Tag Archives: manipulation

Listening Is Not Agreement

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I want to admit a character defect I have fought for most of my life. I am not proud of it, but I have grown because of it. Maybe you can relate to it as well. Here it is:

In my marriage (especially) I had an expectation that Nan not only had to hear me out, but also had to agree with me.

In other words, she had to think like me or she wasn’t being a good or loyal wife. Pretty narcissistic, huh? Pretty arrogant, too. It led to some uncomfortable conflicts and to some misunderstandings as well.

I think this is one of the blocks to good communication, not only in marriage but in other relationships as well. If my belief is that by listening to someone that means that I tacitly agree, I probably will be reluctant to listen. In our case that was the unspoken message I was sending to Nan: I want you listen to me, but I also insist that you agree. But the problem was that she didn’t always agree. And I made it hard for her to listen.

It’s usually not so destructive when the stakes are small – where to eat, what color to choose, etc. But it gets very tense when the big issues are on the table. Where do we live and which house do we buy? How do we raise our children? How do we interpret the Bible and our faith? For example, Nan was raised Catholic for a time and as a result is more contemplative in her spiritual practices than I am.

I am a dreamer (I prefer the word visionary) Whatever. Here’s the rub. In our conversations Nan didn’t always know the difference when I was just dreaming or if I was actually planning. So she didn’t know how to fully engage with me when I was dreaming because my dreams were often scary to her, involving writing big checks or making long distance moves. And she didn’t want me to assume she was in agreement with them. So she didn’t always want to listen to me. I felt alone.

Since those days a few things have changed. I have repented of my need to have her agree. I still want her to agree with me (who wouldn’t), but I have given up my need for her to do so for me to be to be OK with her.

Second, I now let her know when I am just dreaming out loud so she can relax and even join in the fun. And I keep the checkbook out of reach, safely locked in a drawer.

For those of us who are Christians, it can become tempting to use scripture to try to control or manipulate others, and we must guard against misuse of the Bible. That’s just another way to try to force agreement. Even when it’s not intentional, we can come off as legalistic or unloving. When I quote scripture I try to be extra humble and remember that context is everything. I try to let the scriptures be the authority, not me.

“I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

The Apostle Paul to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:27

Loopholes

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In Christian circles we often talk about legalism or “living under the law” vs. “living under grace”.

Those who have been hurt, but have not fully embraced forgiveness, are often looking for justice. It is understandable from a human perspective. Then there is another side to the equation – those, because of their wrongdoings, who are trying to escape justice and receive mercy, or better yet, grace. That too is an understandable position.

  • Justice is getting what you deserve
  • Mercy is not getting bad things that you deserve (punishment or retribution)
  • Grace is getting good things that you absolutely do not deserve (unearned favor)

I really admire those who search the scriptures diligently so that they can fully follow God in the way they conduct themselves in life and relationships. But there is another way that scriptures can be used as well – as a rationalization to punish, control or avoid. This is where loopholes come into the picture.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a loophole as:

  1. An error in the way a law, rule, or contract is written that makes it possible for some people to legally avoid obeying it.
  2. A means of escape; especially: an ambiguity or omission in the text through which the intent of a statute, contract, or obligation may be evaded.

Are you looking for loopholes in the scripture to justify your wrong desires or behaviors?

In definition #2 above it clearly states that there is an intent in statutes or laws that is to be understood and followed. This is what law abiding or good-hearted people seek to incorporate into their personal life script. (For purposes of this discussion I am not talking about occasions where man’s laws and God’s laws are in conflict).

  • When seeking justice do you ignore the scriptures that call for forgiveness, mercy, turning the other cheek (and many more) in favor of “an eye for an eye”?
  • When trying to justify immoral sexual behaviors do you minutely examine words like “fornication” or “purity” or others hoping that God’s intent for us as Christians has been incorrectly interpreted by the church for centuries?
  • When wanting to blame, shame, criticize or control someone do you quote scriptures that speak about ‘iron sharpening iron” or “faithful are the wounds of a friend” or “confronting sin”? Are you truly concerned for them, or are you really trying to exercise power over them?

The Bible tells us that God is concerned about our hearts out of love for us. When our hearts aren’t right, our lives and our world is not right. Matters of justice are tricky and best left for God to deal with. It is said that we want justice for others, but mercy and grace for ourselves. So, are you most interested in the “letter of the law” or “the intent of the law”?

Loopholes are our way of trying to return power and control to ourselves (leaning on our own understanding) instead of trusting that God’s ways are good.

Manipulators – Scary Close

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I love reading, and so do many of you – after all you are reading this blog. So I happily recommend a book Nan and I are reading right now: Scary Close – dropping the act and finding true intimacy – by Donald Miller. It is well written and an easy read – and it also brings a significant message.

Chapter 9 is entitled “Five Kinds of Manipulators”, and I thought I would excerpt from each type.  It is always valuable to assess whether you are in a romantic, work or other relationship with one or more of these people. But I believe it is even more important to determine which one of these types Donald Miller is describing most resembles us. If we are honest with ourselves, we will get uncomfortable reading through this list.

  • The Scorekeeper  Whenever somebody starts keeping score in a relationship the relationship begins to die. A scorekeeper makes life feel like a contest, only there’s no way to win. Scorekeepers are in control of the scoreboard and frame it any way they want, but always in such a way they’re winning. Scorekeepers keep tabs on whatever favors you owe them and call in those favors when they want to control you.
  • The Judge  A Judge personality strongly believes in right and wrong, which is great, but they also believe they are the ones who decide right and wrong and lord it over others to maintain authority and power. Right and wrong are less a moral code than they are a collar and leash they attach to others so they can lead them around. When a Judge personality is religious, they’ll use the Bible to gain control of others. The Bible becomes a book of rules they use to prove they are right rather than a book that introduces people to God.
  • The False Hero  The False Hero manipulates by leading people to believe they have something better to offer than they do. The dark side to the (False Hero who is a) visionary personality is they can lead people to believe they have a future when it might not be possible or realistic, to actualize that vision. You might be dealing with a False Hero when the future they’re describing seems too good to be true.
  • The Fearmonger  Fearmongers rule by making people suffer the consequences of insubordination. The mantra of the Fearmonger is: If you don’t submit to me I’ll make your life a living hell. Fearmongers manipulate by making people believe they are strong. They are never vulnerable and fear being perceived as weak. Fearmongers are completely incapable of vulnerability and, as such, incapable of intimacy. You know you’re with a Fearmonger when they overemphasize the concept of loyalty. Certainly loyalty is a virtue, but what a Fearmonger calls loyalty could better be described as complete and total submission.
  • The Flopper  A Flopper is somebody who overdramatizes their victimhood in order to gain sympathy and attention. Floppers assume the role of victim whenever they can. This is a powerful and destructive form of manipulation. In order to be a victim, a person needs an oppressor. If you enter into a relationship with a Flopper, sooner or later that oppressor will be you. A Flopper’s internal mantra goes something like this: If people hurt me they’re in my debt, and I can hold it over them to get what I want. False victims are, themselves, passive oppressors. They seek control by making you feel guilty about what you’ve done. They don’t want to reconcile, they want control. If you consistently feel responsible for somebody else’s pain, but you can’t figure out how you caused it, you’re likely in a relationship with a Flopper.

I hope this excerpt whets your appetite for a deeper read – as in the whole book.