Video Q&A: How Do I Know If I Am Being Manipulated In A Relationship?
Barry Byrne addresses the question of how someone can identify if they are being manipulated in a relationship or if they are freely choosing into the relationship.
BARRY: Morning, everybody. It’s just me today; Lori’s busy doing some other things and can’t make it. But I wanted to actually respond to a question that came in from a single person, and in our Single Life Workshop, we have a bunch of questions that people ask to evaluate the health of their relationships. And one of those questions is, “Are you intentionally choosing the relationship you’re in rather than allowing yourself to be led or manipulated into the relationship?” And the person asked, “How do you know the difference? How do you know the difference if you’re really choosing the relationship or if you’re being manipulated into it?” Really important question. And I think the first thought that came to me – if a person is asking that, “How do I know the difference?” I’m going to guess that you’ve been in manipulative relationships. And if you have really been in relationships where you’re given freedom, where you’re given a voice, where you’re allowed to be yourself, you would recognize when somebody’s manipulating you. But if you’re in manipulative relationships, lots of times, people don’t know the difference. And we can even get to the place where it feels like manipulation is people trying to help you, or people trying to do good, or they’re giving, and they’re caring. But it doesn’t really bring freedom; manipulation brings control into relationship rather than freedom.
I think back to when I was dating and one of the ways that this worked for me. And I just thank God I kind of had this sense inside myself; I knew I was going to hold on to my right to choose in a relationship. I can think of a couple situations where I was strongly encouraged and repetitively encouraged to date someone that somebody else wanted me to date, and I finally agreed in two situations to do that – one was the mother of another girl, and the other was just a friend of somebody. And I went out on the dates, dates I probably would not have chosen by myself, and it was only one date because it turned out to be what I thought it was. It’s not the person I was really interested in forming a long-term relationship with. So even though I agreed to those, I gave myself the freedom to choose. And when I give myself that freedom to choose, I have to, in order to be fair, give the other person the freedom to choose as well. So, I just went into dating relationships with that attitude. “I am going to maintain my right to choose, and you get yours to choose.”
When we’re in manipulative relationships, it doesn’t work that way; we don’t really get freedom. And so here’s some of the differences. Well, a manipulative relationship – I’ll just say this in general; people who are manipulating, maybe not even consciously but at some level – manipulative people are trying to get something that they want, or something that they need, or they feel they can’t have without, or whatever it may be, but they’re trying to get something rather than just simply being themselves in a relationship when there’s real freedom. So I’ll contrast the two of them some – relationship where there’s freedom, and relationship where there’s manipulation and control.
In a relationship where there’s freedom, generally your words, your thoughts, your ideas are going to be respected; the person will listen to them and be able to just take them for what they’re worth and learn about who you are by the things that you share. And that’s all part of how they decide if this is a good fit for me or not, if this relationship with you is a good fit because of what I learn about you, what I hear, what you say, what your values are, that kind of thing. In a manipulative relationship, the person will try to change who you are and what you think and what you feel and what you believe, what your opinions are, what your values are – they will try to change them to fit their own and to get you into a place where they feel comfortable. It may be subtle; it may be very overt. They may use guilt, may use critical words, saying things like, “Oh, you don’t really believe that, do you? You couldn’t think that, do you?” Things that make you feel like, “Oh, there’s something wrong with what I think and feel,” instead of just respecting that. Now, they may disagree; a person may give you freedom and still disagree and say, “Well, I don’t see – I don’t think I could ever take that position or believe the same way as you do,” on a particular issue. But when there’s subtle or even not so subtle criticism, demeaning, guilt inducing words, things like that, then manipulation comes into place. Alright? So, your words will be respected, or they will be manipulated to try to be changed.
Alright, a second difference would be, people not only respect what you say and what they say, but they really own their own words – your own thoughts, your own ideas, your own opinions – and they take responsibility for them. “This is what I think. This is what I feel.” And in a manipulative relationship, people may put their own thoughts and words onto you. Again, they may make statements that just make you feel guilty or bad like, “Well, that’s stupid. How could you think that?” You know?
Even more, I’ve heard this a number of times in our Single Life Workshops when we do the “Saying No” exercise where people model this; there have been several examples where people have actually said to somebody they were dating, “Oh, I would kill myself if you left me.” Now, in a manipulative relationship where a person allows themselves to be manipulated, they could take that as, “Oh, I’m just so important; I’m too important to this person, and I would cause them to harm themselves or kill themselves if I left.” And in a relationship of freedom, a person would need to say, “You know what? Only you can decide if you’re going to harm yourself or kill yourself, but I can’t let myself be manipulated into this relationship.”
You think about this a little bit, what’s it going to be like long term in a relationship, in a manipulative relationship? The person who’s manipulating is going to be under this constant burden to hold on to the other person, to try to keep them where they want them, keep them in their control; there’s not freedom. It’ll be a huge bondage, relationship like that. And the person who allows themself to be manipulated is giving up who they really are and conforming to what somebody else wants them to be, and they never really learn to be themselves in a relationship.
In a relationship of freedom, you’ll be able to speak about yourself, and you will be listened to, with who you are. And in a manipulative relationship, you’ll hear words like, “Oh, I know you don’t really think that,” or, “I know you couldn’t really be that way.” The other person will talk to you like they know you better than you know yourself, and they will try to undermine your thoughts and feelings about yourself. And if you let it happen, you will gradually really lose who you are, and the other person will be begin to control what both people in the relationship think and feel.
I was just reading a book, and this man was talking about how he grew up as a very liberal person, believing in abortion and many other liberal ideas. And he became a Christian. And politically, his ideas didn’t change, but morally, spiritually, they were changing. And at one point his wife, who was a believer also, asked him the question, “Well, you’re pro-life, aren’t you?” And he said, “Yes.” And she says, “Well, how could you then vote for people who are pro-abortion, are really promoting it and wanting it to expand and stuff?” And it was good, the way she did that; it made him think. And as he thought about it, he realized, “Oh, yes, I really should vote for people who have similar values as I do.” And it was done in freedom, but there was a difference of opinion. And he was allowed to think about it; he was allowed to make his own choices, his own decisions. A manipulative person might say something like, “Well, that’s so stupid. How could you be thinking about that? How could you do this? How could you be a Christian and vote for somebody that’s pro-[abortion]?” And just make the statements with guilt behind them.
Just looking at my notes here. Okay. Another thought is that – well, let me say this first. How do you pursue them? How do you pursue in a relationship without being manipulative and controlling? It’s a big topic, and I probably can’t cover it very well today. But I thought I want to just touch on it. You can definitely pursue by taking initiative, by talking, by acting, by asking questions, by saying, “Hey, can I have your number? Can we go out for coffee? Can we do this?” That’s taking the initiative to get into a relationship where you have the opportunity to know a person, to find out about them, to learn about them. But you maintain this freedom where, “I’m going to be me. I’m going to find out who you are, but I’m going to be active in this relationship.” So pursuit is active, but when pursuit turns into, “I want you, and whether you know it or not, you want me back – ” manipulation turns into, “I want something from you, and I’ll figure on how to get it. I’m not necessarily going to be myself in this relationship, show you who I really am. I’m going to be and do whatever I need to be and do to get what I want from you and to cause you to like me in return.” So, do you see the difference in pursuit itself and in manipulation? They’re very different, and pursuit does not – it can include manipulation, but it doesn’t have to. It can be done in a way of real freedom.
What do we do to prevent getting into manipulative relationships? Probably many things. We have to choose freedom. We have to really want that as a value; we have to live it out and be ourselves and refuse to do what other people want. Another way of talking about this is, do we fear God, or do we fear other people? Are we really putting God first, are we going to care what God thinks, or do I care so much about what you think that your words, your criticism, your putting me down can make me do what you want me to do? In Luke 14:26 Jesus says, “If any man comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, brothers and sisters, wife and children and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” Now, what’s He saying there? He’s saying that, “If you want to learn from Me – ” a disciple is a learner. If we’re going to learn from God and be led by Him, we have to put Him above any other relationships, including ourselves. And the closest relationships are the ones that compete the most with our relationship with God. So, if we’re going to be able to bring God into a relationship and be led by Him and not be manipulated and controlled by another person, or by the other person that we really care about in this relationship, we have to be able to keep God first. Think about Him. Think about what is true, what is right, what is good, and always make those choices. Choose what is right and good, not what I’m afraid not to do. That’s what manipulation would lead me to do. “I choose this because I’m afraid not to do it,” or, “I’m afraid of the consequences if I say no.” And so, if we really keep God first, that will take us a long way into avoiding manipulation, not being controlled by other people. It’s not necessarily really easy, but it is so worth the walk of walking in freedom and finding out the truth. God’s truth will set you free.
The last thing I think I’d say is if this talk kind of raises a lot of questions for you and saying, “Boy, I think I’ve really been in a lot of manipulative relationships,” I really would recommend that you get with somebody – I’m a licensed counselor, but I do more inner healing now than just strict counseling; I kind of do both when I’m working with people. I don’t do professional counseling anymore. But get with somebody that can help you find out and answer the question – ask the Holy Spirit, “Would You show me when I first agreed with this whole thing of manipulation? When did I start agreeing to be manipulative or agree to be manipulated rather than following Lord wholly with my whole heart?” And then begin doing the inner healing process we teach in our Spirit Connection of getting rid of lies and breaking vows and things that were made, and holding on to the truth that God has for you, and getting freedom from that area.
So Father, I pray for every person out there that has been in manipulative relationships and doesn’t really even know the difference between manipulation and real freedom. I pray, Lord, that people that have walked in freedom would come around them and help them to understand the difference. I pray they’d be ready to receive. I pray they’d to be ready to take the risk of walking in freedom and being themselves and walking in truth, and they’d be willing to take that risk so they can experience the joys of freedom and the strength and the power in relationships that are really based on freedom and not manipulation. And I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.