Christian Biblical Counsel: MANIPULATION (Updated)


Cutting the Srings of Control

by June Hunt

Attempts to control our own world begin with the first breath of life. A baby’s natural cry, called the “cry for attention,” represents the first efforts at getting our needs met. Over the years, children can learn to use manipulative tears to get their way within their little circle of life. As we grow into adults, we develop highly refined personal skills for meeting our needs by taking matters into our own hands and manipulating people and events around us. These methods of control are so deeply ingrained that we lack personal insight into our own deceptive behavior. Most of us are more aware of the manipulation of others than of our own “string-pulling.” But maturity demands that we lay bare before God our need to control and that we begin the process of trusting the One who is in ultimate control.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

(Psalm 20:7)

i.     definition

A. What Is Manipulation?

•     Manipulation is the art of controlling people or circumstances by indirect, unfair or deceptive means, especially to one’s own advantage.

•     Those who are manipulated allow others to have excessive control over them—the control that God alone should have.

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

B. What Is Persuasion?

•     Persuasion is the act of convincing people by urging, reasoning and appealing to one’s mind.

•     Those who are persuaded are won over by logical arguments of sound reasoning.

“What is the difference between manipulation and persuasion?”

Someone who manipulates uses emotional means to get their way.

Someone who persuades uses logical means to achieve their goal.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

C. What Are Some Biblical Illustrations?


With his great God-given strength, Samson could have delivered Israel from the oppression of the enemy—the Philistines. But he fell in love with a prostitute. At the request of the Philistine rulers who wanted to capture him, she began to cajole Samson into telling her the secret of his strength. After three failed attempts, she finally said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me?” (Judges 16:15). What manipulation! Ultimately, she wore him down with her words, nagging and prodding him, until he told her the truth (Judges 16:16–17). “Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison” (Judges 16:21).


A beautiful example of godly persuasion is the story of Esther. When Haman plotted to murder all the Jews, Esther risked her own life to make an appeal to the king for the safety of her people. Putting her trust in God, she spent three days fasting and praying. Then approaching the king with the right attitude, she gave a logical explanation of what would happen if Haman were allowed to fulfill his plans. “If I have found favor with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king” (Esther 7:3–4). The king became so angry, he left in a rage and proceeded to have Haman hanged. (See the Book of Esther, chapters 1–7.)


ii.    characteristic methods of the manipulator

A. The Seven S’s of Aggressive Manipulation

#1  The “should” syndrome

•     “You should show me respect.” You owe me.…
•     “You should meet my needs.” You ought to.…
•     “You should make me happy.” I expect you   to.…
•     “You should give me security.” You are   supposed to.…

The manipulator implies: “If you don’t meet my expectations, you are guilty of neglect.”

#2  The scream

•     Manipulation by pressure

•     Manipulation by breaking communication

•     Manipulation by intimidation

The manipulator implies: “If you don’t do what I want, I’ll make you wish you had.”

#3  The sarcastic sword

•     Cutting humor

•     Jabbing words

•     Put-downs

•     Mocking

“[They] then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said.” (Matthew 27:29)

The manipulator implies: “If you aren’t what I want you to be, I can use laughter at your expense.”

#4  The sexy seduction

•     Suggestive clothing

•     Sexy body movements

•     Sensual ads

The manipulator implies: “If you don’t buy what I’m selling, you are not ‘macho.’ ”

#5  The showering of sentiments

•     Excessive praise to appeal to   the ego
•     Excessive affection to gain a   sexual advantage
•     Excessive money to buy control
•     Excessive gifts to make others   feel obligated

The manipulator implies: “If you don’t respond to my generosity, you are ungrateful.”

#6  The subtle suggestion

•     Guilt Game #1 “You are   supposed to provide my security.”
•     Guilt Game #2 “I expect you   to make me happy.”
•     Guilt Game #3 “You ought to   meet my needs.”

The manipulator implies: “You ought to meet my needs, and since you don’t, you should feel guilty.”

#7  The sympathy seeker

•     Being intentionally needy

•     Having pity parties

•     Acting hopeless unless a rescuer arrives

The manipulator implies: “You should care about my heart, and if you don’t, you are callous and cruel.”

B. The Seven S’s of Passive-Aggressive Manipulation

#1  The silent treatment

•     Pouting, brooding and ignoring

•     Rolling over in bed

•     Locking the door

The manipulator implies: “If you don’t play my way, you don’t get my approval, my communication—or me.”

#2  The grand slam

•     The slammed drawer

•     The slammed door

•     The slammed phone

The manipulator implies: “If you don’t meet my expectations, you don’t deserve any dialogue with me.”

#3  The sneer

•     The curl of the lip

•     The roll of the eyes

•     The scowl of the eyebrows

The manipulator implies: “If you don’t do what I want you to do, you don’t deserve my respect.”

#4  The sigh

•     The audible sigh

•     The grunt or groan

•     The smacked lips

The manipulator implies: “If you don’t meet my expectations, you will know how perturbed I am with you.”

#5  The suppressed support

•     Withholding praise

•     Withholding affection

•     Withdrawing presence

The manipulator implies: “If you don’t meet my standards, I won’t give you a bit of attention.”

#6  The stall

•     Intentionally slow

•     Intentionally late

•     Intentionally forgetful

The manipulator implies: “If you don’t let me control my life, I’ll get control in other ways.”

#7  The sniveling sobber

•     Timed tears

•     Subtle sniffles

•     Extended crying

The manipulator implies: “If you don’t meet my emotional needs, I’ll fall apart.”


iii.   causes of being manipulated

Those who are repeatedly manipulated ultimately resent their manipulators. Yet because of misplaced dependencies, those being manipulated rarely interrupt their pattern of accepting unfair treatment.

A. Misplaced Dependencies

Misplaced priorities

• What others think is more important than it should be.

• At times, going against better judgment.

• At times, going against the conscience.

Identity misplaced in the manipulator

• “I must have you in my life.”

• “I can’t live without you.”

• “I have to have your approval.”

Scared of disapproval

• “I can’t say no.”

• “I’m afraid I’ll be rejected.”

• “I can’t take a stand.”

Performance-based acceptance

• “I am accepted only because of what I do.”

• “I have value only if my work is acceptable.”

• “I have worth only if I please others.”

Loss of independence

• Not allowed to make independent plans.

• Not permitted to have “alone time.”

• Not encouraged to spend money or time separately.


• Toward the manipulator.

• Toward the manipulative situations.

• Toward yourself for allowing the manipulation.

Controlled by the manipulator’s personality or power

• Consumed by what the manipulator does.

• Consumed by what the manipulator doesn’t do.

• Consumed by what the manipulator plans to do.

Excuses the manipulator

• “He/she doesn’t mean to act that way.”

• “He/she can’t help being that way.”

• “His/her actions don’t bother me.”

Defensiveness about the relationship

• Not seeing objectively that the relationship is unhealthy.

• Not facing reality of the need for change.

• Not willing to do anything about changing the relationship.

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”

(Proverbs 29:25)

“How is my dependency misplaced if I am being manipulated?”

If you assume that you must meet all the needs and fulfill the expectations of someone else—then you are depending too much on yourself. You are taking the role that God alone should have.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord.… But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.’ ” (Jeremiah 17:5, 7)

B. Root Cause of Being Manipulated

Wrong Belief:

“I must have the approval of others in order to feel good about myself.”

Right Belief:

I must not live for the approval of others, but instead I realize that God will meet all my inner needs because He accepts me totally and loves me unconditionally.

“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:11)


iv.  steps to solution

A. Key Verse to Memorize

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

(Galatians 1:10)

B. Key Passage to Read and Reread

1 Thessalonians 2:3–8

•     “For   the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we   trying to trick you. v.   3
•     On   the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the   gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. v.   4
•     You   know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God   is our witness. v.   5
•     We   were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. v.   6
•     As   apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle. vv.   6–7
•     We   loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the   gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” v.   8

C. The Lord Promises to Meet Your Inner Needs for …


“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”

(Jeremiah 31:3)


“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ”

(Jeremiah 29:11)


“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

(Deuteronomy 31:8)

D. Questions and Answers

Abraham and his beautiful wife Sarah, who was also his half-sister, traveled to the Negev region. In this foreign land, Abraham feared that the king would kill him in order to take his wife. Therefore, Abraham deceived King Abimelech by only stating, “She is my sister.” He manipulated Sarah to go along with his lie by using an emotional appeal … “This is how you can show your love [kindness, loyalty] to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, ‘He is my brother.’ ” (See Genesis 20:1–13.)

“I know I’m being manipulated, so why do I stay in the relationship?”

Each person has God-given needs for love, for significance and for security. A desperate fear of rejection often paralyzes a person who is trying to make healthy decisions.

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)

“How do I know whether I am being manipulated?”

Evaluate: Am I doing this because I fear someone else’s disapproval or because it is the right thing for me to do?

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men?

If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

People have been coerced into doing any number of things in the name of love, loyalty and kindness. If Sarah had encouraged her husband to trust God, rather than submitting to his request, they would have been spared much sorrow and shame.

“Is a wife still being submissive to her husband if she takes a stand against his manipulation?”

Submission is not the issue here. Submission is of God. Manipulation is not of God. Manipulation is a sin because faith is placed not in the Lord, but in the manipulative tactics used. Therefore, if a wife perpetuates the sinful pattern of her husband, she is not helping him but is rather hindering him. She is confirming his sinful behavior.

“Everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)

E. Maneuvering Out of Manipulation

Ten Major Moves

Decide not to be dependent on the manipulator.

•     Decide that you want a healthy relationship that glorifies God.

•     Decide that you will be dependent on the Lord to meet your deepest needs.

“Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (Luke 6:35)

Expect exasperation from the manipulator.

•     Don’t expect the manipulator to understand.

•     Don’t expect the manipulator to be willing to give up control.

“Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge.” (Psalm 31:3–4)

Prepare yourself for pain.

•     Accept the fact that change is painful. However, in time you can have peace.

•     Accept the fact that if you don’t change, you will stay in pain.

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” (Hebrews 12:7)

Examine the expectations of the manipulator.

•     Ask yourself, “How am I being manipulated?” Then write out your tactics for change.

•     Ask a trusted friend to help you see your blind spots.

“A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 22:3)

Notify the manipulator of the necessity for change.

•     State that you are to blame.

“I’ve come to realize that I’ve been wrong in the way I’ve related to you. At times I’ve not spoken because I’ve been fearful. This is not healthy for either of us.”

•     State your commitment.

“I really do care about you. I want you to know that I am committed to change. I believe we can ultimately have a much healthier relationship.”

… Or, if it is not appropriate to continue in a relationship at all,

•     State your resolve.

“I cannot continue in a relationship with you and be the person I need to be before God.”

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

Don’t defend yourself.

Although you will be accused of not being loving and caring …

•     You may choose to be silent, but don’t use silence as a weapon.

•     You may state the truth once. “I’m so sorry you feel that way.… What you’ve said is not true—it’s not reflecting my heart.”

“A time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7)

Expect experimentation with new strategies.

•     The manipulator may use other methods to control you.

•     The manipulator needs to see that these new methods will not succeed.

“The folly of fools yields folly.” (Proverbs 14:24)

Nullify your need to meet all the manipulator’s needs.

•     Realize that God didn’t design anyone to meet ALL the needs of another person.

•     Realize that if you meet all of the manipulator’s needs, then the manipulator won’t need the Lord.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this.” (Psalm 37:4–5)

Commit Galatians 1:10 to memory.

•     Recognize the truth in Galatians 1:10 by saying it three times a day.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

•     Recognize that you are “transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Yield to pleasing the Lord first.

•     See that Jesus was not a “peace at any price” person. Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

•     See that if you want to be like Jesus, you too must not be a “peace at any price” person.

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” (Proverbs 29:25)

At   times, the most spiritual sacrifice you can make is giving up being a   people-pleaser. Realize that there are times when you will choose not to   please another person so that you will please the Lord.—June Hunt

selected bibliography

Cloud, Henry, and John Townsend. Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.

Crabb, Lawrence J., Jr. Understanding People: Deep Longings for Relationship. Ministry Resources Library. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987.

Hunt, June. Counseling Through Your Bible Handbook. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.

Hunt, June. How to Forgive … When You Don’t Feel Like It. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.

Hunt, June. How to Handle Your Emotions. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Hunt, June. Seeing Yourself Through God’s Eyes. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008

Kimmel, Tim. Powerful Personalities. Colorado Springs, CO: Focus on the Family, 1993.

Koch, Ruth N., and Kenneth C. Haugk. Speaking the Truth in Love: How to Be an Assertive Christian. St. Louis, MO: Stephen Ministries, 1992.

Leman, Kevin. Bonkers: Why Women Get Stressed out and What They Can Do About It. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1987. Lerner, Harriet G. The Dance of Deception: Pretending and Truth-Telling in Women’s Lives. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994.

McGee, Robert S. The Search for Significance. Revised and expanded ed. Nashville: Word, 1998.

Parrott, Les III. The Control Freak. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2000.

Rentzel, Lori Thorkelson. Emotional Dependency. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990.

Schmidt, Paul S. Coping With Difficult People. Christian Care Books, ed. Wayne E. Oates, vol. 6. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980.

Shostrom, Evertt L., and Dan Montgomery. The Manipulators. Nashville: Abingdon, 1990.

Silvious, Jan. Please Don’t Say You Need Me: Biblical Answers for Codependency. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989. Sullivan, Barbara. The Control Grip. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1991.

Ury, William. Getting Past No: Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to Cooperation. Rev. ed. New York: Bantam, 1991. Verderber, Rudolph. Communicate. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1987.

Walters, Richard. How to Say the Hard Things the Easy Way. Dallas: Word, 1991.[1]

[1] Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Manipulation: Cutting the Strings of Control (1–13). Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.

5 Traits of Those Who Are Vulnerable to Manipulators

tricks-manipulate-youWe are all vulnerable to being manipulated in relationships, whether between romantic partners, friends, parents, children, employers, coworkers, or neighbors. When we allow another person to manipulate us, we are colluding with their desire to control our feelings, motives, and even our thoughts through deceptive, exploitative, and unfair means. A manipulative relationship is one-sided and unbalanced, advancing the goals of the manipulator at the expense of the person being manipulated. These relationships become troubled over time. If you want to change this kind of relationship, you must first recognize the features of manipulation and then look within to understand your contribution to the manipulation. There are effective ways to stand up to manipulation and bring balance back into the relationship.

Manipulation is not the same as influence. We all use influence with other people to advance our goals and this is one of the hallmarks of healthy social functioning. Influence recognizes the rights and boundaries of other people, and it is based on direct, honest communication. Influence is one way we have of functioning effectively in the world. Influence recognizes the integrity of the other person, including the right to not go along with the attempted persuasion. Manipulation, on the other hand, depends on covert agendas and an attempt to coerce another person into giving in. Even though it may appear the manipulator is strong and in control, there is usually insecurity under the facade. The tendency to exploit others and disregard their rights is a sign of unhealthy personality functioning. People who manipulate others have difficulty in maintaining good interpersonal relationships.

Those who manipulate other people are good at spotting people to control. If they feel unable to manipulate someone, they usually give up and move on to somebody else who is more likely to be receptive to the attempted manipulation. Once you recognize the features of the manipulation, the next step in correcting the situation is to discover your own contribution to the problem. (This statement may seem a bit difficult to accept. After all, it’s the manipulator who has the problem, you might say. But realize that manipulation cannot occur in a vacuum. As is true of any relationship, it takes two people.) You can come to understand your contribution to the manipulative situation and then take steps to correct it.

Here are five common traits of those who are vulnerable to manipulators:

1. You feel useful and loved only when you can take care of the needs of other people

This goes beyond being nice to other people. Your sense of worth is tied up in doing things for other people. In fact, you take this so far that you please other people at the expense of your own well-being. For example, you might buy something especially nice for your partner or a friend when you would never spend that kind of money on yourself. Manipulators are drawn to this type of person and have no qualms about taking advantage of this particular personality trait.

2. You need to have the approval and acceptance of other people

Although most people appreciate being accepted, a problem occurs when you feel that you must be accepted by everyone at all times. The core problem here is the fear of being rejected or abandoned, and it is so strong that you would do anything to avoid the feelings associated with this fear. The manipulator works by giving you the acceptance you need – and then threatening to withdraw it.

3. You fear expressing negative emotions

Although expressing anger and engaging in conflict are never pleasant, some people will go to any length to avoid a confrontation. They want things to be pleasant at all times. They fear that they will fall apart in the face of negative emotions. Manipulators have an easy task in this kind of relationship – all they have to do is threaten to raise their voice and then they get their way.

4. You are unable to say no

One of the characteristics of a healthy relationship is appropriate boundaries that clarify who you are and what you stand for. In order to maintain healthy boundaries, however, you must sometimes say no when someone attempts to push your limits. If you are afraid of the conflict that may arise when you say no, you play into the hands of the manipulator. Learning effective assertiveness techniques is a way to regain your sense of control in a manipulative relationship.

5. You lack a firm sense of your own self

A clear sense of self means you know what your values are, who you are, what you stand for, and where you begin and the other person ends. If you have an unclear sense of self, it is difficult to trust your own judgment or to make decisions that work in your favor. Without a clear definition of your own self, you may be an easy target for a manipulator.

If you are in a manipulative relationship, it is helpful to recognize the personal tendencies that allow the other person to assert control over you. While you may not be able to change the behavior of the manipulator, you can change your own responses to attempts at manipulation, so that you achieve a firmer sense of your own integrity. The unhappiness resulting from a manipulative relationship can lead to life-changing experiences that generate insight and the ability to cope more effectively with the demands of everyday living.

In my next article, we will look at the manipulator’s tactics and I will give you some ground rules for dealing with manipulation.

Dealing with Manipulation


Previously, we looked at 5 Traits of Those Who Are Vulnerable to Manipulators. Today, we will look at the manipulator’s tactics and I will give you some ground rules for dealing with manipulation.

The Manipulator’s Tactics

Manipulation in a relationship usually progresses over a long period of time. Manipulators learn over time how far they can go. They are unlikely to attempt to manipulate the other person at the beginning of a relationship since this could bring things to an immediate end. They observe the other person’s vulnerabilities and learn eventually how to exploit them for their own purposes.

There are two basic tactics that are used to exert control and they usually go hand in hand. The first is a promise of gain. That is, the manipulator will promise to provide something if the partner goes along with what the manipulator wants. “No arguments for a week if you’ll end your friendship with Pat – I promise.” The other tactic is the promise of avoiding loss. In this case, the manipulator threatens the partner with the loss of something if the partner does not go along with the manipulator’s desires. “I’m going to stay out with my friends late every night unless this house is cleaned spic and span by the time I get home.” (Of course, these two examples are obvious manipulation attempts. Most manipulators use more subtle methods than we see in these examples.)

Manipulative people have a strong need to be in control. This may derive from underlying feelings of insecurity on their part, although they often compensate for these feelings with a show of strong self-confidence. Even though they may deny it, their motives are self-serving and they pursue their aims regardless of the cost to other people. They have a strong need to feel superior and powerful in their relationships, and they find people who will validate these feelings by going along with their attempts at manipulation. They see power as finite. If you exert power over them, they will retaliate in order to gain back the control they feel they are losing. They cannot understand the idea that everyone can feel empowered or that everyone can gain. When they are not in control of themselves and over other people, they feel threatened. They have difficulty in showing vulnerable emotions because it might suggest they are not in control.

Those who are manipulative usually don’t consciously plan their maneuvers. They emerge from the manipulator’s underlying personality disorder, and are played out within the context of a victim who colludes with and unwittingly encourages the manipulation. There is a wide range of tactics used by manipulators ranging from verbal threats to subtle attempts to arrange situations to suit the manipulator. For example, one of the more common forms of manipulation is called splitting – turning two people against each other by talking to each one behind the back of the other, getting them to dislike or distrust each other, and leaving the manipulator in a position of control. They may use active techniques like becoming angry, lying, intimidating, shouting, name-calling, or other bullying tactics. Or they may use more passive methods like pouting, sulking, ignoring you, or giving you the silent treatment.

Here are some ground rules for dealing with manipulation:

1. Focus on changing yourself, not the manipulator

It is not helpful to try to out-manipulate a skillful manipulator; you are simply making yourself vulnerable to further manipulation. You will not change a manipulator by focusing on his or her imperfections and trying to work toward their achieving insight. You may think that it would be helpful to share with the manipulator how you feel and how his or her behavior has an impact on you, but this is generally not helpful since most manipulators are not capable of empathy and may use this information against you in the future. The only effective method of changing manipulative behavior is to disable it by making a change within yourself, thereby changing the dynamics of the manipulative relationship. If you cease to cooperate with the manipulative tactics, you will alter the nature of the relationship. If manipulators have to work hard to maintain control in the relationship, they usually give up – often by leaving the relationship and finding someone else to control.

2. Assess the worth of this relationship to you

Depending on the severity of the manipulation and the damage it has done to your sense of happiness and integrity, you may need to consider whether it is worth it to continue the relationship. Of course, there are many situations (i.e. parent/child) when you must stay in the relationship, so it is helpful to at least achieve some clarity about what you want in your life and assess how the relationship has the potential to lead you toward your personal goals.

3. Use assertiveness techniques to change the nature of the relationship

You might be so accustomed to complying with the manipulator’s tactics that you automatically do his or her bidding without thinking about it. First, you need to stop your automatic compliance. You do this by buying time to think about each situation as it arises. “I’ll get back to you on that when I have the time to think about it.” At this point, you are now in control of the situation. It is not helpful to let the manipulator ask you why you need time since this invites your loss of control. Simply repeat the same thing over and over again without explanation: “I need more time to think about it.”

Next, you need to confront the fear, anxiety, or guilt that has driven you to comply in the past with the manipulator’s demands. This requires a deep look within that may be achieved by working with a professional therapist. Exploring your own personal feelings, why you react as you do, and how to use alternate responses may be a challenge, but the benefits are far-reaching – they may save your relationship or at least prepare you for healthier relationships in the future.

Finally, it is helpful to label the manipulation for what it is. “When you threaten to leave me, I feel afraid. If you would simply state your wishes and show me respect, I would be more able to listen to what you want.” In a calm voice and with direct eye contact, it may be time to announce that the old manipulations have come to an end. “We both understand you have a pattern of playing on my fears and now you know how I feel about that. Your way of threatening me is not going to work any longer.” In making these types of assertive statements, you are defining your boundaries. There is no need to make threats. Simply state you will not participate any longer in manipulations. Make it clear that by setting limits and enhancing your own personal integrity, you expect a better relationship in the future. While learning to assert yourself in the face of a manipulative individual who feels threatened when not in control can be a challenge the benefits are worth it.

Are You in a Manipulative Relationship?

Answer the following questions with a True or False:

_____ I sometimes feel confused about what my partner really wants.

_____ I feel my partner frequently takes advantage of my giving nature.

_____ Even when I do something that pleases my partner the positive feelings never last long.

_____ I feel it’s hard to be myself or do what I really want with my partner.

_____ I feel taken for granted around my partner.

_____ I seem to work harder on this relationship than my partner does.

_____ My partner has a very strong impact on what I think and feel.

_____ I sometimes feel I am trapped in my relationship and there is no way out.

_____ I don’t feel as good about myself in my relationship as I once did.

_____ I feel that I need my partner more than my partner needs me.

_____ No matter how much I do, I feel it’s not good enough for my partner.

_____ I feel my partner does not understand who I really am.

There are twelve questions in this quiz. If you answered more than half of them with True, you might want to consider exploring whether you are in a manipulative relationship.


Disrespect and Manipulation in the family

In counseling parents of angry children, I give the following test to determine just how manipulative a child might be. To take the test yourself, use the rating scale below to respond to the statements listed, rating each as to the frequency they occur.

Rating Scale
Never or hardly ever…5Seldom…4



Almost always…1




Manipulation Test

  1. I have to repeat and/or reword instructions before my child follows them.
  2. When I ask my child to do something, he asks me, “Why?”
  3. I find myself having to justify my decisions to my child.
  4. I have grown weary of certain “topics” which seem to be discussed over and over again with my child.
  5. I walk away from discussions with my child and I feel guilty.
  6. My child lies to me.
  7. My child is disciplined almost entirely by one parent.
  8. I rescind disciplinary actions (or lift restrictions) because of appeals by my child.
  9. I find myself defending my positions to my child.
  10. I get frustrated because my child seems beyond my control.
  11. I get sidetracked by my child’s clever distractions when I attempt to discipline him.
  12. My child tries to obligate me to behave a certain way by telling me what I should, ought to, or must do (other than for biblical reasons).
  13. When my child wants something from me, he tries to motivate me to give it to him without telling me directly what he wants.
  14. My child is able to procrastinate by cleverly using various stall tactics when I assign him a responsibility.
  15. My child is able to play on my emotions in order to get what he wants.
  16. I hesitate to say “no” to my child out of fear of what he might do.
  17. I am unsuccessful at completing the intended instruction and discipline of my child due to his unwillingness to cooperate.
  18. My child is so tenacious in wanting his own way that I either give in to his desires or give up on trying to train him.
  19. My child continues to beg and plead to have his way after I’ve denied his appeal the first time.
  20. My child is more disobedient and disrespectful in front of others than he is when he knows that such behavior is not likely to embarrass me.

Total Score

Scoring Your Test

Add up the total number of points to determine your score. Based on 100%, if your total score is 90 or better, you are probably quite adept at preventing manipulation by your child. If your total score is between 75 and 90, you are probably being manipulated to a relatively small degree. If your total score is below 75, it is likely that you are being manipulated to a great extent. The lower your score, the greater your effort should be in learning and applying the principles in this chapter.

Disrespect, Manipulation and Anger

Do you know how disrespect and manipulation are related to anger? The very same lusts which tempt you to become sinfully angry when you do not get your way, tempt you to employ sinful means to obtain what you want. “Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust” (James 1:14). An idolatrous lust, you remember, is something you want so much that you are either willing to sin in order to get it, or sin because you can’t have it. For many, unholy anger is the sin we commit when we can’t have what we want. Manipulation and disrespect are two common sins that many will resort to in order to get what they inordinately desire.

What is Manipulation?

To manipulate is to attempt to control. For a Christian, manipulation is using unbiblical means of controlling or influencing another person. More specifically, it is often an attempt to gain control of another individual or situation by inciting an emotional reaction rather than a biblical response from that individual. In Luke chapter ten, for example, Martha “was distracted with all her preparations and she came up to Him (Jesus) and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’”

Martha wanted, perhaps too much, assistance with her food preparations and was frustrated that her sister left her to do all the serving by herself. Rather than telling the Lord exactly what she wanted (help with the cooking), she attempted to play on His emotions (sympathy and perhaps guilt). “Do you not care?” Another element of manipulation can be seen in Martha’s response. Here she was attempting to motivate someone to fulfill her personal desires (there’s that word again) without clearly stating them. An appeal for sympathy, rightly expressed, is not necessarily wrong as long as the true desire behind such an appeal is also expressed (in this case Martha’s desire for help). To do otherwise is usually dishonest because you are concealing necessary information from the person to whom the appeal is made.

Before looking at how Jesus responded to this and other manipulative ploys by friends and foes alike, I would like to further develop the concept of emotional manipulation.

The following chart will serve to simplify and illustrate the ways and means of childhood manipulation. The first column, Manipulative Behavior, lists some of the more common ways children tend to manipulate their parents. Remember, your child may or may not be consciously aware that he is being manipulative.

The second column, Desired Emotional Response, pinpoints what your child may be wanting his manipulative behavior to produce within you. Again remember, that your child may have practiced (gumnazo-ed) his manipulative ways so long, that at any given moment, he may not be aware of what his desires really are. Your job is to help him see what they are and that they are selfish and sinful.

The third column, Parental Reaction, identifies the foolish responses of a parent who has just been successfully manipulated by his prodigy. When this happens to you, you’ve just been overcome by evil rather than overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:21).

The fourth column, Desired Controlling Effect, is the desired controlling effect that your child intends his manipulation to have on you. Your child is most likely to be aware of this one regardless of how conscious he is of the others.

The fifth column, Sinful Motives, suggests a few of the many possible motives for the manipulation. That is, it specifies those potential desires (mentioned in the last chapter) which are so intense that your child is willing to resort to manipulation (sin) in order to obtain what he wants. These motives are suggested so that you as a parent might not only better understand the source of your child’s manipulation, but also help him to identify and correct the problem at its source.

Elements of Manipulative Behavior
The Behavior Desired Emotional Response Parental Reaction Desired Controlling Effect Sinful Motives
Accusations Guilt Defend self To procrastinate Love of pleasure
Criticisms Shame Justify actions To avoid obligation Love of power
Crying Embarrassment Blame shifting To change parent’s mind Love of praise
“Why” questions Hurt Answer “why”questions To lower parents’ standard Love of money
Obligatory Statements Anger Yelling back To rescind parental punishment Love of (anything)…
Sulking, PoutingWhining

Withholding affection


food, safety, no homework, comfort, toys, freedom, a car, etc…
Cold shoulder (See Appendix C. for additional motives)


Christ never answered a fool with a foolish response. He never fought folly with folly. In communicating with fools, He never employed communication forms that violated Scripture. Although He did respond to foolishness, He did not respond in kind. In other words, He did not allow the fool with whom He was talking to drag Him down to His level by playing the same sinful communication games as His opponent.

What He did do when responding to foolish verbiage was to show the fool his own foolishness. Those who approached Christ with the intent to manipulate Him (often by trying to make Him look foolish), walked away realizing how foolish they were themselves. The exact nature of how this was done will be discussed later in this chapter, but first you must understand the general principle of Proverbs 26:4–5. You must understand how the principle applies to your child when he is acting like the fool mentioned in Proverbs 17:21, 25 who causes his parents so much pain.

A Biblical Response to Foolishness

Solomon spoke of the emotional agony associated with parenting a child who was so filled with folly that he would be classified scripturally as a “fool”. “He who begets a fool does so to his sorrow, And the father of a fool has no joy” (Prov. 17:21). “A foolish son is a grief to his father, And bitterness to her who bore him” (Prov. 17:25). Time and space will not permit me to fully develop all of the appropriate biblical responses to a fool. There is one response, however, that must be mentioned, since out of this biblical injunction flows the essence of Christ’s adeptness at dealing with manipulators. He consistently employed the wisdom of Proverbs in dealing with foolish requests, set ups, and attempts to control Him—“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him” (Prov. 26:4); and the alternative— “Answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (Prov. 26:4).

The following chart contrasts the difference between answering a foolish child according to his folly and answering a foolish child as his folly deserves.

Answering a Foolish Child
According to his folly (Prov. 26:4) As his folly deserves (Prov. 26:5)
  1. You are drawn into a conflict by your child.


  1. You are in control of the conversation with your child.


  1. Your child is allowed to successfully employ sinful, manipulative behaviors.


  1. Your child is confronted biblically when sinful, manipulative behaviors are employed.


  1. You react with a snappy comeback motivated by emotions other than love for your child.


  1. You respond out of love with a well thought out biblical answer that aims at driving out foolishness from the heart of your child.


  1. You resort to defending yourself, justifying your actions, blame-shifting, answering “why” questions, argumentation, etc.


  1. You identify and effectively put an end to your child’s manipulative behavior.


  1. You allow your child to terminate the conversation by having the last word before biblical correction has taken place.


  1. You do not allow the conversation to end until biblical discipline and/or correction has taken place so that your child acknowledges and repents of his sin.


  1. You walk away feeling guilty, intimidated, frustrated, exasperated, like a failure, and / or out of control.


  1. You walk away confident that by God’s grace you are in control of and successfully accomplishing the training of your child.


  1. Your child walks away with the satisfaction of knowing that he has punished or manipulated you.


  1. Your child walks away knowing that you have successfully thwarted his attempts at disrespect and manipulation.



Scripture records many examples of individuals who attempted to manipulate Christ. Not one person ever succeeded! In studying Christ’s responses to those manipulative individuals, I have identified at least two anti-manipulation techniques that Jesus often used. These two techniques are frequently found together, but almost always at least one of them was employed.


Before explaining what they are, I must first give a warning. Christ could not sin. His motives, therefore, for responding to the foolish requests and questions of those who wanted to manipulate Him were impeccable. He always wanted to please and glorify His father. For you to attempt to use the biblical resources that you are about to learn for selfish ends is wrong. To do so would not only be evil (the very evil you are trying to deal with biblically— manipulation), it would not be blessed by God and would likely backfire. In other words, to use biblical weapons for the purpose of fighting evil to get what you want rather than what God wants will be viewed by God as sin. It is nothing more than a gimmick to manipulate your children, not to speak of God Himself. If you expect God to bless you in your efforts to keep your children from manipulating you, you must be certain that your motives are pure before you attempt to use these resources.

Anti-Manipulation Devices

Now that you’ve been warned, I will explain these two anti-manipulation devices to you. They are as follows:

  1. Appeal to the personal responsibility of the manipulator (which, typically, has not been fulfilled).
  2. Appeal to God’s Word (God’s Will) as the standard for judgment of the manipulator.

For instance, let’s begin by going back to the story of Mary and Martha found in Luke 10:

“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord’s word, seated at His feet. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him, and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38–40).

How did Christ deal with Martha’s attempt to pressure Him into giving her what she wanted?

First, He made an appeal to her personal responsibilities. He said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one.” Jesus said elsewhere that His disciples ought not to worry (Matt. 6:25) or be troubled (John 14:1). Therefore, Martha was not fulfilling at least two biblical responsibilities and Jesus reproved her. He reminded her that her only necessary responsibility was to sit at His feet and hear the Word of God.

Second, He made a subtle yet definite appeal to God’s will. He said, “only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part which shall not be taken away from her.” During His own temptation when Jesus was forty days in the wilderness, He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4, Luke 4:4). Consequently, Mary, who was feasting on the Word of God, was commended for doing the good (right) thing. The fact that Jesus called what Mary had “chosen” to do “necessary” and “good” implies that she was doing God’s will.

Christ’s First Recorded Words

To elaborate, let’s examine Christ’s first recorded words. His parents were anxious when they realized that He had not returned from the Temple with them to Nazareth. When they found Him three days later “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions, they were astonished”, and his mother reproved Him. “Why have you treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been anxiously looking for you” (Luke 2:48).

Notice the use of questions. Notice the use of the “why” question, clearly used to imply guilt. Notice the sympathetic appeal (“you have hurt us by making us anxious”). Perhaps you’ve never considered Mary’s response to Jesus’ behavior to be manipulative. But, whether she did so consciously or unconsciously, to the extent that she tried to make him feel guilty and or responsible for her anxiety, technically, she was using manipulation.

As you read Christ’s reply, see if you can pick out the two aforementioned manipulation devices:

“Why is it that you were looking for me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)

Did you catch them?

First, Jesus appealed to personal responsibility— “Did you not know.…” Mary and Joseph of all people should have known (it was their responsibility to know) that He was the Christ and that God had given Him responsibilities which He had to fulfill.

Second, Jesus made an appeal to God’s will. “Did you not know that I had to be …” Mary and Joseph should have known that Jesus had to be seeing to the affairs of His heavenly Father, not only because of the many Old Testament prophecies written about the ministry of the Messiah, but also because of what Gabriel (Luke 1:26–38), Zacharias (Luke 1:68–79), Simeon (Luke 2:21–35), and Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:36–38) had said concerning Him.

Against the Pharisees

Jesus used these anti-manipulation devices in another instance when He was accused of working on the Sabbath.

“Now it came about that on a certain Sabbath He was passing through some grain fields; and His disciples were picking and eating the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands” (Luke 6:1).

On this occasion the disciples were following Christ through some fields of standing grain. As they were walking, some of the disciples began to strip off some of the grain heads into their hands. At this point, in order to remove the outer bran shell from the inner heart of each grain, they had to first rub the kernels between their hands and then blow just hard enough to scatter the light bran covering into the air and away from the heavier heart of the kernel. In the eyes of the Pharisees, who held to their traditions more tenaciously than they did to the words of Scripture, this “harvesting” was work; and consequently unlawful to perform on the Sabbath (Ex. 34:2).

“But some of the Pharisees said to Him, ‘Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’”

Did you observe once again the “why” question? In asking this question, Jesus’ accusers were likely trying to discredit (embarrass) Him, or perhaps even attempting to affect His conscience with guilt. Regardless of their motive (the text does not provide it), the Pharisees were being manipulative and Christ wisely detected and responded to their manipulation.

He replied, “Have you not even read… (an appeal to personal responsibility: they were Pharisees and should have known the Scriptures) what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him, how he entered the House of God and took and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for any to eat, except the Priests alone, and gave it to his companions?” (an appeal to God’s Word: Jesus referred them to what was recorded in 1 Samuel 21:1–6 as an exception to the Law which prohibited anyone but the Priests from eating the Holy Bread of the Temple as explained in Leviticus 24:5–9). Thus, in order to press home a more important point, He compared Himself and His disciples to David and his men. In other words, Jesus said that if it was lawful for David and his men to break the law by eating the showbread, it was lawful for Him and His disciples to violate man-made traditions, because Jesus is greater than David. He is the Son of Man and the “Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Against the Chief Priests & Scribes

After telling the parable of the vineyard owner which was aimed at convicting some of the chief priests and Scribes of their rejection of Him as the Messiah, Christ became their target. Notice their clear intent to catch Him.

“And the scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour, and they feared the people; for they understood that He spoke this parable against them. And they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement, so as to deliver Him up to the rule and the authority of the governor. And they questioned Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’”(Luke 20:19–22)

Notice also their flattery (verse 21), which was no doubt intended to make them look sincere in front of the people. Again, they use a question (verse 22) and limit His choices to only two options, yes or no. They set Him up to be disreputable in the eyes of either the people or the government. As you consider the remainder of the text, notice His detection of their manipulation (verse 23), His answering a question with a question (verse 24), the employment of His two favorite anti-manipulation weapons (verse 25), and the silencing effect they had on His manipulators (verse 26).

“But He detected their trickery and said to them, ‘Show Me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?’ And they said, ‘Caesar’s.’ And He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people; and marveling at His answer, they became silent” (Luke 20:23–26).

Could you pick out the two devices? They were:

  1. Appeal to Personal Responsibility— (A direct command: “Then render to Caesar…”) It was their responsibility to obey Caesar and pay taxes as it was their responsibility to honor God with the first portion of their increase.
  2. Appeal to God’s Will— They were to give God that which the Scripture says rightfully belonged to Him. “…and (render) to God the things that are God’s.” The word “render” means “to give or do something necessary in fulfillment of an obligation or expectation.”

Time and space prohibit me from illustrating our Lord’s employment of these two means of “answering a fool as his folly deserves” any further in this chapter. To reduce the wealth of insight that can be gained by studying all of Christ’s responses in these situations would be to diminish His infinite wisdom, and to miss many additional important truths other than the two on which this chapter has focused. Yet, I believe these two principles are vitally important in learning how to respond to manipulative people in general, and manipulative children in particular. The next chapter is devoted to the application of these two principles in training children, especially those children who struggle with anger.


How to Conquer Disrespect and Manipulation

The development of the material in this chapter began years ago as I was attempting to teach a young mother how to deal with her disrespectful son. I asked her to keep a journal to record a “blow by blow” verbatim account of the dialogue with her son during times of conflict. During each session, I unpacked the journal, diagnosing each wrong verbal exchange biblically. Then, I helped her repack the conflict biblically. Our goal was for the son to learn how to communicate his desires without being disrespectful. The mother was to learn how to detect and conquer manipulative behavior in her son. I found this method to be beneficial, and thus developed the Conflict Journal. (See Appendix E. beginning on page 187 for a sample you can photocopy for your use.)

The Conflict Journal

In the following example of the Conflict Journal, notice how the teen cleverly distracted her mother by manipulation. Notice also how the mother responded in kind and answered a fool according to (“in the same way as”) her folly.


At this point Phyllis’ mother is likely feeling guilty, out of control, confused, angry (frustrated), ashamed or incapable of being an effective parent. Her daughter has successfully outsmarted her through manipulation. Phyllis has also managed to successfully procrastinate.

For the sake of simplicity, and since dealing with disrespect has been covered in a previous chapter, I will only unpack and repack the mother’s responses to her daughter’s manipulation. I will, however, identify the manipulative behavior on the daughter’s part. Please keep in mind that the alternative responses I suggest are only representative of dozens—perhaps thousands—of equally effective biblical responses. Be especially alert to the use of the two aforementioned anti-manipulation techniques.

For illustrative purposes, I have borrowed a concept from the world of boxing, which is a biblical concept (cf. 1 Cor. 9:26; Eph. 6:2; Col. 1:29; Heb. 12:4), breaking down the entire conflict into individual “rounds.”

Round One:

Mother: “Go upstairs and clean your room.”

Phyllis: “But it is not dirty.”

Here Phyllis is calling into question her mother’s presupposition that Phyllis’ room is dirty. In other words, she is saying, “It is wrong for you to ask me to clean my room because your request is not based on accurate information.”

Mother: “Yes it is!”

At this point, Phyllis’ mother begins to answer a fool according to her folly. She allows herself to be lured into a verbal snare designed to disarm her of her parental authority. If Phyllis does trick Mom into fighting in her own corner rather than in the one in with which her mom is more familiar, then Phyllis will gain the advantage. Mom should not let this happen. If Mom’s data is inaccurate there is an appeal process (discussed in Chapter Twelve) that may be employed by Phyllis to make her point without being manipulative (i.e. “Mother, I understand that you want me to clean my room and I am certainly willing to do that. I do, however, have some new information that I would like you to consider. May I present that information to you?”).

Appropriate Biblical Response: “Sweetheart, if you are trying to make an appeal, that is not how it is done. I have seen your room, and it simply is not acceptable. Your responsibility according to Scripture is to obey your parents, and I expect you to obey me. If, after you clean your room, you would like to discuss our family standards of cleanliness, I will be happy to do so provided you discuss them without being disrespectful.”

Round Two:

Phyllis: “You always ask me to clean my room.”

Here we most likely have a subtle manipulative appeal for reasonableness or justice. Perhaps Phyllis is trying to say, “Mom, you are a fanatic about my room. You’re a slave driver. Why don’t you lighten up and stop being such a tyrant? You’re not being reasonable and I don’t think that’s very fair.” Phyllis may be trying to evoke guilt or perhaps sympathy in her mother to get her to back off.

Mother: “I am not!”

Again mother allows herself to be lured into Phyllis’ snare. She is lured away from the corner given her by God into the corner of her beloved opponent/adversary. She has once again answered a fool according to her folly, and her daughter still remains wise in her own eyes.

Appropriate Biblical Response: Assuming that Mom lost round one by answering a fool according to her folly rather than by answering a fool as her folly deserves, she still may recover in round two. Don’t forget, if you, as a parent, should lose the first few rounds because you didn’t detect the manipulation soon enough, you have not lost the fight. At any point in the necessary battle, you may recover and deliver the knock-out blow (“Do not be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good” Rom. 12:21.), by using the state-of-the-art weaponry with which God has provided and wielding it effectively.

Mom should have said, “God asks you always to honor your parents and to obey them unless they ask you to sin. It is not a sin for you to clean your room. It is a sin (for which there will be consequences) to dishonor and disobey your mother as you are doing right now.”

Round Three:

Phyllis: “You don’t keep your room as clean as you expect me to keep mine. You didn’t even make your bed this morning.”

Phyllis is now bringing out the heavy artillery. She has switched from throwing a few left jabs to heaving a right hook at her mother’s conscience. If she can inflict a wound severe enough to produce guilt she will win this round—perhaps even the whole fight.

Phyllis: “You hypocrite!” “How dare you ask me to do one thing and you practice another. Why, you are provoking me to anger with your double standards. I’ve read that Angry Kids book too, you know.”

Mom: “You don’t have half the responsibilities that I do!”

Oops! She did it again. She took the bait. She fell for it once more. She has allowed herself to be diverted away from the real issue (her daughter’s sin) by the clever smoke screen of guilt. She is answering a foolish accusation rather than rebuking it.

Appropriate Biblical Response: Assuming again, for the sake of illustration, that Mom lost the first two rounds, here is one way she may rebound in the third.

“Honey, right now your heart needs cleaning more than both of our rooms. You may go to the Think Room until you are able to continue this conversation according to biblical principles. If you persist in your manipulation, you will leave me no choice but to discipline you for your sinful attitude. The punishment will be to clean my room and your room for one week. You need to make the decision, Dear.”

Round Four:

Phyllis: “None of my friends have to clean their rooms every day.”

Having scored a few points with the right hook, Phyllis now abruptly changes to a left upper-cut, hoping to catch her mother off guard. By comparing her “unreasonable” mother to the “reasonable” mothers of her companions, she once again hopes to stun her opponent with another blow to the conscience: “Only a tyrannical slave-driving bully would require her child to clean her room every day,” she implies. “Compared to any standard of rationality, no parent ought to require her child to clean her room every day!”

Mom: “That may be true, but you have to live with us and not with them.”

Appropriate biblical response: You might say “That sounds like a good response to me.” Perhaps it is better than the previous responses but it still does not pinpoint personal culpability. In other words, Phyllis’ Mom may have deflected the upper-cut a little but Phyllis still gets a point or two for connecting. An even better response, would be, “You are not only being manipulative, you are being unwise. The Bible says ‘When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding’ (2 Cor. 10:12). You are procrastinating and being disobedient and now I must discipline you.”

“But I never would have thought of that Scripture. I don’t know the Bible that well,” you say. But Jesus did, and because He did, no one ever successfully manipulated Him. The simple truth is, the more of God’s Word you have internalized, the better equipped you are to deal with manipulation. When you are stumped about what to say (i.e. when you lose a round), remember what your child said to deliver the unchallenged blow. Then go to your Bible, research an appropriate answer including Scripture (“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer.” Prov. 15:28), so that next time you will be prepared to defend against the blow and counter it with biblical wisdom.

Round Five:

Phyllis: “Why is it so important to you that I clean my room?”

When all else fails, duck and counter with the left jab “why.” “Why” is probably the best way for a manipulator to catch an opponent off guard, forcing him to defend himself and making him more vulnerable to an immediate, more punishing blow. “Why,” you remember, was the favorite manipulative tool of the religious leaders who tried to set up Jesus. “You seem to have a need for my room to be clean” is the innuendo. “Could it be that you are a compulsive, perfectionistic ‘cleannick’ who is in need of ‘professional help?’” This jab is aimed at Mom’s pride. It is an attack on her character.

Mom: “Because it’s a house rule and I told you to.”

Phyllis’ mother defends herself against the attack, but does so in such a way as to give credibility to the question. Additionally, rather than appeal to the Scripture, Mom appeals to a lower standard that is easily attacked. (“Well then, the house rules are too strict.” or “Mother, you’re always telling me to do the things you want me to.”) Mom should have responded without giving credibility to Phyllis’ question. Instead, she should have appealed to the authority of Scripture which may never rightly be challenged.

Appropriate Biblical Response: “Sweetheart, you ought to be more concerned about what’s important to the Lord like obeying your parents. If you cannot persuade your father and me to change our minds after one respectful appeal you must assume that it is the Lord’s will for you to clean your room to our specifications.”

Round Six:

Phyllis: “Oh, all right, I’ll do it after supper.”

Phyllis intellectually realized that she is not going to change her mother’s mind, unreasonable as it may be. She grudgingly concedes to obey, but she is going to determine when to obey. It’s hard to deny that her mother finally connected for some points. Phyllis is not going to admit that it hurt. So she steps back out of range, throws her arms up in the air, and shrugs her shoulders as if to say, “That didn’t hurt.” Then she tries to clinch her mother’s arms with procrastination (a promise of delayed obedience).

Mom: “You’ll do it now.”

It looks like Mom is starting to rally, but remember this is the sixth round. More importantly, although Mom is getting stronger, her punches still lack the authority of Scripture. It is now a matter of Mom’s will verses the daughter’s will. It should be made a matter of God’s will versus the daughter’s will.

Appropriate Biblical Response: Assuming once again that Mother has allowed the conflict to go on to this point undetected or uncontrolled she may respond as follows.

“Delayed obedience is disobedience. Please do not assume that you’ll be eating supper in this house until you’ve cleaned up your room and repented of your disobedience as God requires.”

Round Seven:

Phyllis: “But, Mom, Johnny and I are going to the shopping mall. He’ll be here any minute.”

“That’s illegal” she protests “you’re stepping on my foot and hitting me with the back of your elbow. I can’t believe you’re going to make me clean my room when I’ve made previous plans. You’re denying my personhood. You’re imposing your will on mine, and I don’t think that’s fair! Foul! Foul!” All of this amounts to a left jab straight to the conscience.

Mom: “You’re not going anywhere until your room is clean.”

Again, Mom is getting stronger, trying to enforce her God given parental authority. Yet, by adding something else, Mom’s answer can be even stronger.

Appropriate Biblical Response: “You are not going anywhere until you first obey me as the Lord expects you to by cleaning your room. Then, we will disassemble and reconstruct biblically the disrespectful and manipulative communication you’ve chosen to bring to our conflict. And finally, you will not go to the mall until I am convinced that you are truly repentant in your heart.”

In addition to strengthening the appeal to personal responsibly, Mom added a reference to God’s will. Here Mom has required Phyllis to exercise herself for the purpose of godliness, including biblical examination of her thoughts and motives.

Round Eight:

Phyllis realizes that Mom is beginning to score more and more points. If this keeps up her Mom may win the fight. This requires drastic measures. It’s time to go for the knock out. In a battery of guilt producing punches, most of which are illegal because they are below the belt, Phyllis hurls all of her energy into a weighty emotional knockout attempt.

Phyllis: “You don’t love me, you don’t understand me. All you care about is your precious little house. I can’t wait until I can leave home!”

After that she storms up to her room, crying, stomping her feet, murmuring under her breath, and slamming the bedroom door behind her.

Phyllis has just scored a TKO (Technical Knock Out). She has succeeded in provoking her mother into feeling so guilty, angry, ashamed, incompetent and confused that she throws in the towel. Phyllis has just won her twelfth bout of manipulation against her mother this month.

Did you catch the two anti-manipulation techniques in each of the appropriate biblical responses? If not, reread each response until you can identify both appeals. Let me emphasize again that the responses given in this dialogue are only examples of many possible biblically correct responses, each of which may vary greatly depending on circumstances, personality, and overall character of both parent and child.

Biblical Guidelines For Responding to Childhood Manipulation

At this point I must insert another warning! Previously I warned you of the dangers involved in using these procedures with wrong motives. Now I must tell you that if your methods of using these resources do not follow other biblical guidelines, you may not expect God to honor your efforts. In other words, if you desire to glorify God by using these procedures, you must do so in accordance with other God-honoring biblical procedures. You must do the right thing in the right way.

More importantly, as with all of the resources in this book, you must truly be a Christian and have the Spirit of God residing inside of you to enable and empower you to use these tools. If you have not acknowledged your sin and put your trust in Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross, you simply will not be able to consistently apply the instruction you’ve received in this book. Christ Jesus substituted Himself in place of sinners that those who “believe in Him might not perish but have eternal life.” Only those who through faith accept what He has done by taking on Himself the punishment which they deserve, receive eternal life and the Holy Spirit, who provides the power to obey the Bible. Without the indwelling Spirit of God in your life, there is no possibility that you will be able to obey God’s command to “not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” With the Spirit of God residing in your life, you will be able to increasingly and effectively apply all of the God-given resources explained in the book.

Here then are five guidelines that will help you to do the right thing (conquer manipulation and disrespect in your child) in the right way:

Examine your motives: Your motives for responding to your child’s manipulation should be righteous. The goal of your instruction should be love (1 Tim. 1:5). You should not desire to belittle or embarrass him, nor censure or criticize him, nor show off your own cleverness or verbal prowess in front of him. You should never respond to manipulative behavior from a motive of personal retaliation or vengeance.

Examine your life: According to Galatians 6:1, as you attempt to restore your sinning brother you should be “looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” In other words, you should examine your own life for any sinful words, actions, and attitudes (especially manifestations of the same basic tendencies of disrespect and manipulation). Remember, “hypocrite” was the word Jesus used to describe those who do not examine and remove the log from their own eye before speaking to others about the speck in theirs (Matt. 7:3–5).

Maintain a spirit of gentleness: When your child sins against God, it may evoke in you righteous anger (or indignation). If, however, you are more angry that your child is sinning against you than you are because his sin is against God, what you are likely experiencing is sinful anger. Restoring your brother (child) “in a spirit of gentleness” (or meekness; Gal. 6:1) means that you do so without being sinfully angry yourself. You see, it is possible for righteous anger and sinful anger to reside in your heart at the same time. Before you open your mouth to reprove your manipulating child, you had better be sure that any anger you may feel in your heart is due to his sin against God rather than his sin against you. And, if you are certain that you can speak out of such a righteous anger, you had better take heed that such anger does not express itself in sinful forms of communication. Angry forms of communication include such things as:


“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).

Biting Sarcasm

“And they stripped Him, and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they kneeled down before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” Matt. 27:28–29)

Raising Your Voice

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).


“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such (a word) as is good for edification according to the need (of the moment,) that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).

Name Calling

“And Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, ‘Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.’ And the high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, ‘God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! And do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?’ But the bystanders said, ‘Do you revile God’s high priest?’ And Paul said, ‘I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people”’” (Acts 23:1–5).

Throwing, Kicking or Hitting Things

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money” (1 Tim 3:2–3).

False Accusations

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exod. 20:16).

Criticism (having a judgmental or critical spirit)

“Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge (of it). There is (only) one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11–12).

Pouting or Sulking

“But Jezebel his wife came to him and said to him, “How is it that your spirit is so sullen that you are not eating food?” So he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite, and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if it pleases you, I will give you a vineyard in its place.’ But he said, ‘I will not give you my vineyard’” (1 Kings 21:5, 6).

Choose the right words: You must speak the truth in love. You must select words that communicate grace and that will meet the needs of your child, for the purpose of edifying him. “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such (a word) as is good for edification according to the need (of the moment,) that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). As a parent, you must “let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, (as it were,) with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6) (my words added in parenthesis for understanding).

Remember that these anti-manipulation devices are only one small part of your biblical parenting resources: There are many biblical tools with which you have been provided to train your children in Christlike character. Doctrine, reproof, correction, and disciplined training in righteousness are the essential elements. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness …” (2 Tim 3:16). All other biblically legitimate means and methods of parenting fall under these four. Corporal punishment (spanking), biblical communication principles, The Gumnazo Principle, the various journals explained in this book, and any other valid biblical methodology found in any other book is valid only to the extent that it is used in a way that is consistent with and subordinate to this four fold process of change. The anti-manipulation technique outlined in this book is no exception. It must be used as a part of the system, in the entire milieu of biblical parenting.

To allow this (or any other) concept to become the predominant modus operandi of your parenting, is to distort the application of biblical truth and present a biblically unbalanced view of Christianity to your child. It is to rip out that small slice of the pie, magnify it several times larger than its actual size and superimpose it over the rest of the pie (making it the predominant piece). It will provoke your children to anger rather than bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. So, be careful that you balance this powerful biblical resource with all the rest.

Sharpening Your Skills

If you desire to become proficient in your ability to deal effectively with your child’s manipulation, you will have to practice (gumnazo) implementing what you’ve just learned. You must become at least as good at preventing manipulation as your child is at attempting it. My counselees occasionally express incredulity at my ability to quickly and biblically answer some of the questions that have stumped them for months or even years. What they often fail to realize is that for months and even years, I’ve sat in the same chair, stumped by those same questions asked me by numerous other counselees. It was only after being stumped and then searching Scripture for the right answer that I have, by God’s grace, become increasingly adept at answering tough questions. It is only as you, Christian parent, go back to the Scripture and study how to respond to the foolish and verbal maneuverings of your little schemer, that you will become increasingly more adept at answering his manipulative rhetoric.

The Manipulation Worksheet

I developed the manipulation worksheet to help counselees study how to answer manipulative individuals and to train themselves (gumnazo) how to “answer a fool as his folly deserves” (see Appendix E. for a sample to photocopy and use). Once you begin recognizing your child’s manipulative ploys, (in other words, you lose a round because you didn’t have a wise answer) take out the worksheet and commence pondering. The following is an explanation of the four sections and how to best use them:

  1. Circumstances Surrounding Manipulation

Recording the circumstances which surround the manipulation will insure that the transgression is examined in its proper context. You will be better able to detect common denominators or patterns of what triggers the manipulation and the times at which the manipulation occurs.

  1. Manipulative Remarks Made To Me

Recording verbatim (or as accurately as possible) the words chosen by the tactician will help you break down cunning subterfuge into its component parts. As you examine each manipulative remark, try to detect the following:

  The exact form of manipulative behavior (accusations, “why” questions, obligatory statements, etc.)

  The possible desired emotional response (guilt, shame, fear, etc.)

  The possible desired controlling effect (procrastination, lowering of standards, etc.)

  The possible sinful motives (love of pleasure, power, praise, etc.)

At this point, I must raise two notes of warning. First, you may judge actions and words, but you may not judge thoughts and motives without confirmation. The reason for examining “possible” internal areas are for use later on in helping the child examine his own heart (i.e. “Could it be that the reason you said that was to make me feel guilty?”). When your child examines his own heart and confirms verbally that his thoughts and motives are wrong, you may (if necessary) reprove him for attitude sins.

Second, you must be sure that the remarks which you perceived as manipulative, truly were manipulative (i.e. you had better be certain that you have enough evidence to make the manipulation diagnosis). To do otherwise would be to answer a matter before hearing it and to have it be folly and shame to you (Prov. 18:13).

Some individuals are given to inaccurate perceptions and tend to perceive inoffensive words as if given with malicious intent. Others who are proud (hypersensitive is the more fashionable but less biblical word today) tend to overreact in a similar fashion. When they detect the lightest disesteem, rebuke or criticism, regardless of how valid, they are prone to perceive such things as an attack against them. If you are personally given to such misperceptions, you might consider enlisting the help of another believer (perhaps a spouse) whose judgment is better than yours in such matters to help you diagnose manipulative behavior more accurately.

  1. My Response to the Manipulation

My purpose in asking you to fill in this worksheet is to examine a conflict as though you were looking at a video tape of a boxing match after losing the fight. You’ve just watched it observing the style, technique and strategy of your opponent so that you can learn how to prevail against him in the future. Now you’re going to rewind the tape and view it a second time, looking for your mistakes to plan ahead for the next confrontation. This is yet another part of the training (gumnazo) process.

Having confirmed that you have indeed been manipulated, you are now going to record verbatim (or as accurately as possible) how you responded to the manipulator. As you consider your answer, notice how your opponent got you off track by focusing on something other than his responsibility and notice the bait he used to lure you into his snare. Work at identifying your emotions, thoughts, and motives and evaluate them biblically (you should remember how to do this from the previous chapter). Pinpoint your exact “parental reaction” (defending self, answering “why” questions, blame-shifting, etc.). Understanding your vulnerability in these areas will prepare you for future manipulative attempts.

  1. Christlike (Biblical) Response to the Manipulation

This is the most important part of the worksheet; it is at this point that you reconstruct your answer to reflect the wisdom of Christ. Here is where you determine how to integrate into your response one or both of the scriptural anti-manipulation techniques discussed in this chapter. You must consider your child’s level of maturity, his consciousness of his manipulative ways, the degree of firmness that is to be used, the consequences (if any) that are to be brought to bear on him should he continue not to respond biblically, and any other extenuating or unusual circumstances that pertain to the issue at hand. This will take time, but it will be time well invested as your levels of skill and confidence will increase in direct proportion to your investment.

1. Circumstances Surrounding Manipulation:

2. Manipulative Remarks Made to Me:

3. My Response to the Manipulation:

4. Christlike (Biblical) Response to the Manipulation:


[1] Priolo, L. (1997). The Heart of Anger: Practical Help for the Prevention and Cure of Anger in Children (pp. 122–155). Amityville, NY: Calvary Press Publishing.

The Manipulation Game in the Church

I cannot allow the fear of manipulation to be a rationalization for not doing the hard work of instilling motivation.

—Fred Smith, Sr.

I recently heard a pastor tell about a wealthy oil man who called and said, “Reverend, I’ve never had much time for religion, but I’m getting older, and maybe I ought to make my peace with the church. I’d like to start by giving you a $20,000 check.”

The preacher said, “I immediately extended to him the right hand of Christian fellowship.”

I don’t think he was joking.

The exchange was an example of manipulation, which despite being repudiated still manages to find its way into the ministry.

Manipulation is often used because it’s effective—it just plain works! In this case, the church got a $20,000 windfall. But manipulation comes with a price. The pastor manipulated the fellow into believing he was getting Christian fellowship, but the man also manipulated the preacher by buying his way in, and that, as we all know, is no real relationship at all.

In contrast, a young man named Philip makes films with Christian themes. He became acquainted with a non-Christian who shared his interest in film-making techniques but rejected the importance of personal commitment to Christ.

The non-Christian offered some valuable equipment, and Philip said gently, “I appreciate the offer, but I can’t accept the equipment unless you fully recognize that this gift does not get you any points with God. Your eternal destination is determined by your relationship with Christ, not whether you contribute to Christian films. Do you understand that?”

“I understand,” the friend said.

“Then I’ll accept the equipment.”

Those two stories illustrate the difference between manipulation and motivation. Motivation is getting people to do something out of mutual advantage. Manipulation is getting people to do what you want them to do, primarily for your advantage. With manipulation, if the other person benefits, it’s purely secondary.

Manipulation carries a hidden agenda. Motivation carries an open agenda. You can be totally honest with people.

The young film maker was saying, “Do we have enough mutual interest to get all the agenda on top of the table? I’m not going to manipulate you or let you manipulate me into a brownie-point religion.”

Which Is It?

We all agree that motivation is good and manipulation is bad. But sometimes only a fine line separates the two, and it’s difficult to know which side of the line you’re on. The issues aren’t always clear-cut—what may be a legitimate case of motivation in one situation could, with a different intent, be manipulation.

An example is a cook who hides eggplant, which you’ve said you’ll never eat, in a casserole. You say, “Hey, that’s good. What is it?” Only then does he tell you. Were you manipulated? Or motivated?

A psychiatrist friend chided me one night by saying, “You businessmen mistake manipulation for motivation. The difference is you can substitute the word thirst for motivation but not manipulation.” He was saying unless you are satisfying someone’s thirst, you are probably manipulating rather than motivating. I’ve found this to be a good principle for distinguishing the two. I can motivate with integrity when I am bringing to consciousness a genuine thirst.

I was motivated in my appreciation of Dixieland music, for instance, by former Senator S. I. Hayakawa. He was an absolute authority on Dixieland, and we spent a pleasant evening discussing it. Later I realized that he, an excellent teacher and semanticist, had instilled a deeper interest than I’d had before.

He said, for example, “Cool jazz is courteous. Dixieland is discourteous because everybody talks at the same time. At the end of a number, after everybody’s made a statement and they ‘take it home,’ everyone starts making a statement at the same time.” He played on my intellectual interest to attract me to Dixieland.

He never said, “I’m going to try to intrigue you.” He simply intrigued me.

Was that manipulation? I don’t think so because I already had some interest and he merely deepened it. Now I can listen to a band and tell which musicians are really making statements and which are just putting in time.

Whenever we try to motivate without the other person knowing what we are trying to do, however, we need to be careful. We can try to bring out a latent desire a person doesn’t even know exists, but we need to remember to do three things: (1) Recognize how close we are to manipulation, (2) set a checkpoint, and if the technique doesn’t produce a genuine thirst, stop it, and (3) never resort to immoral means even for righteous ends.

A friend had a secretary who lived an uninhibited life-style with no apparent interest in the Christian way. One day a letter arrived for him from a student named Ed who closed with “Until I hear from you, I’ll be floating around.” My friend wrote him back, basically explaining how he could find spiritual reality without floating around. He rewrote that letter half a dozen times, not because he was dissatisfied with what he said the first time, but so it would have to be retyped by the secretary, who also was “floating around.”

In a sense, that bordered on manipulation. But I feel (others may differ) that it was done with integrity. Because my friend admitted to himself what he was doing, he ended it after a limited time; and his action did not exploit the woman—he was paying her a full salary for the typing.

Later he found she kept a copy of the letter for herself, and she eventually became a Christian. The process started with her typing that letter to Ed.

Instilling motivation is hard work. It takes a lot out of me to bring you where I want you to go. I sometimes hear people say, “Well, if a person doesn’t want to go, I have no right to manipulate him to get him there.” I may not have a right to manipulate, but neither can I allow the fear of manipulation to be a rationalization for not doing the hard work of instilling motivation, which is, after all, one of the leader’s most important tasks.

At the same time, we limit anything that borders on manipulation because it is so easy to exploit people with it. To challenge people, to motivate with integrity, means I may put a lot of effort into a person, but the time comes when he must be set free. He may walk away and leave me empty-handed, but any more on my part would be dishonest manipulation. My only recourse is to start over with somebody else.

I once recommended to a young woman a particular church because she wanted to meet some sharp professional people. I sensed, however, that she wasn’t very interested in spiritual things, so I didn’t keep encouraging her to go. She would not have been going for the right reason.

I simply wanted her to be exposed to the spiritual to see if there was any interest, to give the Spirit of God a chance to work. In this case, apparently the time wasn’t right, so I felt any more pushing would have been manipulation.

Uses and Abuses

In most cases, manipulation is the prostitution of motivation. Prostitution is always easier than the real thing; it’s an attempt to get results without honest investment. Motivation is not a quick fix; manipulation can be.

A common example in the church is prooftexting, where someone takes a promise people find very attractive (God wants you in a Rolls Royce) and digs up three or four Bible verses that say God will supply your deepest desire. That’s manipulation, not honest instruction.

There are other ways we see manipulation in the church.

Appealing to human gratification

Anything that appeals primarily to human desire is manipulation; anything that satisfies divine desires is motivation.

If we structure a church so members come only to meet their human needs for friendship, security, belonging, or tradition, we are manipulating.

To find ways to motivate spiritually is difficult. It’s much easier to find a human mutual interest than to implant a divine mutual interest. Divine interests may contradict human interests. If you decide church officers must fulfill the scriptural requirements for deacon or elder, think of the political fallout! In many cases, if you don’t let the financially powerful exert their influence, they go to another church, or worse, wreak havoc in this one. So we manipulate by giving them human satisfactions: prestige, power, and authority in the congregation.

Flimsy assurances

Sometimes we satisfy people too easily—with meetings. One Christian woman I know quit attending missionary society meetings because she said they didn’t do anything but meet, eat, and have a short prayer. The worst part, she said, was that everyone left feeling they had done something for missions when in fact they’d done nothing. The activity was manipulative—getting people to think they were working when they were actually only keeping busy.

Relying on recognition

I once talked with a young man who planned to give a large donation to establish a Christian institution.

“Are you doing this because God needs it?” I asked.

“Yes, I think so,” he said.

“Are you going to put your name on it?”

“Yes, I’d planned to.”

“Then I don’t think you’re spiritually mature enough to do it,” I said.

He had the honesty to say, “That may be true. Maybe I’d better think about it for a while.” Several years later, he dropped the idea because his motivations have matured.

Selective appreciation

When a wealthy person gives a gift larger than other people but small compared to what he is capable of giving, exaggerated recognition for that gift is manipulative. It does not motivate.

Occasionally I see people recognized as outstanding leaders when the only outstanding thing they’ve done is give more money than other people can afford. It hasn’t affected their lives; it represented no sacrifice. Fawning over them is favoritism, which is condemned in Scripture.

Misuse of “ministry”

I saw an ad on a seminary bulletin board for a secretarial job opening. It listed the normal skills required and then said, “Pay is low because it is a ministry.” I wanted to tear it down.

I haven’t the vaguest idea why a secretary working in a “Christian” setting should make less than a secretary in a “secular” setting. I understand even less how the location determines whether the secretary’s job is a ministry.

I wouldn’t mind if the ad had said, “We pay according to how much support we receive” or “Pay depends on how well the organization does financially.” But to spiritualize low wages as “ministry” is manipulation.

These forms of manipulation are usually justified because they help the cause. But in the work of God, ends—even noble ends—never justify means. Such thinking humanizes God and eliminates his sovereignty. God becomes unnecessary as we presume to do for him what he couldn’t do in any other way. We forget God is as interested in the process by which we live as the product we produce. If that process is not divinely sanctioned, we are outside his will.

Means of Motivating

What are some motivational means? How can we bring out the best in people without resorting to manipulative tactics?

Establish a tangibly friendly atmosphere

This is especially true with co-workers, whether volunteer or paid. In the corporate world, for instance, I’m very straightforward when hiring: I prefer “my kind of people”—people I can motivate. I can’t motivate everybody. It’s easier to manipulate than motivate. For long-term, day-to-day relationships, however, I need people I can motivate with integrity. I have never been able to fully motivate somebody I didn’t like.

But when I’ve genuinely motivated someone, I can look him or her in the eye and know we have an honest, friendly relationship between us.

Enjoy people’s uniqueness

Being friends is beneficial; having the same tastes is not necessary.

One young woman worked for me matching colors of ink. She could get tears in her eyes over certain shades of blue. “Isn’t this a beautiful match?” she’d ask.

I never could figure what went on in her head to make matching blues such a remarkable occurrence. But all I needed to do to keep her motivated was to share her excitement and appreciate her work.

Know a person’s capabilities

With this employee, the most unkind thing I could have done would have been to say, “Don’t you think of anything more important than shades of blue?” The truth of the matter was, more often than not, she didn’t. Nor would my criticism have made her a better person. She was helping the company by doing what she enjoyed.

I must spend time to know what a person can do. My responsibility is to make as objective an evaluation as I can of present skills, potential capacities, level of commitment, ability to be motivated, discipline, and intensity. If I am to lead, I owe it to my people to take the time to evaluate them well.

The key is not to let feelings override judgment. I try to be as objective with a person as I am with money. If I count your money, the fact that I like you won’t make me adjust the bottom line. I need to be just as objective about ability, drive, and dedication.

My color matcher didn’t have extensive capabilities, and to motivate her above her capacity would have been cruel. If a musician has limited talent, it’s a sin to talk about the joys of being a Mozart. When you’re with a woman who is single at age fifty-five, you don’t overdo motherhood. In motivation, desire must be matched with ability. You focus on the advantages of being who you are and not what somebody else is.

Motivation always looks to the future.

Know how much responsibility a person can take

Some people can take sizable responsibility but not sole responsibility. They may have great abilities, but something in their psyche says, I don’t want the whole load. I want somebody to lean on, to report to.

Some people work best with assignments rather than responsibility. Assignments mean you explain what you want, when you want it, and how you want it done. Responsibility means the person takes initiative and gets the job done effectively by whatever means he or she develops.

Good leaders know which kind of people are working for them.

Look for ways both of you can benefit

A certain honesty is required in motivation. It admits that unless there is a mutual interest, perhaps we shouldn’t get involved in this thing together.

If a person does have potential, a good question to ask is: “You have a lot more talent than you’ve been able to put to use. How much effort are you willing to exert if we give you the opportunity to develop that talent?”

The development, of course, has to be in line with the ministry. I wouldn’t invest church resources to train somebody who wanted to be a watchmaker. We have to find the mutual advantage. But we can be looking for individuals who want to develop certain skills from which the church can benefit. When a person sees he or she is improving in some area, and it is also helping the body, this is a powerful motivation.

Be honest about your goals

A young minister came to see me not long ago. He wanted to know how he could build his small church into a big church.

“What’s your primary motivation?” I asked.

“Frankly, the size church I’ve got can’t pay me enough to live on,” he said.

For him to begin an evangelism program, he would have to manipulate people. He couldn’t be honest about it.

His church was big enough to support a pastor if he could convince them to tithe, but he’d rather go into a church expansion program than try to teach people to tithe.

Use people as positive illustrations

In my speaking, I’ve told how certain people excelled at something, perhaps a Christian virtue, and they seemed to love being mentioned that way and consequently began to exhibit even more of those positive traits. This becomes manipulation only if what you’re saying is untrue or slanted—or if you threaten to use a person as a bad illustration.

One of the ways I motivate people to think is to always carry some blank cards in my pocket, and when anyone says something worth writing down, I do so. For years I tried to remember memorable lines until I was alone and could jot myself a note. Then I overheard someone say, “I didn’t know it was that good, but he wrote it down!” I realized people love to be quoted. And quoting them motivates them to think better.

Now in conversation I’ll often say, “May I write that down?” It has excellent motivating power.

One of the nicest compliments you can earn is “He makes me think smart when I’m with him.” It’s a sign you are motivating people to think.

Give a person a reputation to uphold

One of my bosses had a way of saying nice things about his workers that got back to them. True things but nice things. We appreciated it, and we couldn’t keep from trying to do more things he could tell about. People will work hard to uphold a good reputation.

Ask, What is special about this person? For example, some people rarely say anything negative. That’s a beautiful reputation to start giving them. “Here’s a person who looks for the best in others.” Of course, you can’t be dishonest and say that about a cynic.

I have consciously augmented my wife’s reputation as a creative listener. She is. I did it basically to comfort her because she’d always say after a social occasion, “I didn’t have anything to say. All I did was listen.” And yet she does that better than anyone I know.

One night at a dinner party, she was sitting next to a quiet, powerful man. His wife, sitting next to me, said, “I feel sorry for your wife having to sit next to Jack.”

“Jack will talk his head off,” I said.

“But you don’t know Jack.”

“No,” I replied, “but I know my wife.”

Jack talked his head off. I’m sure his wife thought, What in the world happened to Jack? It was simple—Mary Alice has the ability to listen dynamically, to make people feel they’re smart. And often they live up to it!

Compliment with credibility

I learned a secret of complimenting from Sarah Jarman, a gracious, intelligent, impeccable woman. Hers were never general compliments, but always specific. “That tie and that suit are exactly right for each other.” From then on, I’d wear that tie with that suit.

It was obvious her observations were well thought out, believable, and correct. She never tried to compliment you on something outside her field of expertise. She understood social graces, and the thing she knew best she would compliment you on. She was believable.

I never will forget talking with a professional singer after a concert, and a lady came up and gushed, “You sure did sing well.”

The singer thanked her, but after she left, he said, “I could spit.”

“Why?” I asked.

“That woman doesn’t know how poorly or how well I sang. All she knows is whether or not I made her feel good. I know she meant well, but I wish she’d just said, ‘I enjoyed your singing,’ rather than rendering a judgment on something she knows little about.”

Compliments mean the most when you know what you’re talking about.

Show people you enjoy your work

I learned from my former boss, Maxey Jarman, that it was fun to work.

One time, half complaining and half fishing for praise, I said, “I sure am working hard.”

Maxey replied, “What would you rather be doing?”

“Oh, nothing else,” I had to admit.

“Then,” Maxey said matter-of-factly, “you shouldn’t complain about doing what you’d rather do.”

By observing him and seeing how grateful he was for his responsibility, I realized I liked to work. That’s when I had the most fun and satisfaction.

A friend once said, “I was a sophomore at Princeton before I realized it was fun to learn. Then school became exciting.” He was fortunate. That doesn’t happen to a lot of students until it’s too late.

I don’t have a higher education, but one of the blessings is that I never learned to study for grades. My friends in higher education have confirmed that those who learned to study for grades are often delayed as thinkers. They say the B students in seminary will often be the best pastors.

Then, tongue in cheek, they say the A students come back as professors and administrators—and they usually wind up calling on the C students for money because they’ve become the money-makers.

Finding Thirsty People

If the difference between motivation and manipulation is the quenching of thirst, then the key for a leader is to look for thirsty people.

People, however, have different thirsts, and motivating them means knowing what they are thirsty for. Viktor Frankl has taught us that almost everyone has a basic thirst for meaning in life. There are other thirsts: worthwhile accomplishment, utilization of talents, approval by God. One of the greatest for those in Christian work is a thirst to belong, a desire for community in the kingdom of God.

One of the secrets of identifying a person’s thirst is to see what has motivated him or her in the past. People rarely outlive their basic thirst. If they get a thirst early in life, they seldom lose it. If they have a thirst for recognition, these people never seem to get quite enough fame. If they thirst for intellectual growth, they never get quite smart enough. If they want money, I rarely see them get to the point where they don’t want more.

Then, once we’ve identified where people are dry, effective motivators ask themselves, What kind of water do I have to satisfy that kind of thirst?

When we are able to honestly and openly offer water to parched people, we are not manipulating. We are motivating.[1]


[1] Smith, F., Sr. (1997). The Manipulation Game. In M. Shelley (Ed.), Growing your church through training and motivation: 30 strategies to transform your ministry (Vol. 4, pp. 223–235). Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House.

4 thoughts on “Christian Biblical Counsel: MANIPULATION (Updated)

  1. patriciaannerider

    I have a question. I’m a people pleaser who has been in counselling over the past 18 months. I’ve set boundaries in many areas and realized that about 75% of my relationships were with people that I allowed to control me. It’s been a very hard journey with lots of rejection.
    My question is this: I have a friend who has treated me badly for many years. Her daughter also manipulated my daughter from the beginning. As I learned about boundaries I began setting them and ultimately had to tell her that our daughters could not play together for now. Her daughter would tell mine things like “unless you do this, I won’t be your friend…” And if my daughter said no she would isolate her and take friends away…that sort of thing. My daughter finally lashed out in anger only to have all this girls siblings chase her down and force her to say sorry. Then was reminded of it every instance afterwards. So I cut off contact and sent a polite letter explaining that because of fear I did not say anything since I mentioned the problem 2+ years ago (which they did nothing about) but that since her teenager also along with other children intimidated my daughter I simply have to keep them apart. I sent that a week ago. I heard no response until a few days ago when the mom tried calling me. I was unable to answer (I have 6 children, one is a baby!). Then we received an email from the husband who leads youth at our church, the first of it’s kind sent out, about the fact that all conflict is from pride and that as far as it depends on you peace must be made. So then another phone call and text later stated I needed to call her and she wanted to speak to me and these were the times she was free. Before all this she wanted to buy a couple of used items from me and order some bulk food (which I sell), but after I sent the email she did not reply to my texts asking if she was still interested in buying these items. Ok…this is long…the crux is this…I feel forced to call her. I have had phone or personal confrontations with her before…not good. I feel like I have to call. But I’d rather not. She won’t reply to my texts and I don’t demand that she does yet she insists I respond to her in her way. I don’t want to get sucked into feeling like I’ve done something wrong (the usual) or “obey” her demands. Do I have to call her? What’s the right thing to do?

  2. Pingback: Christian Biblical Counsel: MANIPULATION (Updated) – emotionalpeace

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