Confession: I hate manipulation, but I’m great at it!

October 20, 2014

I remember taking my kids shopping for clothes.  After trying on jeans, I’d ask Andy if he wanted them.  His yes meant he wanted the jeans.  His no meant he did not want those jeans.  Basic, right?

Along the same lines, Caitlyn’s yes, she meant she wanted the jeans.

But…Caitlyn’s no…could mean any of three things: 1) she didn’t want the jeans, 2) she wanted the jeans but didn’t want to ask me to pay so much for them, or 3) if I really loved her I’d know she wanted the jeans, and I’d buy them for her without asking. Of course, all she said was “no.”

And the game began.

If I guessed right the first time, we’d happily move onto the next store.  If I guessed wrong, either Caitlyn or I (or both — usually both) would end up frustrated and disappointed.  So I played the game.  I asked questions.  Sometimes I would beg her to tell me how she felt about the jeans. Sometimes I’d buy them and they’d never be worn — either she really didn’t want them, or maybe the memories of the purchasing made them unattractive to her.

As much  as I didn’t like the game, the day came when I had to admit she learned it from me.  In fact, I had perfected the game of manipulation.

In a moment of honesty I could see that I used conversations to start a game of “Guess what I’m Really Thinking and Feeling,” with the other person – usually my husband, Gary.

“Do you want me to help with dishes?” is a simple yes or no question.  But I can make it much more complicated than that!

If I get the tone just right (and, boy, can I get the tone just right!), with a single word, (“yes”) I can successfully communicate, “Well, (huff) it’s about time you offered to help around here.”  Please note that it really doesn’t matter how much he had done for me in the previous 24 hours.  My reactions were not always rational!

And if  I said no, it might mean 1) I’m okay doing the dishes by myself, 2) I’d like to have your help, but I understand you have other things that need to be done, or 3) If you really loved me, you’d do the dishes without asking or being asked.  When I honestly look at myself, number 3 is the one that pains me the most.

My interactions with Gary  benefited from my shopping experiences with Caitlyn.  You might say she helped put the “shoe on the other foot.”

In the years since my aha! moment shopping, I’ve tried to be much more honest in my communication with everyone, but particularly with Gary.  When I respond honestly, it sometimes leads to good conversations about expectations.  But when I respond with manipulation, it only leads to frustration and disappointment.

I’d love to tell you that after many years of practice I don’t ever try to manipulate with my responses.  But, I think you read this blog looking for honesty, so… unfortunately, it still happens – not nearly as often as before, praise God!  But it does happen.  Like maybe it happened two days ago.


James 5:12 is a warning: “…never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else.  Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.”

What a great reminder.  If I practice being honest in my yesses and my noes, I won’t need to embellish for people to believe me.  “I swear I’ll wear those jeans if you buy them for me,” “or, I pinky promise I’m okay doing the dishes by myself.”

Being truthful with a yes or no reduces frustration and disappointment and leaves more time for better conversations.  That’s what I want.  Really.  I swear!

Yes. That’s what I want.  How about you?  Does manipulation creep in and steal joy?  Can you only see it in others?  Or can you see it in yourself?  How do you get control of it? Let me know.


photo credit: J. Star <a href=”″></a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>
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  • Sally

    Danita, I am guessing we all play that game to some extent. Human nature? But reading this will make me more aware and careful and clear about what I communicate in my responses. Thanks for shedding light on this!

    October 20, 2014 at 8:53 pm Reply
    • Danita

      I agree — we all do it to some extent. But doing it less (or not at all!) helps build relationships and trust. It takes on-going awareness for me. Thanks, Sally.

      October 21, 2014 at 9:55 am Reply
  • Becky Nixon

    First of all, my kids and I just shopped for ANY pair of jeans that were long enough, so there was no manipulation on our shopping trips! 🙂 Other than that, I think most of us have used manipulation in one form or other. I think my predominant form of manipulation is when I don’t say anything at all, avoiding confrontation in the process. This is not always a bad thing, but it can also communicate that I’m okay with what is going on when in truth I may actually have something very important that I should be saying. How can I control it, you asked. In the past few years, instead of remaining silent, I have worked on carefully wording responses so both sides can benefit. It is a work in progress.

    October 20, 2014 at 10:18 pm Reply
  • Danita

    Good or you, Becky! That’s the key – realize what “I” do that’s ineffective and take steps to change it. By the way, I cannot relate at all to an inability to find jeans long enough 🙂

    October 21, 2014 at 10:00 am Reply
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