YOUR TEARS DON’T MOVE ME,” A PROFESSOR TOLD A WOMAN IN MY HUSBAND’S COUNSELING LAB. His words stunned the group, but the woman stopped crying. “Those were tears of frustration,” he said. “They weren’t tears of brokenness.” I’ve thought of that when someone’s tears haven’t moved me and wondered what was behind them. Crocodiles shed tears when they eat their prey, but not from regret or sorrow.
Some people use tears to manipulate. Others use flattery. If that doesn’t work, they pout or explode to get us to follow their script. I joined the staff of an outreach ministry after college to work with high school students. I felt duty-bound to any student who reached out to me. My inexperienced faith confused my role with God’s.
I allowed a student to manipulate me out of time and sleep. Her urgent calls at all hours and unwillingness to acknowledge my efforts to terminate calls left me exhausted. When my director found out he offered some sound advice. He said the time I gave this girl took away from spiritually receptive students and from God’s best. My time belonged to God, and I was accountable to Him for how I spent it. His words resonated with me.
I’d begun to dread hearing from this gal, and his counsel gave me permission to limit my one-on-one time with her.
Even though hate letters replaced the flowery notes of appreciation that formerly graced my car windshield, I was free.
How Do We Protect Ourselves from Manipulation?
Giving into manipulation is destructive, not just unpleasant. I wanted to please this student and God. But Jesus said no one can serve two masters.
Submitting to manipulation makes the wrong person lord over our lives. Jesus needs to direct how we invest our time and talents. If we accept tasks not meant for us, our family, work and joy suffer, not to mention we rob others from exercising their gifts or relying on Jesus.
Recognizing manipulation is essential to standing against it. The controllers in our lives may be blind to their tactics, but we don’t have to be. The closer we walk with Jesus the better we recognize His voice and tune out competing influences. Discernment grows through practice (Hebrews 5:14).
Consider the following if you suspect you are being manipulated:
How do I feel after I leave this person or group?
Feeling selfish, angry and guilty may indicate someone is trying to control you. I remember when a woman pulled aside a friend of mine, complaining that she had no friends. My friend prayed for the woman but left feeling guilty. On the way home, she recognized the woman’s manipulative tactics. Her guilty feelings evaporated with understanding.
What’s my motivation to comply?
Am I choosing what I believe is the best — or avoiding disappointing or angering someone? In other words, am I avoiding pain or pursuing faith and love? We want to be kind and generous, but when someone takes more than we want to give we feel resentful. God loves a cheerful giver. If I’m feeling resentful, I may need a clearer understanding of where my responsibilities end and theirs begin.
Giving into controlling people won’t protect us from emotional pain. We despise our spineless compliance and resent them and any reminder of them. This isn’t love. People who habitually let others control them tend toward self-destructive habits. They mindlessly eat, shop, drink or gamble to numb the pain of feeling used.
Have I counted the cost of complying?
I counseled a girl who couldn’t shake her regret over giving her virginity to a young man she pitied. She gave in because he said nobody liked him, and she obviously didn’t either since she wouldn’t sleep with him.
Do I automatically avoid conflict?
When some religious people tried 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)
Standing firm in our God-given freedom may upset those who want control. But that isn’t bad.
Paul said, No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. (1 Corinthians 11:19)
Conflict exposes hearts.
If it arises because we won’t cave to pressure, take heart; we’re in good company.
Will I Trust My Big God? When my faith feels small against another’s pressure to control, I remember people with religious-sounding arguments tried to manipulate Jesus and the apostles too.
Because they understood God’s will for their lives, they escaped those nets. By serving our big God, we can too.
Adapted from Little Faith, Big God by Debbie W. Wilson.