How to be a Terrible Manipulator

Pastor Mike Fitzpatrick // Ginghamsburg Church

Are you familiar with the game RISK? Risk is a board game about world domination. Players deploy armies, conquer territories, and eliminate opponents, all through challenging other players to battles with a series of dice rolls, to control the entire world.

One way to win is by using skills of diplomacy—manipulating other players by forming alliances, then backstabbing them at the most strategic time. Sounds fun, right? Sadly, manipulation doesn’t only exist in the world of board games – many of us have experienced manipulation, and we have manipulated others.

Let’s play a little game of…

You Might be a Manipulator If…

  • Have you ever been confronted about something you did that hurt someone else and you deflected it to talk about something else?
  • Have you ever given someone the silent treatment because of something they did to you?
  • Have you ever tried to convince someone that their version of events never happened? (gaslighting)
  • Have you ever brought a third person into a conflict, someone who had nothing to do with it, just so you could get someone on your side? (triangulation)
  • Have you ever played the victim?
  • Have you ever sarcastically taken a dig at someone, and then passive-aggressively told them that you were just kidding?

Just before he arrived in Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know you are a good-looking woman. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife,’ and they will kill me but let you live. So tell them you are my sister so that they will treat me well for your sake, and I will survive because of you.” (Genesis 12:11-13 CEB)

The Bible is riddled with stories of manipulation. Go read the rest of Genesis 12 and you’ll understand that even the forefathers of our faith twisted the truth to get what they wanted. That Abraham is celebrated for his faith is less an acquittal of his actions and more of God’s grace covering a multitude of sins.

The problem with manipulation is that you may win a little now, but you will lose more later.

Maybe God is tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “This is you. Pay attention.” If so, what do you do – how do you deal with this? How do we stop manipulating each other?

Remember these three brief statements to help you be worse at manipulating others.

  1. Show Me. I recently discovered that I have a Mulder’s Click resulting from a Morton’s Neuroma in my foot – how many of you know what that is? Right, me neither – all I knew was that something was wrong – so I went to someone who could tell me exactly what was happening in my foot – I went to a doctor who knew how the foot worked and how to treat was what happening with my foot.

Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—then guide me on the road to eternal life. (Psalm 139:23-24 MSG)

That’s the tricky part about manipulation – a lot of times we aren’t even aware that we are doing it – in our heart of hearts, we think we are being genuine and authentic, so it doesn’t feel like we are doing anything wrong. Are there others in your life who you trust to tell you what’s up? Maybe it’s your spouse – maybe kids or parents – maybe it’s a life group – who can you ask, “Am I being manipulative in my relationships?

  1. I’m Sorry. It’s not just enough to know when and to whom you have been manipulative – what matters is what you do with that information. This is some of the hard work of relationships – I know for myself. When I realize that I’ve done something wrong, I struggle with the temptation to just sweep it under the rug, don’t do anything with the hurt I may have caused and then just try to do better moving forward. Confession is one of the core practices of the Christian faith – that’s part of this season of Lent that we are in, examining our lives and confessing when sin has been revealed in our lives.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. (1 John 1:9 CEB)

God is not only going to point out our flaws – God is a loving God who will forgive us; all we have to do is ask, “God, forgive me for the ways I have tried to manipulate others for my own purposes.” But, if I’m being honest, that feels like the easy confession that we have to make. We also need to confess to those we have manipulated. When God shows us the ways we have hurt others, our spouse, our kids, our co-workers, and whoever else, it’s not enough to say, “Hmm, that sure is good information.” No, we need to confess to those we have hurt and ask for their forgiveness.

  1. Help Me. I was relieved when the doctor told me what was causing the pain in my foot – but I didn’t walk out of her office pleased with just having received that information – I wanted help! It was affecting my running and my walking, it was causing pain, it was making me limp – I didn’t just want information; I wanted help! So the doctor prescribed treatment. Repentance is more than simply saying you’re sorry – the Hebrew word for repentance is teshuva (תשובה), which is derived from the verb ‘to return’ – this means that repentance is more than just knowing what’s wrong, it’s more than just saying I’m sorry, it’s a turning back to God.

“A change in man’s conduct brings about a change in God’s judgment.” -Abraham Joshua Heschel

When we repent, biblical repentance, God draws us closer to himself. “The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.” (John 14:26 CEB)

Jesus reassures us that it’s going to be ok because he is sending help. We can’t do it on our own, so we need to cry help – and that Holy Spirit that Jesus promised his disciples is available to us today.