How to Tell If You’re Being Encouraged or Manipulated

Encouragement vs. manipulationWhen the doctors diagnosed Pedro with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma back in April of 2002, word spread like wildfire through our small community. People who had never spoken a word to me in our first eight months suddenly started dropping by to help and encourage us.

It didn’t take long for me to notice a pattern in my reactions to the helpers and encouragers. The ones who suggested carrot juice enemas and chewing raw garlic as a treatment plan for cancer, well, I quickly assigned them to the well-meaning-but-quack-advice category. I learned to nod and smile and send them on their way as soon as possible.

The ones who encouraged by trying to decide what Pedro’s treatment plan should be (despite the fact that they had no medical training)—well, I resented those people. They usually started their encouragement with phrases like, “You should…” or “You need to…”

The ones who brought by CDs of music that they thought would create a positive climate for Pedro and help heal his cancer—I had a hard time not rolling my eyes. On the one hand, I appreciated their effort and their sincerity. On the other hand, these sweet saints had no idea what kind of music Pedro enjoyed or what would be uplifting to him (ironically enough, his theme song for cancer had nothing to do with uplifting worship music—he just loved the words to chorus of song he would otherwise not listen to).

The ones who insisted on doing my laundry (even though it meant a great deal of extra work for me) just made me mad.

The ones who called up and said, “Your girls can stay with us as long as you need them to,” those were the ones who earned my undying gratitude. In fact, Laura was diagnosed with mononucleosis the same day that the doctors discovered a tumor in Pedro’s neck. The radiologist and his wife (friends from church and parents of our students) offered to take the girls for as long as we needed. We took them up on their offer and the girls had a lovely time—despite the trauma in our lives.

The ones who didn’t really know us but sent encouraging cards anyway—I appreciated their kind gesture, their words of encouragement and their promises to pray.

The ones who started a fund to help pay for travel expenses for our daughters and my parents when it looked like Pedro wouldn’t make it—I loved them for their generosity even though I have no idea who they were.

The ones who asked Pedro what kind of music he liked to listen to and what kind of games he liked to play and then purchased him an X-box and some albums—those were the true encouragers.

And the ones who offered to just sit with him—no conversation required, I’ll never forget their service.

I discovered that there are encouragers and there are manipulators. Encouragers come alongside you, get to know you better and pray for you. They ask you what kind of help you want and freely give it. They understand that you need them for now, but they don’t attach strings to their services, their presence or their prayers.

Manipulators, on the other hand, have an agenda. Manipulators have a way of making you feel badly if you don’t take their advice. Click To Tweet That’s not help or encouragement. That’s manipulation.

Everyone goes through a crisis our two throughout their life, and it’s good to have a plan in place for how to deal with those who want to help.  Genuine help and encouragement looks far different from subtle manipulation. Click To Tweet If you know the difference, you’ll be able to politely thank the manipulators (without feeling guilty about NOT doing what they recommend) and feel greatly encouraged from those who offer the real deal.

Encouragement vs. ManipulationI recently read Romans 14 in The Message and I realized that all too often my ‘encouragement’ and ‘help’ could be classified as manipulative. I have never deliberately tried to manipulate someone, but my good intentions often carry a subtle agenda.

I hope that as I grow closer to the One who saved me, and I understand his agenda for my life, I’ll become a better encourager.

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • This is such a great reminder, Anita, that we really need to search our hearts to find the motivation behind our actions. May we all seek to do that for His glory and for the benefit of others.

    Thank you for sharing your struggles with us. Praying that God continues to bless you and yours and that you would always feel His peace and presence in the good and in the bad.
    Heather @ My Overflowing Cup recently posted…The Gift of TimeMy Profile

    • Thank you, Heather :). The more I learn, the less I know–and the more I’ve learned to keep my mouth closed and just listen (and pray).

  • I’ve been praying “Search me Oh God and know my heart, try me and know my anxious heart. See if there be any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way.” I want to be a true encourager, without alterior motive.
    Wendy recently posted…Host your very own Creative RetreatMy Profile

  • Oh this is good, Anita. I love the graph / chart thingy that spells it all out so clearly. It’s neat that we’re on the save wavelength with our posts this week … they certainly go hand in hand, heart to heart.
    Linda@Creekside recently posted…Dear Linda : : How Do I Help My Depressed Sister?My Profile

    • I’m clicking over to read yours right now, Linda! I love how the message gets spread through the influence of the Holy Spirit :).
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Everlasting LoveMy Profile

  • I love your honesty Anita. I love how you spelled out exactly what an encourager really is. No strings attached and come alongside you. What a great piece. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anita, your post is a great reminder of how to check ourselves before offering help to others. Thanks also for sharing what meant the most to you and your husband and your humility in wanting to be a better encourager. I hope to do the same!

    • Thank you for stopping by, Christina :). I wrote the post and made the infographic for me, too!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Everlasting LoveMy Profile

  • I love this! I have good memories of staying at those encouragers’ homes. And I can’t blame the manipulators, because I’m all too capable of that, myself. This is a great reminder message of how to spot the difference not only in others but on oneself.
    Laura recently posted…Five Tips On Getting Things DoneMy Profile

    • I loved the encouragers! We are all an interesting mix of both encouragement and manipulation, aren’t we? It’s good to check our motives before we open our mouths, though!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Good GriefMy Profile

  • I found these words to be very wise and helpful. I have been in situations where I was manipulated by the “encouragement” of other’s who did indeed have an agenda.
    Thank you for sharing!
    Sarah Lango recently posted…Being a Child: When I Doubt, and Reason, and Question GodMy Profile

    • Feel free to print out the graphic and post it where manipulative encouragers might see it ;).
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Everlasting LoveMy Profile

  • I found as I cared for my dying husband who my real, true friends were. So many weren’t. And that was painful. I didn’t have time to mourn them then. And I don’t care to now. You have given me much to ponder tonight. Thank you!

    Smidgen Snippets & Bits

    • I went through a period where I felt that people who were professed friends weren’t very good friends, and I had an afternoon of mourning and grieving for them. I realized it wasn’t about anything I did–just that they weren’t the kind of friend that I needed to have in my life. I felt a lot better about them afterwards. It was good to grieve.
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Good GriefMy Profile

  • you are so right anita. great post! helpful to those of us who want to be helpful as we examine our motives. sometimes we say the right words, but the clue re whether we have the right attitude is if the person doesn’t do what we want or suggest and we get upset/irritated/angry? then we are manipulating, not encouraging.

    i love the chart…always love charts:)
    martha brady recently posted…GOOD NEWS FOR WORN OUT CHRISTIANS…My Profile

  • Good words of encouragement. Thank you.

    • You’re welcome! Thank you for stopping by, Esther!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Good GriefMy Profile

  • This was really powerful, Anita. A great way to not only ensure that we are being approached with honest intentions, but it serves as a checklist of our own motives. It can be so hard to navigate difficult situations and people have their own means of “helping” – it’s amazing the words and actions that can be borne out of stress or even ignorance. Thank you for sharing your experience borne out of wisdom.
    Tiffany recently posted…Then the Rooster CrowedMy Profile

    • I’m sure that no one consciously manipulated (ok, almost no one ;)), but when a person is stressed out, it’s so important to chose our words carefully!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Everlasting LoveMy Profile

  • Anita,

    I laughed at Pedro’s song even as I ached for all he and you had to go through…Thanks for the reminder of the difference between being an encourager and a manipulator…so glad to read there were some real encouraging people when your family was in crisis…by God’s grace, may I be an encourager…Wishing you and your family a blessed Easter 🙂

    • Quite the awesome song, isn’t it?! I’m sure his doctors will never forget him–not because he was such a desperate and hopeless looking case, but because he played the song for them ;).
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Everlasting LoveMy Profile

  • Anita,
    Thanks for sharing this post. There is definitely a difference between someone truly encouraging you vs. someone manipulating you. One is rooted in sincerity while the other one is rooted in insincerity.

    • Amen! Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment :).
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Good GriefMy Profile

  • Such true words. And sometimes you don’t know what kind of helper a person is until the need arises. May we always be encouragers!
    Sarah Donegan recently posted…This is My SongMy Profile

  • Such a great thing to stop and think about…thanks for the encouragement and for sharing your story. Love the graphic as well! #RaRaLinkup