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Manipulation & Manipulators (P1)

Ever feel like you continually lose in relationships? Always defending yourself? Backed into a corner? Walking on eggshells? No-win situations? Constantly catering to the other person? Rescuing them?
   Manipulators have the contemptible ability to scare, shrink, weaken, confuse, trick, and ultimately, influence people to do what they want. So we should run from them, right? Sometimes, yes, but not always. Occasionally God will organize our proximity to these types. He may do this for several reasons.
   Manipulators are everywhere and anywhere. Parents can manipulate their children, and children can manipulate their parents. Husbands can manipulate their wives, and wives can manipulate their husbands. Politicians can manipulate the public, and the public can manipulate politicians. The media can manipulate viewers, but viewers can also manipulate the media. Christian leaders can manipulate Christians, but Christians can manipulate their leaders too.
   Manipulation is the sweetheart trait of the master manipulator, Satan (Jn 8:44, Rev 20:3,8,10). But let's be clear on this: humans do not need demonic help to manipulate. James said people manipulate because they are dragged away by their own evil desire (Jas 1:14). Solomon and Jesus said the same (Pr 5:23, Mt 15:19).
   Manipulation is so ubiquitous that Jesus opened the Olivet Discourse with, "Watch out that no one deceives you" (Mt 24:4 NIV). Paul repeated the same words but added a small phrase, "Don't let anyone deceive you in any way" (2Th 2:3 NIV, italics mine). Whether it is our parent, pal, pastor, president, or parishioner, we are to detect and outsmart every manipulator and manipulative situation. Since God's Word commands us to not be deceived, such a direct command implies we play an active part in deception-proofing ourselves.

Microscoping Manipulation

Outsmarting and overcoming manipulation first means not being ignorant, but understanding the designs of manipulation well (2Co 2:11). A wise man has great power and a man of knowledge increases his strength (Pr 24:5). The Lord says His people are destroyed from lack of knowledge, and a people without understanding will come to ruin (Hos 4:6,14).
    Sun Tzu, the exceptional military strategist and author of The Art of War, said this: "The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat...If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles" (The Art of War, chapter 1 verse 26 and chapter 3 verse 18).

Manipulation & Manipulators

Manipulation is the influencing of others through deceptive or abusive means, usually at some expense to the manipulated. Some dictionaries use the phrase "through underhanded tactics" or "through devious means". Manipulators sometimes justify their behavior by claiming it was necessary, or was not really that bad, or was only a last resort, or that noble ends justify ignoble means. The most mentally and spiritually disturbed manipulators do not try to justify their behavior at all; social darwinism is their worldview, and to them, that is that.
   Every single one of us has used manipulation at one time or another, in one way or another. However, there are individuals that have assumed manipulation it as a personality trait and survival philosophy. These individuals can justifiably be called a manipulator in the truest sense of the term. These individuals are severely broken emotionally, and if they are born-again Christians, they are also exceedingly immature spiritually.

The Roots of Manipulation

Why do we, human beings, even have the thought and impulse to manipulate? When we slow down to ponder how sinister and villainous manipulation really is, we are troubled. We are troubled as to why we do it, even if we do it only rarely or at a low level. We are troubled as to why some do it consistently or at a high level, assuming it as a personality trait and survival philosophy. We are troubled as to why we let ourselves get bamboozled over and over and over again. So again we ask, why do we, human beings, even have the thought and impulse to manipulate?

    The ultimate source of human manipulation is the sin nature every person was born with. God's Word documents this intrinsic disposition in many scriptures: Genesis 5:3, Psalm 51:5, 58:3, Ephesians 2:3. This anti-God, self-worshiping, wrongdoing disposition was in every person from the womb, like fertile ground waiting to be sown with the seeds of modeling and experience. Only through the born-again event in Christ is this wrongdoing nature regenerated and rebirthed into a new creation, a nature identical to Christ's nature. God's Word documents
 this, too, in many scriptures: John 3:6, 2Corinthians 5:17, 1Corinthians 6:17.

Examples & Experiences
    The sin nature emerges and takes form through early life examples and experiences in our family and social environment (Gen 4:6,7, 5:3, Eze 20:18, Dan 5:22, Ac 8:23). Our wrongdoing nature, therefore, eventually blossomed into a field of ugly weeds and thorns--the ability to manipulate among them. Our sin nature preconditioned us to want to manipulate, however, we learned exactly how to manipulate from family members, other individuals nearby, eye-opening experiences, and whatever we could think up to survive pain or get what we wanted.

The Dominant Trait of Manipulators: Social X-Raying

Manipulators are hypervigilant socially. They have an above average ability to X-ray people and environments, uncovering cues, clues, triggers, and vulnerabilities they can use to their advantage. They quickly notice and compute body language, word choices, conversational patterns, nuances of dress and appearance, and other personal tells. Before a person or group knows what hit 'em, the manipulator has already gotten what he/she wants.

How Did They Get So Good?

    People love to wonder and speculate as to how lifestyle manipulators got so good at their game. Ten people will give you ten different theories based on their worldview and level of knowledge. One of the main correct answers, however, which I mentioned briefly in the Examples & Experiences subsection, is strategizing through pain. Every lifestyle manipulator had to survive some degree of pain, neglect, or abuse, even if they do not acknowledge it or even realize that is exactly what it was.
   In an effort to predict and preempt coming pain, they learned to read the harmer and the environment. For example, pre-adult John/Jane Doe learned to correlate his mother's stern face and tense body movements with imminent verbal or physical abuse. He also learned to make correlations as to what kept her calm and happy. Eventually, John/Jane got good at reading and strategizing Mom, and began extrapolating beyond Mom to others in the world around.
    John or Jane Doe did not become machiavellian at Manipulation University. They strategized through real pain or scary situations, and through trial and error, powerful strategies emerged. They eventually applied these strategies to other realms of life, knowingly or unknowingly. They even adopted and adapted the strategies harmers and abusers used on them.
    The concepts here are ubiquitous. Manipulators excel at social chess because they previously had to maneuver through painful, scary, or difficult situations. Add to that manipulative family members modeling bad tricks, and you end up with one savvy schemer. 

Those Most Prone to Manipulation

We are all prone to manipulation if we do not recognize and eliminate certain cues and clues all manipulators look for. However, there are certain types of people that are significantly more prone to manipulation through deeply ingrained attitudes or habits they possess. We must rid ourselves of these soft targets and shut every window and door.

People-Pleasers, Approval Addicts
    Individuals with these unsanctified traits are, tragically, the easiest to manipulate. Like a child or a puppy, they will comply with almost anything to be liked, validated, and rewarded. If this is you, you need to find a stabilizing self-confidence in the Lord alone. Psalm 65:5 says (Young's Literal Translation), ...O God of our salvation, the confidence of all...
    People-pleasing and approval addiction is almost always driven by painful past experiences with rejection and a lack of validation. Open up your past pain to someone ahead of you spiritually and seek deep inner healing with them in therapeutic conversation and prayer (Pr 20:5, Jas 5:16). Be submissive only in the right context with the right people for the right reasons.

Fear of Negative Emotions
    Manipulators often exploit people's determination to avoid pain, to avoid any and all negative feelings. However, the more we run from unpleasant emotions or scenarios, the more prone we are to run towards people who offer bliss or who can create illusions of bliss. See the two-part trap? Instead, God's Word commands us to accept the full spectrum of the human experience with mature composure, to call on Him to appear to us, guide us, develop us, and bless us in the very midst of all of it. Ecclesiastes 7:14 (NASB): On the day of prosperity be happy, but on the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other...

    Those with state and trait loneliness are especially susceptible to relational and sexual manipulators. State loneliness is situational (i.e., a temporary state), brought on by circumstances like moving to a new location, the end of a relationship, etc. Trait loneliness is attitudinal (i.e., a personality trait), brought on by a person's consistent avoidance or sabotage of meaningful connections. State loneliness is usually seasonal and outside of our control, but trait loneliness is chronic, it tends to span multiple seasons and situations and is caused by us consciously or subconsciously. Trait loneliness is a spiritual issue, a character issue, a deep trauma/deep healing issue, a fear issue, a control issue, a relationship skills issue, etc. Meaningful, relevant, soul-level connections with other believers are just as Biblical and commanded by God as worship and prayer. See Psalm 101 and Ecclesiastes 4:7-12. And, they fill important spaces inside us that manipulators will try to insert themselves into.

Unformed or Malleable Identity
    Manipulators are attuned to those with an unformed or malleable self-concept. They will gladly tell you who you are, or more specifically, who they want you to be for their purposes. Ground who you are in Jesus, first and foundationally, by studying the New Testament and using what you learn in your prayer conversations with Him. Turning study into prayer will make the truth seep down from your head to your soul's foundations, progressively hardening your self-concept in Christ. Then, on top of this foundational identity, explore and discover your God-given vocational calling (Eph 2:10). This secondary identity will further harden your self-concept in Christ. Without a steel internal reality we are vulnerable to assertive voices trying to tell us who we are, or rather, who they want us to be for their purposes.


Low Self-Sufficiency
    People with low self-sufficiency need others to help them with life necessities, like finances, living arrangement, transportation, medical issues, and so on. Some manipulators will notice this and come alongside to "help". The catch is, sooner or later they will insinuate for something in return, or, they will quietly frog-in-the-kettle towards something in return. We need to attain comprehensive independence, as much as possible. God promises each of us our own vine and our own fig tree.
    1Kings 4:25 (NIV): During Solomon's lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree.
    Micah 4:4 (NIV): Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the L
ORD Almighty has spoken

Self-Hatred, Self-Punishment
    Sadly, there are precious individuals who hate themselves and are drawn to punishment and pain, for a variety of reasons. Some manipulators, recognizing a person's masochism, will either (1) charm them into thinking they are not so bad, or (2) brutally add to their masochism with more abuse. Both tactics, of course, serve the manipulator's ends, whatever that might be. If you have any level of self-hatred and masochism, you need to seek immediately the healing of the Father's presence and the therapeutic help of someone ahead of you spiritually.

The Externally Motivated, Living Outside-In
    Some people are motivated and controlled by external stimuli, especially in the West where there are more than enough shiny objects and experiences for us to consume. If your reality is defined by what is around you and outside-in living, you will be vulnerable to certain manipulators. These manipulators will exploit your internal nothingness and outside-in lifestyle by simply manipulating the elements around you, which somehow work in their favor. I cannot go into detail here, but know that God's Word tells us to live from the inside-out. From a powerful internal reality centered on God Himself, we are to then create and reshape the environment around us, not vice versa. 

Hypergrace, Too Many Chances
    There is grace and there is hypergrace. Grace gives people time and space to change, while hypergrace and distorted mercy make us a punching bag with no personal dignity. Manipulators will use up grace till there is no more, then scheme for hypergrace. There is such a thing as "too many chances" and a conscience that is way too soft. Even God says this in Proverbs 29:1 (NIV): Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed--without remedy. And Revelation 2:21,22 (NIV): I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering... 


Pride, Narcissism
    Interestingly, those with a swollen ego and self-assured cocky demeanor are greatly vulnerable to manipulation, simply because they are so vulnerable to flattery. More skilled manipulators realize not everyone is compliant, self-hating, or running from something, they realize some individuals just think way too highly of themselves. So they tell them what they want to hear, make it sound sincere, and in doing so, the narcissist gets duped and hooked into the manipulator's purposes.

Greed, Materialism
    Similar to the egotist, the materialist is vulnerable through greed. If the manipulator can provide some or all of what the materialist craves, he/she will have the upper hand.

Naïvete, "The Simple"
    The book of Proverbs, around fifteen times, frowns upon what Solomon called "the simple". Simple, used in this way, refers to a naïve view of reality, which in turn leads to foolish behaviors, decisions, and sin. The simple take things at face value too easily. They rarely think critically, thoroughly, on multiple levels, from multiple angles. Manipulators, understanding the multidimensionality of everything, prey upon these types. By the time the simple wake up to the game, it is usually too late.
   In Proverbs 7:7, the young man who fell for the seductress was called "simple". He took her flattery at face value, as if she really thought he was all that. A wiser man knows her game, that she has used those same lines hundreds of times with many other simpletons.

Impulsivity, Emotions First
    Impulsive, overemotional people are terribly easy to lead astray. Stir up their emotions and they'll ask you where to sign. Even low-level manipulators know this. How many times have we thrown money at hyperprosperity, materialistic ministries because they played on our emotions? Enough promises about new cars and houses, mixed with hypnotic music, and we jam the phone lines. Are we being manipulated?
    But the fruit of the Spirit is…patience…self-control. 2Corinthians 9:7 (NIV): Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion…

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