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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Why People Manipulate Each Other

Remember the day you realized that someone you trust, or rather, someone you trusted, had been manipulating you for years? It was like a veil was removed from over your eyes. You wondered how on earth you could have possibly been blind to it. Now that you saw it clearly, you labeled the person as a manipulator and distanced yourself from him (or her) so that you could escape the spell he had cast over you for all those years.

Having recognized the pain you experienced, you decided not to let it happen again. But then you found yourself being manipulated by another person. And another person. And yet another person. Why do all the manipulators seem to seek you out and attempt to take advantage of you? What did you ever do to deserve this treatment?

All of us have been manipulated. And whether we want to admit it or not, we’ve all manipulated someone else at some point in time. Why is manipulation so prevalent in our world? In this article, I share the primary reason why I think we, as humans, manipulate other people. Personally, I find this discussion helpful because by recognizing the root of my manipulative tendencies, I can better avoid the temptation to manipulate the people around me.

Let’s Define Manipulation

I’ll start this discussion by defining the word manipulation. In a previous article I wrote entitled, “How to Spot Manipulation”, I defined manipulation as “to gain control over another person’s behaviors.”[1] As I shared in my previous article, some forms of manipulation are more aggressive in nature while other forms are more passive. In his book Practicing Greatness, Reggie McNeal explained the difference between these two forms of manipulation:
Aggressive controllers bull their way in where they shouldn’t and feel they have a right to be there…They tell people how to think and how to live, and even see others’ money as something they are entitled to.
Passive controllers achieve their goals indirectly through guilt and manipulation, deceiving their followers into doing their bidding while letting them think it’s their own choice. They are experts at hooking people at their point of vulnerability.[2]
The point I want to get across is that manipulation comes in lots of variations and looks, at a minimum, slightly different from person to person. But the link that ties all forms of manipulation together is that it’s an attempt to gain control over another person’s behaviors.

The Necessity of Control

In an article I posted last week entitled “5 Places We Search for Security,” I shared about the role that security plays in our lives. As theologian John Oswalt once wrote, “security is perhaps the greatest of all human longings.”[3] If security is our greatest longing, then it would naturally make sense that the achievement of it would be our ultimate goal in this life. I’ll further explain this concept with a simple illustration.

Let’s say I make a goal to become a millionaire. If I actually want to achieve this goal, then I may need to change the way I live. I’ll need to modify my habits so that I spend less and save more. Instead of buying a soda every time I eat out, I may decide to get water. Instead of buying brand new clothes, I may buy used clothes at Goodwill or Salvation Army. Instead of shopping for groceries at Meijer, I may decide to shop at Aldi’s. I’d do all these things because I’d realize that I’m not randomly going to become a millionaire. Instead, I’d have to take control of my spending and saving habits in order to get there.

In the same way, if our goal is to achieve security, then we’re going to develop a game plan to get us there. When people believe they’re going to achieve security with lots of money, then naturally they’re going to set financial goals. When people believe they’re going to achieve security with material possessions, then naturally they’re going to set goals for how much stuff they hope to gather. And I could go on and on.

We’ve been taught that if we want to achieve our objective(s), then we have to take control of our lives. But it’s never as simple as merely taking control of our lives. There are certain parts of our objective which may appear to be within our control and there are other parts of it which appear to be outside of our control. This is where the problem lies. If we want to achieve our objective, then we must somehow find a way to control the things which are outside of our control. Here’s an example.

Let’s say, again, that my objective is to become a millionaire. In order to do that, let’s say I decide to create a tangible product which I hope to sell for a profit. Creating the product is within my control. But selling the product is outside of my control. In order to attempt to bring it within my control, I may do some research to figure out what product people want and how much money they’re willing to spend on it. If I listen to the research and create a product people want to buy and price it according to what they want to pay for it, then chances are that I’m going to successfully sell my new product. To a degree, this approach would allow me to bring something which was outside of my control within my control.

The Role of Manipulation

Let’s take a look at how manipulation fits into this discussion.

Think with me for minute: What do you need in order to achieve your sense of security? Do you need a certain amount of money? Do you need a certain size house? Do you need to drive a certain vehicle? Do you need a certain person as your spouse? What is that thing (or things) you believe you need in order to achieve the highest level of security?

Now answer this question: Who has control over that thing you need? Does your boss have control over it? Does your spouse or significant other have control over it? Does Donald Trump have control over it? Does God have control over it? Who are the people who have the ability to provide you with the thing(s) you want?

What would be the best way to get what you want from that person? One way to get what you want may be to kill that person. However, unless that person is the ruler of a kingdom and killing him would allow you to take his place (and pardon your crime), then this idea is probably going to be counterproductive. A more productive alternative may be to offer to help him get what he wants. In return, he may be willing to give you what you want. Yet another alternative may be to suck up to the person. If you can earn his favor, then maybe he’ll offer to give you what you want.

I’ve read stories of people all throughout history who’ve employed these three methods of attempting to get what they want, along with plenty more. Whether we want to admit it or not, these are all forms of manipulation. Therefore, we can now draw our conclusion about why people manipulate each other. We attempt to manipulate other people because they have control over something we want. And by bringing them within our control, we guarantee our ability to get what we want.

As a side note, the only reason people are going to try to manipulate you is if they believe you have control over something they want. If you don’t appear to have control over something they want, then they’re not going to try to manipulate you.

Responding to My Conclusion

If you’re like me, then hearing this conclusion may be very discouraging. If my conclusion is correct, then manipulation is done completely out of selfishness. We resort to manipulation when we elevate our own goals above the goals of other people. This isn’t exactly something which gives us warm fuzzies.

It doesn’t make it easier for me to digest, but another conclusion I’ve drawn on this topic is that for the most part, manipulation isn’t intentional. I don’t think people wake up every morning scheming ways to make the world a nastier place. Instead, I think people wake up every morning thinking about how to achieve a sense of security. For the most part, I think people spend little to no time considering the impact of their actions on the people around them. Therefore, their attempts at manipulation aren’t born out of a desire to tear you or me down as much as they’re born out of a desire to lift themselves up. Unfortunately, this is part of our intrinsic, sinful human nature.

The more logical person who may be chasing lofty goals may wonder how he’s going to be able to accomplish his goals if he’s supposed to be elevating other peoples’ goals above his goals. This is a great predicament in which we find ourselves. My answer is that if we are chasing our own goals, then we’re probably not going to achieve those goals unless we manipulate the people around us. However, I believe there’s another way to live.

According to the Bible, God is sovereign, meaning that he reigns supreme over everything in the universe and is ultimately in control of it all. God needs nothing from us, meaning that we can’t barter with him in order to get what we want. Nor can we suck up to him in order to earn his favor. God can’t be manipulated into giving us what we want.

Instead, God has a goal he wants to accomplish: to bring glory to his name by raising every single one of his chosen people to life to be his disciples who are transformed into his image so that they will spend eternity united in marriage to him, their one and only king.[4] And since God is sovereign, he will accomplish his goal. As he once declared, “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”[5]

In light of this realization, I’m learning to stop chasing after my own plans and instead get on board with God’s plans. As I shared in an article a couple weeks ago,[6] following God’s plans instead of my plans has completely changed the course of my life. It hasn’t turned out to look much of anything like what I wanted it to or thought it would look. Yet, the freedom I’m experiencing from not trying to control everything in my life is absolutely amazing. I’ve never experienced this amount of peace. And since I don’t have to try to control my life, I no longer need to use manipulation to get what I want.

I realize some of you may be skeptical about all this God-stuff and for good reason. People always seem to be coming along trying to get you to believe this or that or the other. I’m not trying to sell you anything nor am I trying to gain some sense of security from talking about this stuff. This stuff is the real deal. The change God has made in my life is so amazing that I can’t help but share about it.

If you’re skeptical because you think God doesn’t exist or that the Bible isn’t legitimate, I encourage you to check out Lee Strobel’s book titled The Case for Christ which was recently made into a movie. Strobel was an intellectual, devout atheist who was frustrated with his wife’s conversion to Christianity, so he set out to disprove the legitimacy of God, Jesus, and the Bible. But after his extensive research, he drew the conclusion that God and Jesus really do exist and that the Bible really is the Word of God. Another great resource is C. S. Lewis’s book titled Mere Christianity. Like Strobel, he was another devout atheist who set out to undermine Christianity, but couldn’t do it, and converted to Christianity.

What do you think? Do you think this is why people manipulate each other? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

[1] Matthew Pierce, “How to Spot Manipulation,” July 12, 2017, accessed April 18, 2018,
[2] Reggie McNeal, Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), location 530-37, Kindle.
[3] John N. Oswalt, The Bible among the Myths (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), location 676, Kindle eBook.
[4] This is a compilation of the following passages (and many more): Isaiah 43:7, 1 Corinthians 10:31, 1 Peter 4:11, Ephesians 1:11, Colossians 1:20, 2 Corinthians 5:19, Ephesians 2:1-9, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Romans 8:29, John 17:9-11, and Revelation 19:6-10.
[5] Isaiah 46:11.
[6] Matthew Pierce, “This Wasn’t My Plan,” April 4, 2018,

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