I’m less than a year away from age 40. Just typing that feels weird because sometimes I still feel like an amateur at this thing called “life.” But having 39+ years behind me does give me some clarity that only comes with age and experience. Last week, a friend mentioned reading the book “Boundaries.” Part of my pastor’s sermon this morning included a story of  what happened when he spoke honestly to a controlling person (there was much more than that – I’ll bring it around later). These incidents, combined with some present difficulties brought to mind some things I’ve been dealing with for the past few years.

About two and a half years ago, I finally broke free from being controlled and manipulated in a long-term relationship. Something horrible happened to open my eyes, and the situation is still unresolved. But I hadn’t realized how much this person had groomed and manipulated me into certain thinking patterns over many years. Two years without that influence, and I realize many of my impressions of other people during that time were simply false. I’ve seen amazing breakthroughs in previously strained relationships that I had been too afraid to cultivate, for fear of paying the consequences.

Consequences? Yes, just like training up a child, a controlling person will create rewards and consequences for following or rejecting his/her manipulations.

I’d been in a similar situation in a church at one point. We had been trained to accept the manipulation of leaders and members were marginalized when challenging those thought patterns. Full clarity only came after removing myself from the environment. But what happens when you can’t physically avoid the environment or terminate the relationship?

Refusing to Be Controlled
This is my “don’t mess with me” face. Haha. Really, I just couldn’t figure out which photo to use.

Most of the time in my experience, a severely controlling person does not cognitively realize he/she acts this way. It has become a survival mechanism for him/her in the face of crippling insecurity. While I have compassion for these people and want them to find healing, I have to keep finding my way to seeing the world – and myself – in Truth, resisting attempts to manipulate and control me.

I have learned to say a few powerful words that have given me great freedom: “That attempt to emotionally/mentally control me is not OK.” Whether I say it to myself and silently stay on track with what I know to be true, or actually say something to the person, these few words are freeing.  I’ve also learned to say the following powerful words, and mean it: “Your behavior toward me is not OK.” 

I love to see the light turn on in someone’s eyes when they share a difficult situation, and I say something like,

“First of all, that person’s behavior is not OK.”

“It’s not? I don’t have to accept that?”

“No, you don’t.” (In most situations. Sometimes you just have to suck it up for a while. I’m in one of those situations now. But get rid of the guilt and emotional games! Do not internalize it.)

When I can’t physically remove myself…

Finding the strength to resist manipulation is difficult. But many times, what happens next is even more challenging. Controlling people become very skilled at what they do. And when they can’t control a person or situation, they lash out. Some of the “consequences” that I have experienced are:

  • Silent treatment. Cold shoulder. Whatever you want to call it. I’m always asking myself what I did wrong, when sometimes I need to ask what I did right.
  • Sabotage: Especially if the person is in a position of power, they might try to sabotage reputation, work performance, or other relationships. This is where documenting is very important, as is finding someone trustworthy.
  • Guilt trips: It’s not your fault. Except when it is, and then you should admit it and make things right. But the fact that someone’s attempt to control you failed is not a fault at all. It’s a victory.

The truth is…

It’s a lot easier just to go along to get along. It’s hard to deal with an angry manipulator. It takes time, emotional energy, and wisdom. But to me it’s worth it. At this point in my life I cannot live in cognitive dissonance with the core of  who I am (whom God has made me).

Now what?

I don’t know. This is the extent of where I am right now in my journey. I have so many questions. After sharing the story of receiving consequences for being honest, my pastor then talked about reconciliation. He stated that he should have reached out to the guy after the situation was over to humble himself and make peace just like Jesus did when we were in sin against God.

In my church situation, I can honestly say that today I have no animosity toward anyone involved. I have forgiven and moved on. I can see those people and love them, be happy when they are happy and feel grief when they grieve.

My long-term relationship is still completely broken, even though I am free from the manipulation that once ruled my life. I don’t really know where to go from here. It can’t stay broken forever. I need God to show me the path to forgiveness.

The current situation is still in the throes of difficult. I’m at the end of myself and I’m asking God to move. But I do know that the one who controls me needs to be Jesus – at all times. While humbly submitting to Him, I’m trying to follow His lead in acting with wisdom and truth for His glory.

What about you?

Have you ever dealt with control and manipulation? Have you broken free? How do you think we are to act in these situations to be true to ourselves and to God’s Word?