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Growth & Self-Esteem

Dealing with Manipulative People: How to Do It Gracefully

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As Christians, we have a broad but clear set of moral guidelines to follow when interacting with people and society at large.  

We know that lies, deceit, and emotional manipulation are undesirable traits that consistently lead to negative outcomes — including unfavorable judgment from God.

However, we shouldn’t simply shun manipulative people from our lives on the first occasion. As Christians, we have a duty to share the perfect grace of God with the world around us. By doing so, even an emotional manipulator might see the error of their ways and be saved.

Here’s what you need to know about why toxic people manipulate and how to effectively deal with them with Christlike grace and humility.

Manipulative behaviors and tendencies

Dealing with an emotional manipulator is so difficult because, oftentimes, their manipulation is not plain to see. Manipulation can be subtle, even completely unnoticeable, when performed skillfully.

But once you learn to recognize the red flags of manipulation, you can begin to minimize both their behaviors and your vulnerability to them. 

We define manipulation as the act of influencing someone else’s thoughts or behavior for your own benefit. We all manipulate to a certain extent. However, it becomes harmful when the manipulation is destructive to a person’s emotional or physical well-being. 

Common examples of manipulative behavior include:

  • Lying (or ‘gaslighting’): Lies distort a person’s perception of reality. Manipulators lie to construct scenarios where the false perception benefits them. ‘Gaslighting’ is an advanced form of lying, relating to persistent lies that make someone question reality.
  • Anger: Manipulators use anger as a tool to suppress pushback from their victims.
  • Blame: Manipulators frequently blame negative circumstances on their victims, giving the impression that the other person is always at fault. 
  • Victimhood: Manipulative people often play the victim, making it seem as if they’ve been wronged by you even when they haven't. 
Man angrily shouting at woman

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Why manipulation is wrong

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The reason manipulative behavior is wrong according to Christian doctrine is simple — manipulation almost always involves the act of lying, which is clearly defined as morally reprehensible throughout the Bible. 

Lying appears in the Ten Commandments, which sets out a list of core ethical principles to follow in order to be a good Christian. 

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against his neighbor,” it reads. 

Additionally, there are multiple references throughout both the Old and New Testaments that outline lying and deceit as moral failures. 

“The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy” (Proverbs 12:22).

This revelation is sometimes difficult to accept, as it’s often the case that a family member (or someone else you have a close relationship with) is the one doing the manipulating. 

This can have a devastating effect on your well-being, self-esteem, and self-awareness. So, in order to foster healthy relationships with a manipulator or narcissist, you need to learn the key strategies for defending and minimizing such behaviors.

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There are several things you can do to stop manipulators in their tracks. You should ultimately come from a place of love and, hopefully, forgiveness

The first relates to understanding why they are the way they are in the first place. 

Understand that it comes  pain

Manipulative behavior sometimes stems from a genuine psychological illness, such as narcissistic or borderline personality disorder (NPD and BPD, respectively). But most often, it is a result of mistreatment, pain, and trauma. 

Crying woman

Manipulators feel they need to exert control over their environment because of the chaos they endured in their early life or trauma they may have experienced. 

It often stems from abandonment issues or deep insecurity, with manipulation being used by manipulators as a coping mechanism. 

Understanding manipulation from this perspective can serve to dissolve the anger you may feel towards the manipulator. They are not well and are in need of psychological help. This starts with you regaining control via the following techniques. 

Set healthy boundaries

First, you must be clear with the places you won’t allow them to take you psychologically. 

Manipulators lie compulsively, so they won’t and can’t simply ‘stop’ if you confront them about it. However, you need to highlight where their manipulative acts are truly uncomfortable and over the line.

When the lies are absurd or cause you genuine mental or physical discomfort, you must make it absolutely clear that you won’t play along. Set boundaries clearly and directly so that they know their behaviors cannot escalate beyond the inconsequential. 

Be clear with the reality

Let’s say you consider the person to be playing mind games with you but not to a degree that puts you at risk. At this point, you have the opportunity to discourage the smaller lies and micro-aggressive behavior by being clear about the reality of the situation.

For example, a manipulator may threaten you implicitly. In instances such as these, you must clearly highlight the threat that they tried to conceal. Or, they might be withholding information from you, in which case you need to inform them that you are fully aware of what they are doing. 

Eventually, they’ll understand that their tactics are no longer effective. The key to this strategy is developing robust confidence, which can be difficult to do with a loved one. 

Cut ties with the person

Finally, if your strategies are ineffective at stopping the abuse, or if the manipulation worsens, you must sever the ties to the relationship. 

Manipulators need to understand that their behavior, regardless of where it stems from, results in negative consequences. You have to show them that attempting to control someone will eventually lead to the loss of that person. And you must protect yourself and your own wellness.

Disengaging, in this regard, is sometimes the kindest thing you can do for both the other person and yourself.

Self-confidence through God

It seems that, as skillful and effective as some manipulators are, part of their success is due to their victims allowing themselves to be manipulated.

So, an important facet of dealing with manipulation is simply having the confidence to discourage a manipulator’s obvious deceit when it first appears. 

Developing a close relationship with God and the principles taught in the Bible is a great way to boost your confidence as a person. Live by these principles and find your spirit uplifted. 

To always stay connected to God’s word and the power of the Holy Spirit, download the app in the iOS App Store or on Google Play.

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