We are manipulated throughout our lives, some people will be manipulated through non-obvious methods like advertising while others will be manipulated into doing things that they don’t want to do through more obvious strategies. Often both the manipulator and the person being manipulated is unaware that this is occurring.
Here are some questions that I would like to discuss:
Are we manipulated into buying something that we see on the adverts that otherwise we wouldn’t want to buy? When someone says something that we have done something wrong in fact we haven’t, do we start to feel guilty? Where do we draw the line between manipulation and our free choice? How do we overcome manipulation?
I have come across manipulation throughout my life and growing up manipulation was used in my surroundings constantly. I have been manipulated into doing things that I did not want to and lots of people have made me feel like that I am in the wrong and I would then feel guilty when I have done nothing wrong but in fact I was just being myself and then some of these individuals would cut me out of their lives. There are those who cannot deal with honesty and criticism, therefore they make the other feel guilty to make themselves feel better sometimes this just comes down to maturity as well, therefore this is not always direct manipulation and many people are not aware or don’t intend to manipulate others.
Even through our travels, I have particularly seen manipulation used through bargaining when if you are a foreigner, you will be made feel pretty rubbish if you don’t buy items, we have been called all sorts of names and have been shouted at etc… because of walking away. Unfortunately, in many of these countries, you will also see lots of poverty, lots of children begging on the streets, beggars with no arms, legs etc… And often people will use manipulation so that you feel sorry for them and want to help.
In Cambodia, for instance, there are lots of these cases, where the parents make their children beg and you are told not to give them money as they should be in school but it’s not easy to turn people away especially children. There are also mothers with babies who go around begging and asking for money for milk or they tell you to go and buy milk for them as it’s expensive and then after you have bought the milk, they would then go back to the shop and the shop would give them some of the money and would keep some profit for themselves. Often the money that you give to children would go to their owners in countries like India.
So then how can we help when we see so much suffering in the world? Give to well-known charities, visit registered charities, get involved with volunteering and ask them how you can help.
I have sadly seen manipulation used in various Christian settings multiple times by being told that you are not a Christian if you don’t do this if you don’t do that, if you wear anything above the knee, if you don’t pray a certain way you aren’t praying correctly etc…
I have seen God at work in amazing ways too, I have seen people set free, healings, laughter in the presence of God, people crying and then feeling a peace that they have never felt before but I am certain that not all of these were genuine and sometimes people will act in a certain way to get approval from others. If everyone else is feeling something perhaps I should do too so I am going to shake and scream, cry or fall over as well. You will also find many churches where an atmosphere is created where the pastor may start shouting, shaking etc… and this is then built up. Am I saying that God is not powerful to make our knees tremble? Not at all but God’s power doesn’t need to be forced or manipulated. He will turn up and do amazing things without us telling Him what that should look like. Furthermore, giving no space for God to work and minister to others and wait for Him to do unexpected things is just as unhelpful as manipulating the atmosphere as we are then doing the opposite and putting Him in a box and undermining His power and authority and could be disregarding a life-changing encounter for someone.
We could say that various religions could be based on manipulation: if you don’t do this, if you don’t pray 5 times a day, if you don’t go to the mosque on Fridays, if you don’t give to charity, if you marry someone from another religion etc… well there is less of a chance for you to be on the good side in afterlife. Many governments keep their people in line by manipulation: if you don’t follow our rules, you will end up in prison, have to pay or might even lose your life. And in some of these countries this could happen for just minimal mistakes: if you drink alcohol, if you are found that you are eating in public in Ramadan, if you want to change your religion, if you are found in a hotel room with someone and you are not married etc…
How do we overcome manipulation?
Firstly, we need to learn to discern what manipulation is so that we can recognise it.
We can ask ourselves a couple of questions: is what the other is suggesting for me to do good for me, is it going to benefit me? If I don’t do it will it cause me any trouble? Am I given space to be able to make my own decision? How will the other act if I don’t do as he/she says? If the answer is that he/she will not accept or love you, will get angry, will make you look bad before others etc… then it is quite likely that you are being manipulated and you should take a step back and examine your relationship from an outsider’s point of view.
Often people who avoid conflict and always want everything to be brilliant for everyone can be manipulated easier as they will just do as the other says to make sure that everyone is happy. Life is not easy and we need to learn to express our negative emotions as well and to disagree with people and not just to put up with things that we don’t like. Stand up for yourself and stand your ground, don’t back down.
Often manipulators will just talk but their actions will prove you otherwise. So focus on their actions and when their actions don’t match their words.
To overcome manipulation we need to stand up for ourselves and learn to say no to the manipulator and to our feelings of shame and guilt. God is the ultimate answer to freedom from guilt.
With salvation comes freedom but we are not quite there yet, we are still humans who make mistakes and will continue to do so. To be free from guilt and shame we need to humble ourselves daily and to bow our knees and look at the cross. All of our sins, shame and guilt are on there. Jesus has done it, He has taken our guilt, shame, sin, mistakes on Himself. We will never be good enough without the cross but the cross has made it possible, we no longer have to justify ourselves to others but to God.
Though the reason why God has given us a conscience and the Holy Spirit is to know the difference between good and bad, this is in all of us. We need to listen to this inner voice and not to bury it and then say that but “it feels right”. We also need to have listening ears to be challenged by others. As Christians, we shouldn’t just rely on ourselves but our extended Christian family throughout the world can help us become the best version of ourselves. The church is a place where we can learn, be challenged and grow. We should never stop learning from others.
When we experience real forgiveness, we realise that there is no need to manipulate. Yet, even I struggle with this sometimes as I want others to know Christ, I might sometimes come across like I am manipulating others to become Christians.
Wholeheartedly we believe that Jesus can change a life for the better and that He is the truth, the life and the way and we want to share this with everyone. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, it is only admirable but how we do this is the key. When we share Jesus with others we need to ensure that we aren’t forcing them to believe what we believe but that they have a free choice.
God would never want us to be manipulated into following Him. He has given us a free choice for a reason, He loves and He cares for us even though we have turned away from Him and have turned the beautiful world that He created for us into a mess. Jesus never manipulated anyone into following Him but demonstrated His power and then people made their own decisions.
We believe that God is powerful and that He can do miracles, therefore He is at work all around us, when we testify in word or deed, He is involved actively. We are not powerful, only God is.
1 Peter 3:15 always being ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.