Let’s talk about manipulation

When thinking about this post, I was asking myself once again whether I might have manipulative tendencies. The answer to that is, I am happy to say, an emphatic “No – but…” (more on that later).  At this time I will admit that there have been two instances in my grown-up, sold-out for Christ life when I have deliberately manipulated people. OK, what does manipulation actually mean?  Some people seem to use “manipulate” to mean any instance of being deceitful.  However, I would say that manipulation is the attempt to push people’s buttons for the sake of getting them to do what you want. So, importantly, the aim is to get someone to do what you want, so for me it goes beyond a lie on your part, some people use the truth to manipulate, so it might not technically involve a lie. And you do this not by asking in a straightforward manner, as that could risk them saying no.

So yes, there have been a couple of times when I have done this too.  However, even though technically it was manipulation, I would prefer the word cunning, as it was in both instances a way to extricate myself from difficult situations, or even to manipulate people who themselves have slightly manipulative tendencies. I know that that does not make it OK, and actually cunning is also something that I have rejected. I am just saying that because I have to, as truth be told I am not remotely repentant about either of these instances, but remain quite proud of my own cunning, which was so deftly and subtly applied, though I do unhumbly say so myself! But truth be told, by the grace of God, I know that manipulation is not one of my weaknesses – and actually, it is not because I aspire so much to pursue Christ.  Rather it is completely contrary to the way I am wired.

Firstly and most simply, I am extremely self-sufficient.  Manipulation is about getting other people to do what you want – I never bother to sit around waiting for people to do things for me, as I just do them myself – seriously?!  Some people seem to be all too happy to cultivate a dependence on other people which makes them then dependent on other people doing what they want, a way of being which seems to lend itself to more manipulative tendencies.

Secondly, more importantly, this is just not the way I see people.  Within me, I am starting to formulate a theory that people can roughly be divided into two groups, depending on the way they see others: 1.  Some people see other people primarily as people, to be treated with respect, with dignity, autonomous individuals made in the image of God with a will that is to be respected etc etc.  This is the way I am.  Guess what? This is naturally who I am, and yet it is also something that I deliberately cultivate. When I am tempted to rant about someone, or release myself to hatred, or just casually walk past a homeless person, for instance I sometimes have to remind myself that I am talking about, or walking past, a human being! This is a human being!  When I am tempted to disregard someone, or start getting into generalisations about groups of people, I remind myself (when I remember to) that these people are human beings!  They are not just people because no-one is “just” a person! In fact I believe in extending dignity to all created beings (I mean animals, not trees or plants!) – so how much more human beings, who are created in the precious image of our Almighty God?!

The theory that I am formulating in my mind is that there is a second group of people who have somehow allowed themselves to fall into forgetting the dignity of other human beings.  Because of this, it appears that they think that it is acceptable to treat other people, perhaps some of the time, perhaps all of the time, perhaps due to certain characteristics such as gender, or age or ethnicity – not as human beings who are allowed to have their own will and make their own decisions, but rather as resources to be controlled or directed or otherwise used.  My baby theory tentatively suggests that when someone is operating from that mentality in the first place it is almost inevitable that they will fall into the habit of manipulating others – perhaps even without realising what they are doing, perhaps without fully understanding why it is wrong – because subconsciously they think that that is what other people are there for, to be used and controlled.  Furthermore, I would say that perhaps subconsciously, these people think that at least some other people exist to serve them, rather than to be autonomous human beings doing their own thing in their own right, and being allowed to do their own thing.

You know what?  I am confident that by the grace of God, this is not who I am.  However, I am starting to believe that if I do not actively or even aggressively practise reminding myself of other people’s human worth and dignity, I too am at risk of falling into this way of thinking about others, because sometimes it might just be too easy.  If someone is really eager to please, for instance, it might just be too easy to take advantage of them.

I must admit, that as I am writing this, I’m thinking of one particular manipulator.  I must have had the words “Here I am to be taken advantage of!” written in big fat letters over my forehead. But with him it went beyond me.  It seems to me that this person is simply accustomed to taking advantage and has identified various methods of doing so. Which is what suggests to me that either way it is a mentality that you practise.  Where it fell into manipulation between him and me is where I had categorically said “No”, and I had explained that “sorry I did not have any time to take on his project” – and yet he carried on trying to get me to do it, finding ways of exploiting my weaknesses. This might sound really funny, but due to this man I realised that I am really bad at asserting my “no”s over the phone, as I am scared that I will lose my temper, where there is no fear of this in writing. Be warned – if I don’t mind losing my temper I can scream down the phone at someone and in those cases I have no qualms about emphatically saying “no”.  That is what makes me worried for situations where I would prefer to remain polite. (So yes, that would be one of my weaknesses). And like many dubious people he seemed to have an aversion to expressing things in writing.  I eventually took to not answering his phone calls at all. And from my interaction with him it does not surprise me as so much of his life apparently revolves around coercing people to do what actually they would rather not do.  And after interacting at some length with this person, it occurred to me that when you are dealing with a manipulator there is simply no reasoning with them, because they do not respect your fundamental right to disagree with them, or to have your own opinion, or to turn down their request. Thinking about other people I have interacted with who were users or manipulators, I honestly think that the most effective thing, just like a domestic abuser, is to cut them off entirely, otherwise they are just going to continue to badger you.  If I had not cut this particular man off, I guarantee that he would still be harassing me.  And then there was another individual, this time a woman, who also demonstrated a number of times that she also struggled to respect my boundaries – so she was cut off too.  Another thing is that I simply do not have time to argue with people about basic standards of interacting with other human beings. If you don’t get it, then unfortunately that is not my problem – perhaps the act of my cutting you off will help send a hint. And then there was also another individual, another man – an out and out user who unceremoniously got cut off too. And looking back at all these interactions, I know that cutting them off was definitely the right action to take. So it seems to me that this is a good rule of thumb: If someone is a user, or a manipulator, or consistently, willfully refuses to respect your clearly expressed boundaries, then the best, quickest, cleanest thing to do for peace of mind is simply to cut them off, or at least refuse to interact with them in phone calls.

As I am writing this post I cannot help thinking how this relates to domestic abuse, even in extreme circumstances rape, and I am thinking that it all flows from the same place, not respecting someone’s right to their own autonomy, thinking of people as possessions.  I was not in any kind of romantic relationship with any of these three people, so I was not at risk of this with any of them.  All the same I can’t help thinking that it all comes from the same place.

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