How Do I Recognize Manipulation?

Emotional pain is real. And manipulators use it to threaten and control us.

Clients have told me they’d rather someone slap them in the face than wound them with words or give them the silent treatment. Angry words pummel our emotions long after they’re spoken. They resurrect with new vigor at just the right moment to paralyze us.

Some manipulators have refined the art of displaying certain emotions in order to control their prey. Tears flow or anger erupts when we disagree with their plans for our lives.

One woman said her family never took a vacation her first twenty years of marriage. Every time they planned one, her mother became ill and asked how they could leave her when she was about to die.

Jesus said no one can serve two masters. It’s unhealthy and unbiblical to let a manipulator determine our schedules, choices, and values.

Are you being manipulated?

Being freed from manipulation begins with recognizing it. Consider the following questions:

  • Whose wrath or guilt would I like to escape?

The controllers in your life may be blind to their tactics. But that doesn’t mean you have to be in the dark.

  • How many of my decisions are based on avoiding someone’s disappointment or anger instead of pursuing what I think is right?

A counseling professor told a woman in one of Larry’s small groups, “Your tears don’t move me.” The group was stunned, but the woman stopped crying. “Those were tears of frustration,” he explained. “They weren’t tears of brokenness.”

A friend told me a woman at her church pulled her aside one night. She complained that she didn’t have any friends. My friend prayed for the woman but left feeling guilty because she didn’t want to be her friend either. On the way home, the Lord opened her eyes. The woman was a manipulator. That insight relieved her from her guilt.

  • Am I living by faith or to avoid pain?

We believe that giving in to controlling people will protect us from emotional pain. It doesn’t. We despise our lack of bravery. Resentment builds up against them or anyone who reminds us of them.

Many people develop self-destructive habits to numb the pain of being manipulated. After a defeat, they mindlessly shop, eat, or drink.

  • Do I believe conflict is ungodly?

When some religious people were trying to control a group of believers in the early church, Paul wrote “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, NIV).

Standing firm in our God-given freedom may cause conflict with those who want to control us. But is that bad? Paul wrote: “18 … I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (1 Corinthians 11:18-19, ESV).

Conflict exposes hearts. If one arises because I won’t let someone wrongly control me, it is okay.

Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and the disciples all had people who tried to control them through threats and religious-sounding arguments. Because these men understood God’s will, they escaped their would-be manipulator’s nets. By serving one Master, we can too.

Have you been hurt by manipulation? Click here to share your thoughts.


Debbie Wilson

Debbie W. Wilson

Photo by: Jose Roberto V Moraes


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  1. Ann Musico

    Wow Deb – this is a wonderful and powerful post! (Could’ve used this in my 20’s…) The scripture from 1 Corinthians and what you shared about conflict especially resonated with me. I was brought up in a time when girls were taught to be “nice”, not to argue or be difficult and for years conflict was something I avoided at all costs! I still don’t like it – but if it is for the right reason I am more able to see the value and stand up for what I believe is right for me.

    • Debbie Wilson

      I was too, Ann. How did being passive become equated with love and being nice? I always appreciate your thoughts.

  2. Karen

    Thank you for this article Debbie. This is so on target with a friendship I had to end recently. You have put the words in my mouth and given me a new sense of peace with the decision I had to make. Keep posting!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Karen. God’s timing is awesome!

  3. Ann

    Debbie, I really appreciate reading your posts, I have a question? I recently started a prayer group four of us are spirit filled and two are not. But they are learning and very hungry for more. The first few times was Awesome! Then one of the woman started pointing and saying this is what the Spirit of the Lord is saying. I knew it was wrong and wanted feed back from one of the ladies after everyone had left. She said I was causing a division. I thought oh my! I was the one who started this. So I guess my question is did I handle this in the right way? thank you!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Ann, I’ve emailed you some thoughts. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Renee

    thanks Debbie so timely, have struggled with
    a narcistic manipulated (my grandson’s Mom) for
    several years, because I grew up with someone
    like that I get really angry about it and at
    times have been very vocal! At the age of
    50 God has freed me from living under the
    thumb or schedule of others. I had an angry outburst
    towards a dear friend whom I perceived was
    trying to control schedules and a ministry I was
    wrong and hurt her deeply. God is restoring
    that relationship in His way and in His time.
    It was that conflict that God used to expose my
    anger and why I was angry. Grew up under
    more than one manipulater so at times I think
    I come off as rebellious to those that try and
    control my life. God is tempering me in that area
    and giving me a new perspective, boundaries
    and ability to say NO.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Renee, thank you for sharing your experience and the effects manipulation can have on us. Praise God that He opened your eyes and provided you with tools to live free.

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