The very moment we respond to a manipulator with an incongruent act, a lie or outright rebellion, we have joined their ranks. This disease or system of behavior is just that insidious. Any violation of true principles, in order to appease a manipulator is also manipulation. It is! By definition! What are we doing? We are trying to play upon or control our manipulator by devious means to accomplish our own ends, which are generally to get them off our backs!
I attended a 12 Steps meeting in the County Jail once as a guest of the Facilitator. During the meeting the Facilitator noticed one of the younger inmates wearing a brand new pair of Airwalk sneakers. He stopped his discussion, turned to the young fellow and asked, “Who did you have to manipulate to get those new shoes?”
“Really? How’d you get them then?”
“My Mom brought them to me.”
“Why did she do that?”
“Because I asked her to.”
“Could you tell us what you said when you asked her to?”
The young man hung his head and muttered something unintelligible. You need to understand that my Facilitator friend had, himself, spent four years in the State Penitentiary. This kid wasn’t pulling the wool over his eyes. He asked the young man to stand up. He instructed him to hold his head up, look him in the eyes and answer the question, out loud, like a man. The young man stood trembling, with tears rolling down his cheeks and he looked at his mentor and said, “I told her that if she loved me she’d get me some new shoes.”
My friend commended him for his courage to face his own failings. That was all that was said on the subject. The young man knew that by putting his mother on a guilt trip, he had most definitely manipulated her. When it came down to identifying what he’d done, he was automatically ashamed of himself. Instead of cowering in fear of repercussions, the young man stood and took full responsibility for the shameful thing which he had done.
At the end of the meeting, the embrace between these two men was heartfelt and sincere. Each clearly knew the heart of the other with no deceit or ulterior motives clouding their relationship. One day, with such practice, that young man might also enjoy such an open, honest relationship with his mother, untainted by manipulation.
Guilt tripping is rampant in our culture. It is probably the most common form of manipulation. One of the places it occurs most is in the church. I remember a young man whose father was not active in church. When he turned sixteen and became eligible to deer hunt his father suggested they go get his first deer on Sunday. The young man had an enormous struggle. On the one hand he was a faithful priesthood holder who wanted to do his duty. On the other hand his father only had Sundays off and there would be no other opportunity to hunt with him. Now, I’m not even going to suggest what the appropriate course of action might be in this situation. I can personally see merits in either choice. I also think that this was a decision best left to the young man. After all, we are given our own personal agency, are we not?
His Priest’s Quorum adviser, however, had other ideas. He seemed certain the young man was bound for hell if he went hunting. So certain, that he told him so. He spread the guilt on the poor young man and secured a commitment to stay and attend to his Priesthood duties. The boy’s father went without him; after a few words that may have been manipulative as well. That father died of a heart attack that morning, alone on the mountain, while his son was in Priesthood Meeting. The boy never set foot inside the church again.
Had that boy made his own decision, unfettered by the manipulation of his leader, he might be active in the church today. The decision would have been his own, and he wouldn’t have had the church to blame. As it was, a powerful personality had unfairly influenced his choice and thus embittered him by the outcome.
I preyed upon my wife in a similar manner once. I had announced my forthcoming retirement from UPS. My wife was overjoyed and asked me what I intended to do next. I told her that my pension would not be sufficient to keep us as comfortably as we’d become accustomed….unless….we went on a Mission to the Philippines, where our monthly expenses would be much cheaper.
My wife has not been interested in going on a senior mission. I have known this for quite some time. I on the other hand am hard pressed to think of a time when I was more joyful than during my missionary experience. Going again would be a real treat for me.
My statement to her was a clear case of what I now call spiritual manipulation, though I didn’t recognize it at the time. All I knew right then was her reaction was one of obvious disappointment and very obvious withdrawal. She was not the only one who withdrew; so did the Holy Ghost. Being shut out by my wife and the Spirit simultaneously was not an experience that was easy to miss. I was sick about it and very confused. After a couple of days of this seemingly universal cold shoulder I decided I’d better fast and pray and try to come to some understanding of what I had done wrong. I was sure it would please the Lord if we went on a mission. I had plenty of authoritative reference material to back up my position. I could understand my wife’s dismay, but why would the Spirit of the Lord be withdrawn.
I went to the temple and spent a good time in the Celestial room pondering my dilemma. After much prayer and consideration I felt the loving presence of the Spirit; come to instruct me. Into my mind came these words.
“You despise manipulation don’t you? Can’t you see that even spiritual manipulation is wrong? You were wrong in putting your wife on a guilt trip that way. She has her agency too, you know. If I want you on a mission, I’ll get you on a mission! It is a call, after all! You don’t need to pull any strings to ensure that my will for you is accomplished. I am able to do my own work. All you must do is serve me where you’re planted. It may not be on a mountain height or over the stormy sea…”
Now, you might imagine that these words came into my mind as scolding or chastening; not so. They came to me, borne of the Spirit as sweet words of instruction and comfort. I walked out of the Temple completely emancipated from what I had considered an obligation that I was going to be unable to fulfill. I had thought I was expected to go on a mission and that I had to exert all the influence I had to see that it came to pass. I was building a tower of Babel and the goal was more important to me that who got trodden on or pushed aside during the construction of it.
Now, I had heard many times, from the pulpit, that a Senior Mission was a desirable thing to do. I’m not saying that the speakers had intended to put me on a guilt trip (though I have heard guilt trips delivered from the pulpit on occasion) but being a manipulator, it is just as likely that I, as a natural response to my culture, put myself on a guilt trip and then attempted to transfer it on to my dear wife.
Remember our discussion of internal, spiritual wounds that are the cause of the outward behavioral symptoms we see in so many. My observation is that most if not all of those wounds come of manipulation in one of its ugly forms. Consider a few examples:
Rape: Is there a worse case of manipulation, of controlling another for one’s own purposes?
War: How many soldiers, lacking any personal conviction as to the value and merit of their commitment come home mentally and emotionally ill because they’ve been manipulated into doing something horrifying for someone’s purpose other than their own? Meanwhile, soldiers who feel a commitment to a cause, having chosen to go, rather than having been manipulated into the battlefield, more often come home healthy.
Trophy Kids: By this I mean kids whose parents want them to be successful for personal reasons, like bragging rights, instead of for the child’s own development and happiness. I see this quite often on the Little League field and other sports venues. It happens in beauty pageants and spelling bees and any where excellence might boost a parent’s own ego. Kids can sense whether a parent’s interest is in themselves or in their child.
Domestic Violence: Always the easy way for the manipulator to get his way; by brute force.
Bullying: Not much different that domestic violence, is it?
Brow Beating: Who has truly grown spiritually from being scolded, shamed, guilt tripped or brow beaten into something? Of course not! Doing the right things for the wrong reasons yields no satisfaction or peace; more likely resentment and bitterness which is an insidious form of personal injury inflicted on many.
The list could go on and on, but hopefully, you can see that manipulation in all its hideous forms is a key cause of the pain that results in widespread addiction and misbehavior.
All of us, if we’ve gone to school, voted for a political candidate, or bought a car, are victims of manipulation. Most likely, all of us are also perpetrators of this tool of implementing Satan’s initial and insidious plan. Let us strive to be more aware of manipulation’s destructive influence in our lives.