Controlling people. Manipulators. We’ve all encountered them, and most of us have behaved in a controlling way ourselves at some point. Controlling people are usually convinced that happiness is found in making other people do what they want them to do. Of course, manipulating others is not a route to happiness or to any other good thing.
People who engage in controlling behavior may be parents, spouses, adult children, extended family members, salesmen, or coworkers. In order to control a person, they must have something that person wants or needs. Codependent people need approval, so they are more easily controlled or manipulated. They may be promised affection or appreciation if they will go along with the controlling person’s wishes. Victims of a manipulator may find themselves always trying to please the controlling person and never quite succeeding. Fear of displeasing the manipulator, losing a friendship, or earning some kind of punishment keeps the victim under control.
Controlling people do not have anyone’s best interest in mind except their own (see Philippians 2:3). They are concerned primarily with pleasing themselves. Many of the Old Testament kings were controlling people. They had power, and they used it to their own advantage, often at the expense of the people they ruled. Queen Jezebel was a controlling person who used her power to get what she wanted. Her husband’s method of controlling people was pouting and throwing a fit (1 Kings 21:1–4).
David’s son Absalom was adept at controlling people, using flattery and feigned concern for people to turn their hearts away from his father, David (2 Samuel 15:5–6). Controlling people will often use emotional tricks to cause their victims to do what they want. Absalom wanted control of his father’s kingdom, so he pretended to be compassionate in order to gain the people’s loyalty. Rather than challenge or investigate Absalom’s claims, disgruntled Israelites were delighted to blame King David for their dissatisfaction and were easy prey for the controlling Absalom. Angry, bitter people are a target for controlling people, who can exploit emotions, twist thinking, and goad others into action. Avoiding bitterness in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15) is important in steering clear of controlling people.
We can deal with controlling people by first recognizing what they are and setting appropriate boundaries. We can insist on truth-telling (controlling people often lie). We can refuse to accept false guilt (controlling people often play the victim). We can refuse to take responsibility for their mistakes (controlling people often try to hold others accountable). We can find our acceptance and sufficiency in Christ (controlling people often ridicule or criticize in an attempt to make their victims feel inadequate). We can stand up to them, refuse their demands, and reject their deadlines (controlling people are often bullies who demand immediate compliance).
Often, controlling people have no real power to force us to obey; rather, they threaten to get angry, spread lies, cut off communication, or do something else to make our lives more difficult as a means of “punishment.” We must be prepared to call their bluff and not play their games. We must be prepared to end the relationship. In cases where violence is threatened, we must contact the proper authorities and take steps to protect ourselves and loved ones. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). In that spirit of power, love, and soundness of mind, we must face down the threat posed by those who would control or manipulate us. The only One controlling us should be the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 5:18).