. They tell half-truths or they don’t tell the whole truth. That’s why, when you go to court, it says, “Do you swear, or affirm, to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” So that kind of covers all of that. They do this to achieve a personal agenda. They’re trying to get us to do something for them without us realizing that that’s what we’re doing. If it’s bad enough – this personality, or behavior, fits a lot of different kinds of mental illness – it’s part of what’s called the dark triad. And that is the manipulation – the tendency to deceive and manipulate other people for their personal gain – the narcissism that we talked about, which is self-centered, or selfish, and, sometimes, arrogant, and psychopathy, which is an abnormal lack of empathy combined with strongly amoral conduct, but masked by an ability to appear outwardly normal – that describes most politicians. It’s also a feature of many personality disorders, including narcissistic, borderline, avoidant – the avoidant person tries to get other people to do their work, because they will avoid others – the dependent personality – that plays the victim and wants everybody to take care of them – histrionic personality, anti-social – passive-aggressive has a big component there – type A angry personalities and addictive personalities. People that are hard core addicts almost always blame all their problems on other people. That’s why so many therapists hate to work with them, because it’s not straight forward.
In the end, this type of behavior is self-destructive. I met a child years ago who was extremely manipulative. And I remember wondering what was going to happen to her? What would she be like as an adult? She always seemed to get what she wanted, but in the end, it was at the expense of relationships. Nobody could stand to be around her after they figured her out. And I notice – now that she’s an adult – she can’t seem to stay married for long – it’s how it works. That’s a pattern that runs deep with manipulation. Many of these people don’t care about relationships. They just care about getting what they want out of people. So they end up alone.
Manipulative strategies. There is a pattern that psychopathic people use. There’s the assessment phase, first of all, where the psychopath is able to determine a potential victim’s weak points and will use those weak points to seduce them into doing what they want. Hannibal the Cannibal – remember him? – pulling the strings from behind his prison doors. Blood chilling. So there’s that assessment phase, where people figure out what they can do – what the other person wants, what their persona is, what their weaknesses are. And then they go into the manipulation phase. And as the interaction with the victim proceeds, the psychopath carefully assesses their personality. The victim’s persona gives the psychopath a picture of the traits and characteristics that the victim values. I value doing psychotherapy with people. I think it’s helpful to them and I value helping them. Some of my clients read that and so they try to take advantage of it. Most of these psychopaths are ardent students of human behavior and they just kind of gently test the inner strengths and needs that the victim has, and they gradually build a personal relationship with them. The persona of the psychopath – the personality that the victim is bonding with – doesn’t really exist. It’s all just what they think the other person wants. It’s a sham. It’s built on lies and carefully woven together to entrap the victim.
Victimization by psychopaths is usually predatory in nature. We use the term psychopath and we think, “Oh, it’s some kind of real creep.” I mentioned Hannibal the Cannibal, but that, actually, isn’t the truth. There are lots of them walking around that just aren’t in prison. Healthy relationships – real relationships – are built on mutual respect and trust. And they’re based on sharing honest thoughts and feelings. There’s none of that going on here, at least going one direction.
Have you ever seen the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Remember the Cyclops? John Goodman played the Cyclops, where he seduced these guys into going out to lunch, and told them what they wanted to hear, then knocked them out with a big stick off a tree. That’s an example of that kind of manipulation.
Then the abandonment phase begins when the psychopath determines his, or her, victim is no longer useful. They move on to somebody else. In the case of romantic relationship, here’s a case that we’re all familiar with, right? And you’ve probably seen this before. A psychopath will usually seal a relationship with the next target before abandoning his, or her, current victim. I have people come in all the time that tell me about what their mate did to them – how they were running around on them and then they finally dumped them. Sometimes a psychopath will have three individuals with whom he, or she, is running the game, and each one at one of the three different levels – you know, getting ready to dump, being manipulated, or kind of scoping them out. Abandonment can happen quickly and can occur without the current victim knowing that the psychopath is looking for somebody new. We hear that all the time. So I’m listening to these stories, and I know – because of this kind of training – what causes that. There are usually no apologies, or at least, no sincere apologies, for the hurt and pain that the psychopath causes, because psychopaths don’t appreciate those kind of emotions.
Now let’s talk about some specific strategies. There are a lot of them, so I can’t cover them all right now. But we’ll just pick some of the more basic ones.
Lying. Bill Cosby tells the story about catching one of his kids with his hand in the cookie jar. His child tells him, “Oh, I got it for you.” Kids want to stay out of trouble, so they do what they have to do to do that sometimes. And we have to teach them out of those kinds of behaviors.
Guilt-tripping. One of the things that a covert-aggressive person knows well is that other types of people have very different consciences than they do. So all a manipulator has to do is to suggest to the conscientious person that they don’t care enough, or kind of imply that they’re being selfish, and that person immediately is going to start feeling bad. So that’s an “in” that they can use to push people around and get them to do what they want. Turn that around and a conscientious person might try, until they’re blue in the face, to get a manipulator, or any other aggressive type personality, to feel badly about a hurtful behavior, to acknowledge responsibility, or admit wrongdoing, and it’s absolutely to no avail, because these people don’t think that way. It’s all about them. It’s not about others. They don’t have empathy. They say that the only way a person can learn empathy is to experience receiving it. So it’s learned in childhood at home, mostly. If they don’t get it there, then it’s difficult.
I had a teenage client tell me once that it made her angry that her father would borrow money from her and not pay it back. I said, “What would happen if you drew a line there?” She said, “When I do that, he tells me I’m being mean.” So I said, “Well, I’ve got a few things I could tell him and I’ve got a big stick in the….” No, I didn’t. Here’s a fifteen-year-old who feels like she’s mean for telling her father, “No, you can’t have my last ten dollars.”
Shaming is another one – sometimes the use of subtle sarcasm and put-downs, as a means of increasing fear and self-doubt in others. The stuff teachers say! I hear this from kids all the time – things that teachers say to them to shame them. Covert-aggressive people use this tactic to make other people feel inadequate, or unworthy, and therefore, to defer to them. So they kind of go one up.
Vilifying the victim. This tactic is frequently used in conjunction with the attacker playing the victim role. The aggressor uses the tactic to make it look like he’s only responding, or defending himself, against aggression on the part of the victim. So it enables the aggressor to better put the victim on the defense. We saw this recently in our former organization. People that brutalized everybody, on the way out of the organization, tried to make it seem like their opponents were morally lacking through the use of a straw-man argument. I read what they were saying, and it was all just a concocted argument. And they used that to justify their departure, when, in fact, they left because they lost control. It is amazing how many people fell for it – or, maybe, wanted to fall for it.
Another thing they do is, they play the servant role. Covert-aggressives use this tactic to cloak their self-serving agenda in the guise of service – you know, to a more noble cause. You do just the opposite of what you’re really doing. National politics all over again. Most of our public servants get rich while they’re in office. So what does that tell you?
Seduction. Covert-aggressive personalities are often adept at charming, praising, flattering, or overly supporting others in order to get them to lower their defenses and surrender their trust and loyalty. It’s amazing, again, in our church, how many of the recently departed were so popular with those they were manipulating. We saw a lot of that.
Another technique – the last one I’m going to mention – is projecting the blame. Democrats and Republicans, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. We used to have a family in one of our congregations, where the lady was of another country. She was born in another country and she had a very thick accent. When she and her husband would get into a blaming contest, she would point her finger at him, and say, “You da one!” Of course, he was coming right back, too, so…. We tend to want to blame others for things that we have caused. Probably the biggest example of that, in my mind, is the Democrats and Republicans.
What causes people to become manipulative? Where does it come from? Mostly it comes from anxiety. People anticipate catastrophic losses in some cases. So, in an effort to control their own environment, and stay safe, and meet their own needs, they try to get other people to give them what they think they can’t get for themselves.
Now, anxiety, I think, mostly comes from weak attachment. When a baby is not taken care of physically and/or emotionally, it begins to believe that nothing is going to work out, so it doesn’t trust other people to meet its needs. So, as they get older, they start taking things into their own hands to get what they need. Children are fairly powerless. So, to get what they want or stay out of trouble, they, sometimes, use deception or manipulation to do that. If they don’t feel like they’re going to get taken care of, they start trying to take care of themselves. So it becomes a style of operating in the world – a way of living and being in the world.
There are many people who have had terrible experiences as children who do not resort to manipulation as adults, who stop doing that, or realize that that isn’t the right way to go about things. So I don’t want you to think that I’m saying that anxiety is an excuse for bad behavior, because it isn’t. It’s not an excuse. It’s just an explanation as to why it occurs.
So let’s talk a little bit about what the Bible says about manipulation. Let’s go to Luke 21, verse 34 through 36. This is a very interesting scripture. There is a lot here. It says:
Lk. 21:34-36 – Watch yourselves, lest your hearts be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life – that that day come upon you suddenly, like a trap – for it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.
It’s interesting – what Luke says here – “…lest your hearts be weighted down.” When people tell me that they have heaviness, they’re telling me that they’re anxious. That’s what that is – and sometimes combined with depression. And the word cares here – “the cares of this life.” The word is anxiety. That’s what that word means. In Louw & Nida, they’re comment about it is, that the scripture says, Stop worrying and trust. Notice, too, that it says, “Don’t let your hearts be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness.” When people are dissipating and drunk, they’re medicating themselves, because of their anxiety or depression. So that kind of fits in there, too, doesn’t it? And then there are concerns about money here that it mentions. That’s in Matthew 13:22, where Jesus was talking about this. It was referenced in the footnote of this scripture in Luke. It says:
Mt. 13:22 – As for what was sown among thorns – so there was seed sown – some on rocky soil – right? – and some on good soil, but some was sown among thorns – this is one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches chokes the word and proves unfruitful.
So what is the deceitfulness of riches? Well, it’s that riches will keep us safe. I saw a movie awhile back – The Ultimate Gift – and one of the players in the movie was saying that money takes the worry out of life – makes life easy. Well, it doesn’t really. That’s the deceitfulness of riches. He was deceived by it. We think that we can hedge ourselves about with a big bank account, but those things go away sometimes. So, who would be concerned about that? Well, somebody who is anxious and feels like the world is a bad place and that “I’m never going to get what I need.” So, when we’re anxious about our needs being met, we can, sometimes, go to extremes to try to meet our own needs. One of those is manipulation.
Let’s go to Hebrews 11:6. We’re really talking about something that is very much at the core of being a Christian and very much at the core of every human being. God put within us the desire to take care of ourselves and to be safe. We don’t want to have a car accident, or suffer, or die. We want to stay alive. We want to be above the water so we can breathe. We want to be warm enough. We don’t want to freeze. And we don’t want to burn. We want to be comfortable and healthy. So, when we are afraid that we’re not going to be taken care of, and safe, and warm, and healthy, and fed, and clothed, then we become anxious.
Heb. 11:6 – Without faith, it is impossible to please Him. It’s not possible to have a relationship with God without faith. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.
So we must believe that God exists and that He is going to take care of us, because He loves us. You notice it doesn’t say that He’s going to do that if we’re perfect, or if we obey the law, if we keep the Sabbath, if we do all these things. What it says is, “if we seek Him.” So it’s about the personal relationship with God.
I had a couple come to me some time back. They got married after they got out of college. I don’t think they knew each other in college. She “came to Christ” through the Campus Crusade for Christ here at UNM. He had grown up in a Christian church all his life. So they got married and started going to church. He was very happy. But she, after ten years, quit. They were working through that in session. She said that she was sick and tired of all the politics, and meanness, and duplicity, and all that stuff. And he said, “Well, there is that, but there is also this over here – and that’s a relationship with Jesus Christ. And that’s what sustains you through all of this.” She didn’t have that. That was a foreign concept to her. I saw her brow wrinkle when he said that. And they’d never really discussed it up to that point. But he’s somebody that really believes that God is and that He’s a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. And she hasn’t gotten there yet. She thinks that all the people and what she sees is Christianity and it isn’t working. So she dropped it.
1 Pt. 5:6-8- Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him – the ESV correctly renders that word. It says cares in the King James, I think – because He cares for you. Be sober minded, be watchful, for your adversary – the devil – prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Now it’s interesting that the devil and anxiety are mentioned – there’s one and then the other. There’s a connection between the devil and anxiety. Satan – we know – and if we read in Genesis – created anxiety in Adam and Eve. That was their first expression of it there. They were hiding from God, blaming each other and all of that. They were afraid all of a sudden. They felt shame and guilt. And they passed that on to us. So he created anxiety by manipulating them. It says that Satan is a liar and the father of liars. And he is a manipulator. He said stuff that wasn’t quite true there in the Garden, didn’t he? He didn’t tell the whole story either. He manipulated them into behavior that caused them to suffer loss. They lost their relationship with God. They lost their relationship with each other. They failed in their relationships with their children. And they lost the Garden. So he’s the one that’s at the root of all this anxiety and all the losses that we suffer in life.
So what to do? Well, it says right there what to do. It says, “Be watchful.” Watch yourself. Don’t let anxiety take over you. What are we to do? How do we do that? Well, it says right there in verse 7, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. What are we anxious about? What would it sound like if we prayed an anxious prayer to God? Give us this day our daily bread. That’s what it sounds like. That’s the answer. But what about tomorrow? Tomorrow will take care of itself. You can pray that again tomorrow. Right? But we want to pile up a big wad of money so that we’re insulated and hedged in our own minds.
Mark 9:24. I love this scripture. The man was explaining to Jesus his son was possessed of a demon, and it would cast him into the fire and into the water. And he said, “If you can, help us.” Jesus said, “What do you mean, if I can.” And He cast the demon out of him. But before He did that, the man said:
Mk. 9:24 – I believe. Help You my unbelief.
There’s never been a person that’s been born that hasn’t suffered anxiety. So we don’t need to cover it up. And this man didn’t. There’s no need to be deceptive, deceitful, manipulative, to posture or pose ourselves as unafraid, nor is there any need to be manipulated because of our own guilt and shame. All we have to do is give it all to God and He will give us what we need. He will take care of us. He knows that we have suffered losses and that it’s hard for us to avoid feeling anxious. And He doesn’t say that we have to be anxiety free. It just says that we have to seek Him. We have to give it to Him and let Him take care of it. And if we’re asking for help, then we’re going to get it. Do you believe that? Do you believe that’s true? That kind of trust is the core of a relationship with God. And that leads away from deception and manipulation and toward honest communication, sincerity and mental health.