We can’t adequately cover the topic of communication in this series without addressing the ways in which we choose to manipulate and play games rather than speak plainly and honestly, or the times when we’re more interested in “winning” or controlling than in hearing and being heard. The reality is, I doubt there is a single one among us who has never been guilty of employing at least one of the manipulation tactics we’re going to discuss today, so we each need to carefully evaluate our own selves and bring our hearts into submission to God.
However, while we all fail to shoot straight some of the time, there are those who are so bent on control that communication has become nothing more than a way of exploiting the weaknesses of another in order to gain the upper hand in every conversation. Such people have no interest in hearing anything other than themselves, and don’t care to take the time to gently help others understand their perspective. They simply want to dominate. While we must be careful that we’re not guilty of manipulation in communication, if we’re married to a person like this, we also need to learn how to recognize these manipulation tactics and how to set up strong healthy boundaries around communication to avoid falling victim to these abusers.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 – You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!
How to Recognize and Respond to Some of the Most Common, and Less Severe Manipulation Tactics
Because there is so much information to cover here, we’ll take this week to cover the most common (and less severe) manipulation tactics and escalate in severity to the more abusive ones which we’ll have to finish up next week.
Frankly, it’s difficult to find a conversation that doesn’t include some of these early ones. We have become a society of manipulators and liars with little to no respect even for those we claim to love.
I find myself incredibly convicted as I look over the list. I know I instinctually do at least the first four on a somewhat regular basis. And the sad part is, I’ve always considered myself a pretty good communicator. My only hope – our only hope, my friends, is to humble ourselves before the Lord and plead for mercy and help! He is the great healer. He can set us free.
Through the power of God, we can overcome these sins in our own lives. If we find these tactics are being used against us, though, all we can do is learn to respond in a healthy, God-honoring way, and pray hard that our partner will choose to humble him or herself before the Lord as well. For each tactic we’ll include a short explanation, an example, and a healthy response.
Condescending Sarcasm and Patronizing Tone
Ephesians 4:29 – Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
Surely almost all of us are guilty of this one, I know I am. But if the majority of your conversations with a manipulator include her mocking you, speaking to you in a tone as if you are a child, or belittling your words or opinions there might be a bigger problem that you need to address as a couple.
Example – When you say you don’t understand what she meant when she said you have an anger problem, and could she please clarify, she responds in a very sing-songy tone and says something like, “Well, an anger problem is when a person has a ‘problem’ with getting angry. Do you know what it means to get angry?”
Response – Keep it simple. Without being condescending yourself state that you are not a child and, as an adult, would like to be treated with respect. State that you would like to continue the conversation to be able to hear and understand her original point, and you will be happy to do so when she is ready to speak to you with respect. Then walk away until your conditions to finish the conversation can be met.
Universal Statements & Generalizations (Splitting)
Isaiah 28:17 – I will test you with the measuring line of justice and the plumb line of righteousness. Since your refuge is made of lies, a hailstorm will knock it down. Since it is made of deception, a flood will sweep it away.
These are very broad statements or ideas which are used to emphasize a point, and most of us are seriously guilty of over-using them like crazy. They often take a true, though narrow idea and make it untrue by grossly amplifying its scope. Generalizations are applied to a group of people or things, while universal statements are more personal.
Example – Universal statement = You ALWAYS respond that way. Generalization = Men ALWAYS respond that way.
These are never a good idea, and we all need to commit to speaking plainly and honestly. When generalizations take the form of splitting, though, they become a more devious practice, and should be taken very seriously.
Splitting (Devaluation & Idealization) – Splitting is a form of generalization with the tendency to view events or people as either all bad or all good. It can manifest as
Idealization: a mental mechanism in which the person attributes exaggeratedly positive qualities to himself or others.
Example – My top priority is what’s best for this family. I ALWAYS work as hard as I can to provide the best life possible for us.
Devaluation: When viewing people as all bad, the individual attributes exaggeratedly negative qualities to the self or others.
Example – You don’t care about this family at all. You always do what you want to do and never make the family a priority.
Response – Speak the truth in love. Gently correct the error, calling it what it is, and move on with the conversation.
Baiting and then Feigning Innocence
Proverbs 30:33 – As the beating of cream yields butter and striking the nose causes bleeding, so stirring up anger causes quarrels.
We all know how to push the buttons of the people we’re closest to, and we’re probably all guilty of occasionally doing it on purpose to get a rise or reaction. But when a manipulator pushes buttons, and then pretends to have no idea what he’s done when he gets the reaction he was after, we need to pay attention, and be on guard. A true abuser will do this over and over with such skill that the victim will begin to question her sanity.
Example – After noticing how carefully you keep your desktop clear of clutter, he intentionally begins to leave piles of mail, trash, or small items on the surface when you’re not around. When you get irritated and ask him to stop, he acts like you’re a little crazy and keeps doing it. When you get very upset and accuse him of doing it intentionally, he responds, “Oh my goodness, it was an accident. I forgot I even put it there. Maybe you put it there! Why in the world would I TRY to make you upset like that? Everyone isn’t out to get you! Get over yourself.”
Response – This one is SO hard, but the only response that will work is to NOT respond. At all. Don’t say anything, don’t retaliate, don’t even show irritation. If you don’t take the bait, he can’t pretend you’re crazy for how you reacted. In any relationship we have to choose which fights to pick and which ones to let go. This one should be let go.
Romans 8:1 – For there is now no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
In this scenario, the manipulator uses the sensitive conscience of her victim against him to keep him in a state of self-doubt by implying he is a bad person, doesn’t understand, doesn’t care enough, is too selfish, or whatever else might make him feel shame. She then uses these feelings to control him into doing whatever she wants.
Example – After a long day at work, you ask for a shoulder massage before bed. She says, “Yeah, I mean, I was on my feet all day, cleaning the house and taking care of the kids, but I don’t want to be selfish. I guess if you think you need it more than I do, then I can do that for you.”
Response – The only way anyone can make us feel guilty is if we let them. If we understand our identity in Christ, we will be able to live in the freedom that exists there. Once again, the correct response is to not respond. Don’t give in to it. If you’ve done something wrong, correct it, but if you haven’t there is nothing to feel bad about. Don’t.
KNOW WHO YOU ARE IN CHRIST, and LIVE THERE!
Diversion & Deflection
While these are technically two different tactics, their end result is the same – they shift the attention of a conversation from the manipulator onto something else. These tactics are beginning to get into the more serious category, and should be handled accordingly. We’ll talk more about gas-lighting next week, but these practices begin to delve into the realm of the gas-lighter. We have to be on guard against them so we don’t fall victim to their subtle abuses.
Diversion/Evasion shifts the attention by simply picking up on some minor detail in an accusation and changing the direction of the conversation from dealing with the intended issue onto a completely separate issue.
Example = If I were to say how I wished he would go to work events with me, in response he would begin talking about what a dysfunctional work environment there is at my place of employment – expertly changing the conversation to that subject without ever addressing my request.
Deflection shifts the attention of the conversation by turning the accusation around on the one making it rather than acknowledging and dealing with one’s own culpability.
Example = If I were to say how I wished he would go to work events with me, he would quickly bring up the times I didn’t attend his work events with him, or some other instance of him not feeling supported and insist on talking about that instead.
Response – Gently shift the conversation back to where it belongs. Don’t respond to any of the diversions or deflections. Just go back to your original question or confrontation. If necessary, state that you would be happy to talk about these other issues some other time, but right now you would like to finish the conversation you started.
Here’s the deal y’all. We’re all evil at heart. Every one of us. BUT… if the Holy Spirit of God has been given reign in our hearts the ways we communicate with one another will change.
May we all be quick to surrender those parts we’re still holding onto!
In addition, may we understand that we CAN trust the truth of Scripture. If the words of the people we love are consistently ugly, manipulative, and unkind, that IS what is in their hearts. We have to deal with where we really are, not where we want to be. If there’s a problem, we need to address it according to the standards of Scripture. May God give us wisdom, humility, and courage!
Matthew 12:33-37 – A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgement day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.
*How about you? Do you see yourself in any of these examples? What about your spouse? What action steps can you take to apply what you’ve learned today to your own relationship?