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Four Types Of Manipulators:
And How To Deal With Them*

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 63

One thing all antagonists have in common is a desire to control.
Haugk and others who have written about antagonists have gone through great pains to delineate and describe each type of antagonism. Certainly these listings and accompanying descriptions have great value for specific situations.
For those who have difficulty remembering the seemingly endless categories of antagonism, let me suggest four. They are: The Poor Me, The Aloof, The Interrogator, and The Intimidator. Perhaps all antagonists are one of these four types or a combination thereof.
The Four Types In Everyday Life
In enjoyable relationships, we regularly use these four types of manipulation in a way intended to bring mutual enjoyment. In relationships which are not so enjoyable, these four types of manipulation can bring about unconstructive--or downright destructive--behaviors intended to give ourselves enjoyment and energy at the other's expense.
That’s exactly what antagonists do. They exploit the negative uses of these four types of interaction to manipulate others. In their virtually compulsive and obsessive desire to control us and our ministries, they will use variations of these four manipulative patterns to divert us from moving the ministry of Jesus Christ forward.
The longer this goes on, the more likely we are to just want to give up and give the control over to the antagonists. If we give up, quit, or give in, they’ve won while we—and those in Body of Christ to whom we minister—have, apart from the grace of Jesus Christ— lost.
A working knowledge of these four manipulative types may go a long way to help us to deal with antagonists in more effective ways. What follows is a summary of each of the four types including a brief description of each type, the overall strategic use of each type, and suggestions for how to deal with each.

The Four Manipulative Types**

1. The "Poor Me"
The most passive of the four styles, the "Poor Me" describes the typical victim approach. This person seeks to get other people's attention through the manipulative sympathy.
Their strategy is obvious: to throw us off balance and to win by creating in us and others a sense of guilt and obligation to help. After all, aren’t Christians supposed to help the victim? The most hideous thing about the Poor Me strategy is that, of all places that this is effective, probably the most effective place is in the Christian church!
How can you deal with "Poor Me’s"? You can’t attack the "Poor Me." It just perpetuates the victimization by giving the "Poor Me" and their supporters more to complain about. Instead, the best response is to avoid being thrown off balance by their ploys and avoid buying into their guilt.
Keep your boundaries intact, evaluate the real extent and need they have. Recall Paul’s words in Galatians 6:5 that our goal in bearing each other’s burdens is to enable them to bear their own burden. Be appropriately compassionate and pastoral, but remember the maxim, "God helps those that help themselves."

2. The "Aloof"

Slightly less passive than the "Poor Me," the Aloof’s goal is to create a vagueness around himself, forcing us to pour ourselves into getting information which is normally shared in a straight-forward, casual manner.
Such people are described M. Scott Peck’s best-selling book entitled, People of the Lie (Simon and Schuster). By their indirectness, their tact, and their façade they impress us from a distance. But, as we approach them, they retract, become distant, an unapproachable, afraid that their inner "secrets," fears, or machinations may be exposed.
Reprimanded for expressing themselves in their childhood, they believe that ultimately no one can be trusted. After having demonstrated trust and intimacy, they make "snap" and suddenly turn against the one in whom they shared trust.
The most effective way to deal with "Aloof’s" by avoiding—at all costs—defensive behaviors. Such behaviors merely fuel their anxieties, fears, and distrust. However, once we "name the game," the Aloof individual will likely sever all communication with us and those around us. This will occur in spite of the best, most noble and loving pastoral attempts to approach, love and counsel the individual.
In such cases we must not be overwhelmed by inappropriate guilt or endless self-blame. It's the nature of the Aloof. Even if it be in tears, all we as pastors can hope is that someday, somehow, God will in His merciful, compassionate love move them to deal with their overwhelming fear and inextricable existential pain.
3. The "Interrogator"
More aggressive than the previous two manipulative types, the Interrogator uses criticism to control others.
It’s easy to know when you’re in the presence of an Interrogator. You’ll get an unmistakable feeling you’re being monitored, watched, and criticized. That’s because Interrogators consider others inadequate, incompetent, stupid, or unable to handle things.
Don’t let them draw you into their world. That’s how they throw us off balance. They would like us be unsure of ourselves, to doubt our convictions and to surrender our boundaries to their intimidating tactics. After all, their manipulation is primarily directed to cause others to believe as they do. They would intimidate others to believe  the world is not safe or orderly unless the Interrogator is in charge. Self-acclaimed heroes, Interrogators are ruthless perfectionists, monitoring everything with a smothering sense of caring and an all-consuming, dictator-like control.
The most effective way to deal with Interrogators is to avoid defensive behaviors. Don’t cower back. Don’t give in. "Name" the game and tell him how we feel in his presence. Interrogators, when confronted, typically turn the tables on us and project his own interrogative excesses on us. Expect it and prepare for it. Decide whether its true or not (without getting stuck or frozen) and make necessary adjustments if necessary.
Having "named the Interrogator’s game," don’t let the Interrogator become your conscience. No matter what he does, remember those famous words of Shakespeare, "To thine own self be true." Since Interrogators seldom change, when they see your boundaries are strong and their ploys ineffective with yourself and others, they will angrily sever the relationship rather than risk having to change.
Again, the key is a patient, moderate, but confidently firm (but not rigid) pastoral approach. At all costs, keep your integrity, demonstrate your character, and contain your anger. Don’t let them frustrate you, especially in the presence of others! Maintain what Friedman in his book, From Generation to Generation calls "a non-anxious presence."
If necessary, rehearse your responses with an experienced confidant. And if you can’t seem to muster up the courage to do it for yourself, then do it for the sake of the Kingdom. Your patience and trust in God's strength in your weakness will save you and your hearers. If, with God's help, you succeed, you will likely experience an unparalleled level of respect from your parishioners (including other antagonists) and, with God's blessings, lead the congregation to a new era of remarkable ministry renewal.
4. The "Intimidator"
These are the "Saddam Hussein's" of parish life, Intimidators are the most aggressive of the four manipulative types.
No one—that is, no one—needs to tell you that you’re in their presence. The threatening sense of danger they convey is unmistakable. Their threats, their harsh words, and their unpredictable, abusive actions all suggest the potential for uncontrollable rage or violence.
Often they will convey their threats publicly adding illustrations of how they dealt with—and destroyed—others like us in the past. Those "select" pastors who have experienced conflict at Speed Lea’s Level IV or V have undoubtedly experienced the Intimidator’s unforgettable display of extremely unsettling—and virtually pathological—intimidation.
A specific way Intimidators attempt to knock us "off balance" is by their powerful, merciless attacks and attempts at publicly humiliating the enemy. These attacks are intended to incite all kinds of hurtful emotions in the foe. Examples include such things as unwarranted guilt, a sense of worthlessness, a feeling of incompetence, and of course, fear. It’s their trap; it’s the secret to their success. The reason these attacks work is because Intimidators are so skilled at these techniques that often those being attacked are unable or unwilling to confront them.
What’s the best response for dealing with Intimidators? As in all four of these paradigms, the keys to an effective response are to 1) name the game, 2) Consider whether the accusations are right and correct them if necessary, and 3) to not be knocked "off balance".
Some consultants say, "When you have an alligator, get as close as possible. He can't bite you if your holding his jaws." In the case of the Intimidator, don't grab his jaws. He'll whip you with his tail.
As much as possible, remove yourself from the Intimidator. Stay close enough to know what he's doing, but far enough to keep you from being under his controlling, ever-watchful eye. Do everything possible to keep business "as usual." Do everything you can to patiently do everything you can to maintain a relatively smooth and healthy continuation of the ministry—even in his presence.
Though many in the church probably won't step forward to confront him, the "silent majority" in the congregation will be watching and praying for you much as the Israelites watched David confront Goliath from the sidelines. When the Intimidator recognizes that his threats and force cannot overcome your patient firmness; when he recognizes his threats cannot cause you to back off in fear, he will begin planning for his "big move.". Stay patient, stay in control, and don't over-react. Above all, don't seek vengeance. That's exactly what he wants. If you do, you'll lose every time. Let the Lord do that. He will avenge...and in His way and time.
Perhaps the best advice against Intimidators and other antagonists such as these was given by Jesus. "If your enemy asks for your tunic...." Another applicable word of the Lord is, "Be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10).
Each time you deal with the Intimidators' fear-provoking tactics, don’t cave in! Don't run! You'll probably take some heat and a beating. But be patient. For every action there's an equal and opposite reaction. As you get tired, so will he. As you're tempted to lash out, so is he. Let him make the first move. Let him be the one to make a fool out of himself. All he needs is enough time and enough rope.
Finally, remember that in every case in the Scriptures where God’s people were scared, threatened, or in great danger at the hand of a much larger and more powerful enemy, God or His angels responded with the words such as, "Fear not!" Then He proceeded to demonstrate His awesome, almighty power against the cause of His people’s fear to humiliate, render powerless, or destroy the opposition.. God still demonstrates that power today!

Reflections On Antagonism

What Antagonists Teach Us
Dealing with antagonists teach us many things about us. It teaches us about our strengths, our weaknesses, our leadership styles and, among other things, the relative strength and character of our faith.
Perhaps the most important lesson to learn from our dealings with antagonists, it is this. When antagonists come our way, we learn just how easy it is to loose the focus of faith. The way antagonists play on our feelings is simply a heightened recognition that all human relationships have the potential to divert us from an unshakeable faith in God’s will and power for our lives.
When we spend more time thinking and dwelling on how we're so afraid of our antagonists, we're not really focusing on God. Perhaps that's the most damaging thing about antagonism.. Let God teach you, through antagonist if need be, about His love, His oversight, His power and His faithfulness in your ministry. Watch Him and trust Him. He will do it!
Put God Back In Control
There’s a certain strength in the ability to Let Go of basing our self-esteem on the things of this world, the relationships which come and go, and whether or not we’re accepted or rejected, successful or unsuccessful, happy or unhappy. True Christian joy is only—and exclusively—in Christ. If we haven’t yet learned it from God's gentle teaching in scripture, God may send antagonists to give us the opportunity to learn it from them!
Once we direct (or re-direct) our lives toward God's control, antagonists will not have such a dramatic ability to "get under our skin."  When we finally learn this lesson and put it into practice, perhaps we will have learned the real lesson God is trying to teach us when we have to deal with antagonists. That lesson is "Don’t trust the antagonists. Trust God!" Give Him the antagonists. It is an act of faith, isn’t it?!
The Hardest Lesson
Perhaps the hardest lesson in our dealings with antagonists is recognizing that we’re not under their control and that they’re not under our control. Such never was and never will be. Like the ultimate antagonist, Judas Iscariot, antagonists can only do what God permits. Everything under God’s providence works out for the "good of those who love Him and are called to His plan" (Romans 8).
Whether we’re called, as Isaiah was, to preach to those who will never listen (Isaiah 6) or directed, as Jeremiah was, to "tear down and destroy, to build and to plant" (Jer. 1), Our respective ministries are directed and defined by God’s calling as were the ministries of all God’s servants.
God’s will is ultimately unstoppable. What He wills shall be done. No matter how many or what type of antagonists come into the way of His ministry, it’s our calling to minister to them in an appropriate manner.
Trust God to deal with the antagonists. After all, isn’t He’s doing that already?!
Thomas F. Fischer,

*Based on James Redfield's "Four Control Dramas" in his book, Celestine Prophecy (Warner Books, 1997),  pp. 71ff. The above content in no way implies the author's agreement with Redfield's theological perspective.

** I cannot but help noting how these four control dramas may   correspond with "excess/conflict" characteristics of the ancient four types of personalities: Poor Me (Melancholy), Aloof (Phlegmatic), Interrogator (Sanguine) and Intimidator (Choleric).

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:09 PM