6 Ways You're Being Manipulative without Realizing It



No one wants to be a manipulator. At least not intentionally.

But chances are, because we are women, we have more of those manipulative tendencies than we realize. Manipulation can be subtle. It can be used to sway others without them realizing it. Sadly, it can be something we do without realizing it, too.

The word manipulate means to control something or someone with a skillful manner. A desire to control is something that now comes natural to women, thanks to the curse in the Garden when man and woman originally sinned. Thus, we should be aware of that temptation – and an acquired skill – that can haunt us and damage our relationships.

Why We Struggle with Control

When God punished Eve in the Garden of Eden for her disobedience, He said in Genesis 3:16: “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (NASB, emphasis added).

The Hebrew word for desire in that verse is the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 4:7 when God confronted Cain about his jealousy of his brother, Abel, and said, “Sin is crouching at your door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Therefore, when God cursed Eve by giving her a desire for her husband, but he would rule over her, God was saying she would covet his control, and seek the position of authority that Adam was given. Her desire, or drive, would be to have the authority in the relationship.

And that desire to control--that blinding obsession to have things our way--has been a source of frustration and edginess for women ever since.

Here are six ways you and I are being manipulative without realizing it, and how we can stop:

1. Manipulation through Gossip

Proverbs 20:19 tells us “A gossip betrays a confidence, so avoid anyone who talks too much.” Gossips don’t just betray a person’s confidence, they can also manipulate and sway others’ opinions of the person being talked about.

Why do women feel compelled to tell certain neighbors what that one nasty neighbor said, what that woman in their church had the nerve to do, and what someone’s daughter was caught wearing? Because if we can tear down another to compensate for how they offended us, or simply lead another’s viewpoint to align with ours, we feel a sense of victory.

But manipulation through gossip always hurts us and others in the end.

To avoid manipulating others through gossip practice Ephesians 4:29 and “let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouths 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.” Also, it’s difficult to avoid joining in when you are around someone who gossips, so limit your time around women who talk about others.

2. Manipulation by Venting or Exploding 

Have you ever been around a hot-tempered person, one who is known to explode, vent venom, or melt down, emotionally? If so, you have probably learned to tread lightly around that person so you don’t contribute to the drama. But that’s the point.

The one who is emotionally volatile or known for a dramatic meltdown can manipulate others into walking on eggshells around her, lest there be additional drama. She can also manipulate others to keep their distance and avoid her at all costs.

 Proverbs 29:22 says, “An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins.”

Scripture exhorts us to be around people who “hold their tongues” (Proverbs 11:12; 13:3), not those who explode all over us and others. Proverbs 21:23 warns, “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.” You can be less manipulative – and spare yourself and others much drama – when you guard your tongue and steer clear of the woman who doesn’t.

Anger, bitterness and drama is sometimes contagious. Don’t let it infect you into developing the same habit.

3. Silent Manipulation by Stuffing it Inside

The “Stuffer” is one who quite possibly never learned to express her feelings or emotions, or was taught to stuff them inside. The problem is, after stuffing for too long, she is bound to implode. Or explode. On you. You might be a stuffer, too, who just doesn’t feel comfortable talking about what bothers you.

Or, maybe you only clam up when it comes to certain topics, situations, or people. But stuffing leads to tension, drama, and a silent way of manipulating and controlling others.

When someone asks “What’s wrong?” and you say “Nothing, I’m fine” when you’re not, that is a manipulative response to cause the other person the same amount of grief you are experiencing. Maybe that’s not what you intend, but that’s what comes across.

There’s no way for someone to penetrate your armor and try to help you when you insist on staying in your emotional cave. Communication is vital to healthy relationships. If you tend to stuff it in, find a safe person with whom you can talk about how you feel. Or start by writing out your thoughts and feelings.

You may find that after you release them onto paper, you don’t need to keep them festering inside any longer. Talking with God (and a biblical counselor) about your issues helps, too. Then you don’t have to burden someone else with what God can handle and heal.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/asiseeit 

4. Manipulation through Cynicism and a Critical Spirit

We all know a person or two--or several--with a critical spirit. At times, we can be one of them too. Especially if we hang out with them.

The cynics are those who see the glass as half-empty instead of half-full. They are the ones who let you know the downside of every situation, and the ten reasons why your great idea is a bad one. They are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, or they are the ones who are actually throwing it on the floor!

These people will be the first to tell you why you can’t achieve that dream, or get that job, or trust God to come through. Proverbs 22:10 says, “Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended.”

Maybe you aren’t a cynic but you possess a critical spirit, finding what’s wrong in others and pointing it out, under the guise of teaching or trying to be helpful. But ask yourself if your words are building up others or tearing them down (or apart).

Most often, we manipulate our own daughters this way and never realize it. (For more on this, see my book, When a Mom Inspires Her Daughter).

To reverse a critical spirit, focus on praise…praising God, praising the strengths you see in others, and maintaining a heart of gratitude in all things. It will completely change your attitude, and your tendency to manipulate through criticism.

5. Manipulation through an Inability to Say “No”

The woman who can’t say “no” is a prime candidate for silent or overt manipulation. When you and I overcommit ourselves and say “Fine, no problem” when someone asks us for more, we are digging our own graves of physical and emotional exhaustion and damaging our relationships with those we love the most.

Silently resenting your obligations or slamming things around to let your family know you’re upset that you’re overcommitted--or that they haven’t notice how over-extended you are--is unfair and manipulative to those who care the most about you. You can say “no” if something’s a problem or inconvenience.

Erect boundaries around your time by saving it for the priority people in your life (God, your immediate family, those you minister to) and don’t punish others for believing you when you said it was no problem to take their extra work when you didn’t want to. Instead, learn to smile sweetly and say “I’m sorry I can’t help you. I really can’t add one more thing to my schedule.” Then stick to it.

Be confident that God knows your heart and your capabilities and don’t worry about how others perceive you. If you are continually saying “yes” to impress someone or keep from disappointing them, that is a people-pleasing habit you need to break for your own emotional health.

6. Manipulation by Being the Victim

Is life going badly for you? By constantly letting others know how unfair God, your ex-husband or the world has been to you, you not only exhaust others, you manipulate them to get into the pit of despair with you. After all, if they cared about you, they’d listen to your tales of woe.

A constant sad tale also lets others know you have no intention of coming up out of your pit for air. And most of the time, we drag others down into our pits when we stay in victim mode.

If you are in victim mode, start counting your blessings. Write them out every morning, if you must, to remember that the sun still shines and God is still sovereign. If you live with or must be around the victim, heap on the gratitude, praise, and positive comments to be a sharp contrast to the misery in her life.

It might make her sick of you (misery loves company and tends to resent the sunshine), but that way, everyone else isn’t sick of her. By being thankful in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18), you are becoming a person of praise. And praise not only changes your perspective, it might change hers, too. 

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Deagreez

Cindi McMenamin bookCindi McMenamin is an award-winning writer, Bible teacher, and national speaker who helps women and couples strengthen their relationship with God and one another. She is the author of several books including Letting God Meet Your Emotional Needs, When a Woman Inspires Her HusbandWhen Couples Walk Together (which she co-authored with her husband of 32 years, Hugh), and 12 Ways to Experience More with Your Husband, in which Hugh offers interesting and eye-opening insights for wives about what makes their man tick. For more on her resources to strengthen your walk with God, your marriage, and your parenting, see her website, www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.

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