“All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart” - Proverbs 21:2
Next, we explore the role manipulation plays in these relationships, plus a look at some reasons why emotional dependencies are hard to break.
Maintenance through Manipulation.
Manipulation is an ugly word. None of us likes to believe we could ever be guilty of this activity. Yet when emotionally dependent relationships form, manipulation often becomes the glue that holds them together.
To explain what we mean by manipulation, we came up with a working definition:
“attempting to control people or circumstances through deceptive or indirect means”.
Webster’s Dictionary describes manipulation as being insidious, which means:
treacherous - awaiting a chance to entrap.
seductive - harmful but enticing.
subtle - developing so gradually as to be well established before becoming apparent, having a gradual but cumulative effect.
Some typical forms of manipulation used to begin and maintain dependencies:
Finances - combining finances and personal possessions, moving in together.
Gifts - giving gifts and cards regularly for no special occasion, such as flowers, jewelry, baked goods, and gifts symbolic of the relationship.
Clothes - wearing each others’ clothing, copying each others’ styles.
Romanticisms - using poetry, music, or other romanticisms to provoke an emotional response.
Physical affection - body language, frequent hugging, touching, roughhousing, back and neck rubs, tickling, and wrestling.
Eye contact - staring, giving meaningful or seductive looks; refusing to make eye contact as a means of punishment.
Flattery and praise - “You’re the only one who understands me.”
“I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Proverbs 29:5 says “Whoever flatters his neighbour is spreading a net for his feet.”
Conversational triggers - flirting, teasing, using special nicknames, referring to things that have special meaning to both of you.
Failing to be honest - repressing negative feelings or differing opinions.
Needing “help” - creating or exaggerating problems to gain attention and sympathy.
Guilt - making the other feel guilty over unmet expectations: “If you love me, then … “
“I was going to call you last night, but I know you’re probably too busy to bother with me.”
Threats - threats of suicide and backsliding can be manipulative.
Pouting, brooding, cold silences - when asked, “What’s wrong”, replying by sighing or saying, “Nothing”.
Undermining partner’s other relationships - convincing him others do not care about him, making friends with partner’s other friends in order to control the situation.
Provoking insecurity - withholding approval, picking on partner’s weak points, threatening to end the relationship.
Time - keeping the other’s time occupied so as not to allow for separate activities.
These are common ways manipulation is used to hold dependent relationships together. Some of these things are not sinful in and of themselves. Honest praise and encouragement, giving of gifts, hugging and touching are important aspects of godly friendship. Only when these things are used for selfish ends — to bind or control another, to arouse responses leading to sin — do they become manipulative.
Why Are Dependencies Hard To Break?
Even when both parties realize a relationship is unhealthy, they may experience great difficulty in breaking the dependency. Often those involved will begin to separate, only to run back to each other. Even after dependencies are broken, the effects may linger on for some time. Let’s look at some reasons why these attachments are so persistent.
There are benefits.
We usually don’t involve ourselves in any kind of behaviour if we don’t believe it benefits us in some way. As painful as dependency is, it does give us some gratification. The fear of losing this gratification makes dependent relationships hard to give up. Some of the perceived benefits of an emotional dependency include:
Emotional security - A dependent relationship gives us the sense that we have at least one relationship we can count on. This gives us a feeling of belonging to someone.
Intimacy - Our need for intimacy, warmth, and affection might be filled through this relationship.
Self-worth - Our ego is boosted when someone admires us or is attracted to us. We also appreciate feeling needed.
Relief from boredom - A relationship like this might add excitement and romance when life seems dull otherwise. In fact, the stressful ups and downs of the relationship can become addictive.
Escape from responsibility - The focus on maintaining the relationship can provide an escape from confronting personal problems and responsibilities.
Familiarity - Many people don’t know any other way of relating. They are afraid to give up the “known” for the “unknown”.
We can’t see it as sin.
The culture we live in has taken the truth that “God is love” and turned it around to mean, “Love is god”. In modern history, romantic or emotional love is viewed as a law unto itself: when you “love” someone (meaning: when you have intense romantic feelings for someone), anything you do with that person is “OK”. Viewed in this light, dependent relationships seem beautiful and noble. Especially if there is no sexual involvement, dependent attachments are easy to rationalize. Genuine feelings of love and friendship might be used to excuse the intense jealously and possessiveness present in the dependency.
Also, we may not be able to see how a dependent relationship separates us from God. “I pray more than ever”, one woman told us. What she didn’t mention was that she never prayed about anything but her dependent relationship. Sometimes people say, “This friend draws me even closer to God.” What usually has happened is that the emotional dependency has given them a euphoric feeling that masquerades as “closeness to God”. When the friend withdraws even slightly, God suddenly seems far away!
Root problems are not dealt with.
We might end a dependent relationship by breaking it off or moving away. However, if we still have unhealed hurts, unfilled needs, or an unrepentant heart, we’ll fall right into another dependent relationship or return to the one we left. Dealing with the surface symptom rather than the real problem leaves the door open to future stumbling.
Spiritual influences are overlooked.
When we ignore the Holy Spirit’s correction, we make ourselves vulnerable to satanic oppression. Those who willingly enter dependent relationships become candidates for spiritual deception. Wrong begins to seem right to them and truth begins to sound like a lie. When breaking free from dependent relationships, we sometimes overlook the importance of spiritual warfare: prayer, fasting and deliverance. If emotional ties have gone deep into a person’s life, especially if sexual sin has been involved, there’s the need to break the bonds that have formed between the two people. When dependency has been a lifelong pattern, ties need to be broken with all past partners as well, If the spiritual aspects are not dealt with thoroughly, this sin pattern will continue.
We don’t want to give up our sin.
Counselors know the frustration of going through all imaginable steps of counselling, support, and spiritual warfare on behalf of a counsellee only to realize this individual has no interest in changing. People in dependent relationships sometimes say they want out, but they really want to be relieved from the responsibility of doing anything about the problem. They hope talking to a counsellor will free them from the pressures of their conscience. Meanwhile, their desire and intent is to continue having the dependent relationship. Sometimes the bottom line is this: an emotional dependency is hard to break because the individuals involved don’t want it to be broken.
to be continued...