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Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Emotional manipulation

Just when i was thinking about manipulation, what it's all about, and how do people manipulate others, Brother Soo-Inn has written very wisely on emotional manipulation below:

GRACE@WORK MAIL 4/08
[January 25, 2008 Edition]


Commentary: Are you a sucker for flattery?
By Soo-Inn Tan

Bernice and I caught an episode of the TV show, Damages, a few evenings ago. The series is a legal drama set in the exciting world of class-action litigation in the US. In that episode, Patty Hewes, the main protagonist, played by Glenn Close, wanted to see if her protege would be willing to put the needs of their firm above her personal life. The young lawyer is asked to deliver a brief to a judge on the day of her engagement party. The Close character had set up a situation where the young lawyer would have to choose between her assignment or her engagement party, a party very important to her and her family.

Of course this is fiction, just a TV show but I was struck by the way the writers had constructed a scenario that was true to life. For one thing the test for the young lawyer was subtle. She was led to believe that she could hand in the brief in time for her to get to her engagement party. Many of our major spiritual challenges come out of left field, when our defences are down. It is critical that we train our hearts long and hard so that when the unexpected tests come, our default automatic responses are biblically wise.

What really struck me about the scenario was how the Close character used praise and flattery to manipulate her young protege. The young lawyer was told that she was asked to deliver the brief personally because she had done an excellent piece of work and that personally meeting the judge would really further her career. What young professional could resist such an approach?

All young professionals starting out in any discipline desperately want to prove themselves. Therefore no affirmation is more welcomed then the praise of a respected senior. Praise is especially welcomed when it comes from your boss. Bosses and seniors know this. They can either use this knowledge responsibly, to encourage their juniors, or they can use this dynamic to manipulate people.

Those in church related work are not immune to this vulnerability. I remember when I was a young pastor starting out, I would say yes to virtually every invitation to speak that came my way. I was desperate to prove myself, and to justify the heavy costs I had paid in giving up dentistry to go into church work. It didn't help that most of the invitations were couched in language that played up my ability as a preacher.

I ended up tired all the time and a tired Soo inn is an angry Soo Inn, snapping at wife, child, and parents. (Of course I would be on my best behaviour with the people I ministered to. Couldn't risk spoiling my image as this fantastic minister of the word.) I look back with regret, grateful for the grace of God and the love of my family.

Of course it is not only the young who are susceptible to praise and flattery. If we are not secure as to who we are, and consciously seek the approval of God alone, we will always be vulnerable to both praise and criticism. Praise will make us proud and affect our decision making inordinately. Criticism will wound us emotionally. Therefore it is critical that we are clear as to who we are in the Lord. If we are clear that we are children of God, loved by our heavenly Father, our identity will be shaped by this primary relationship and we will be less susceptible to what others think of us.

Gordon T. Smith argues that for this to happen we also need to be differentiated, independent of how our parents define us so that we can find this primary definition in our relationship with God.

Smith writes:

"The fascinating field of family theory or family systems highlights the principle of differentiation. If we are to mature emotionally, vocationally and spiritually --- so that we are not shaped unduly by the criticism or praise of others, so that we are able to live by our own convictions and by our own conscience, and so that we are able to relate intimately with others and even to differ with them graciously --- we must come to a distinct and definite differentiation. The root or beginning of this is a mature separation from our parents."
(Courage & Calling, Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 1999, p.60-61)

Smith goes on to remind us that:

"People who are well differentiated are not readily susceptible to flattery or emotional manipulation. Mostly this is the case because they are themselves; they are individuals. As such they are capable of generous service, but they know when and how to say no. Further, they are able to hold their convictions firmly without losing their capacity to learn more or to change their mind. This does not mean they are gullible; on the contrary, they are able to learn with discernment, to critically appreciate what they are hearing or reading."
(Smith, p.61)

The bible is clear about the need to love and to honour our parents. What Smith is suggesting is that to be a mature human being, we need, at some point, to move beyond being defined by our parents and other authority figures, so that we are defined primarily by who we are in God. Then and only then can we live our lives immune to emotional manipulation. Then and only then can we be free to be the person God had in mind when He created us and saved us.


"For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.  You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed --- God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from any human being, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our prerogatives. Instead, we were like young children among you."
(1 Thessalonians 2:3-7 TNIV)

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