One of my all-time favorite TV shows is “I Love Lucy.” Lucy Ricardo, the main character, is a loving mom and wife whose driving desire is to become a celebrity. She is almost always at odds with Ricky, her Cuban husband and night-club owner, who loves her, but is totally opposed to Lucy’s attempts to enter show biz.
“I Love Lucy”: an Amateur’s Analysis
On an obvious level, the show is funny. Lucy’s conniving, hair-brained plans to thwart Ricky’s resolve to keep her off the stage always go awry. The result is that she, Ricky, and, sometimes her friends too, are always left in some type of difficult but hilarious (I suspect because we are on the outside of it) predicament.
On another level, the show is tragic. As the owner of a popular night club, Ricky is in the perfect position to help Lucy get the break she desperately wants but he usually refuses to – many times for good reason.
My amateur psychological analysis is that, because Ricky so strongly opposes Lucy’s show-biz goals and is generally insensitive to her heartfelt pleas (another topic), she feels oppressed and trapped in her role of being an “ordinary” wife and mom – a role that doesn’t seem as important or glamorous to her as being a celebrity. So Lucy chooses manipulation antics as her only recourse to achieve the stardom she craves.
I’m defining manipulation as using your own secret plan and skills to get what you want or think you need – to get the thing you idolize – to serve your idol since, at its core, manipulation is all about serving idols. For most people, I suspect that this “secret plan” is simple and almost imperceptible as a plan. It may be as simple as, “I’m going to pout, or try the silent treatment, or rant and rave, or call you names, or make unfair accusations until you see things my way.”
I Can Identify with Lucy
I can identify with Lucy’s need to manipulate. And, I think anyone who has felt dependent upon someone who they perceive as “the one” who is able to help them achieve their deepest desires and goals (idols) but refuses to (or maybe doesn’t realize he or she could or should help) can relate to Lucy’s painful desperation. Maybe that’s why the show has been so popular for so long.
What Lucy does in the “I Love Lucy” show is an exaggeration of what people (who depend on people rather than on God) typically do to get the idols they desperately want. Lucy manipulates to the point of being hilariously ridiculous. My own plans to get my own way aren’t as far fetched as Lucy’s, and, as far as I know, no one as ever found them that humorous, but I sometimes manipulate too. And really, in ways not so funny, my manipulation is just as ridiculous.
“They” say the first step to recovery is to realize you are a manipulator.
For the longest time, I had no clue I was a manipulator. I did, however, notice that I often found myself in mental anguish, and I didn’t understand why I was so frustrated. Now I realize that, though manipulation doesn’t necessarily follow from mental anguish and frustration, these are emotional clues that my life is not going the way I want.
I suspect that mental anguish and frustration are the sparks that can set off fiery thoughts like:
- “I better do this so he or she will do that so that my life will be ok.”
- “If I say this or do that, he or she will respond like that, and my problem will be solved.
But, I never really perceived myself as bent on having my own way, or overly selfish, or power hungry, or prideful, though I admit I have, on occasion, purposefully contrived a plan to get something I thought would benefit me.
No. In retrospect, my manipulation was coated with Southern Baptist religion. I reserved my best manipulative efforts for “the good of others.” I, being the “good Christian” that I was, made my best plans and used my best efforts to “make someone change,” for his or her own good. Emotional pressure, I reasoned, was acceptable if the result was an obedient, godly, filled with the fruit-of- the-Spirit kind of person God would approve of. You could say I was a self-appointed Holy Spirit helper working to bring about the salvation and sanctification of others.
I didn’t come to the realization that I was a manipulator on my own. And I really don’t know when God, the Spirit, made me aware of it. Maybe when I started asking him to show me my sin? (Manipulating others is a sin! Think pride.) Maybe it was when my emotional pain for what I wanted for myself or for others had exhausted me and introspection kicked in? Even now, when a deep desire for something other than God creeps into my heart, I will catch myself falling into this old familiar sinful pattern of getting my way. But here are some really good reasons why I shouldn’t.
5 Good Reasons not to Manipulate Others
1. Manipulating others makes me look unattractive.
Let’s face it. Devious plans, get-you-back tactics, and “I’m going to make you do what I want you to do” strategies are all the work of evil tyrants; witches with warts and cauldrons; and Disney villains with squinty eyes and horrid laughs who eventually become disempowered and and always look silly and defeated in the end.
I think the unattractiveness of manipulation, even when it’s used to try and “make someone do what is godly and right” is why, I failed to see the beauty in Lucille Ball, a.k.a. Lucy Ricardo, until I saw photographs of her in a book that had nothing to do with her role in the sitcom.
2. Manipulating others is exhausting.
Devising, “I’m determined to get what I want or what I think is right – no matter what,” plans take lots of emotional energy. And all the energy required to carry these plans out can be exhausting. The tragedy is that all this negative energy could be used to do something really positive, truly helpful – maybe even spectacular.
Without Lucy’s misdirected energy, the show would have been a flop. But, just think what amazing things Lucy could have done if she had trusted God with her life and devoted her efforts to helping her husband instead of fighting against him or if she had used her energy to teach her son or help her neighbors.
3. Manipulating others may get me what I want plus something else entirely different.
Manipulation almost always involves manipulating someone. But that manipulated someone will be negatively affected in some way even if that person is being manipulated for his or her own good. So in the end, I may very well get the thing or behavior I wanted, but I will get it involuntarily and begrudgingly from someone I have exploited who is now hurt, resentful, bitter, angry, and distrustful. And I have to ask myself, “Is that thing or action worth the detrimental relationship that I’m left with as a result of my manipulation?”
At some point in all of the “I Love Lucy” shows I can remember, Lucy is pacing the floor wondering how Ricky is going to react to her because of what she did. Or she is anxiously waiting for his Latin temper to subside. Or, she is appealing to an upset Ricky with her famous sideways glance looking for confirmation that he has forgiven her. And, no one, not even her best friend Ethel, ever fully trusts her motives.
4. Manipulating others hurts people I never intended to hurt.
“Hurt people hurt people,”‘they say. So maybe in my manipulative plan I know that I will hurt someone’s feelings and am willing to bear the repercussions of that because I think the “good” outcome of my manipulation is worth it. But what most often happens is that someone outside of my plan gets hurt too. It may be my children, my extended family, or my friends. It may even be me. In the “I Love Lucy” show it was sometimes Lucy’s best friend and neighbor Ethel Mertz but, not surprisingly, most often it was Lucy herself.
5. Manipulating others makes God look unattractive.
This is the most serious consequence of manipulating others and the one that washes over me when I find myself falling into manipulation. It is the reason manipulating others is sin since, when I resort to manipulation, I am basically saying:
“I know what is best for me or for someone else, and I don’t trust God to do what I know is best.” I’m saying, “I know better than God.” I’m saying, “I can do what God can’t,” or, “I can do it better or faster than God.” I’m saying, “I think I have more power than God.” I’m saying, “I don’t trust God to meet needs or change people’s hearts; I have to figure out how to make people do what I want so that my needs, or their’s, will be met.” I’m saying, “God is not trustworthy.” I’m saying that God is not faithful to keep his promises. I’m saying that I don’t believe God – that he is a liar. And it is obvious to everyone except me that I am filled to the brim with pride.
Resting in God gives him glory.
Awareness of the un-glorious things I am projecting about God is what fills me with shame and stops me in my tracts when I realize I am starting down the road of manipulation.
I’m sorry to say that in the past I have felt proud, and even bragged, about my successful manipulation tactics. After all, successful manipulation makes me look smart and clever, or so I have thought, and I have, to my shame, reveled in this glory. But glory, true glory, belongs to God. Stolen glory, or should I say fake glory, is what Satan has. And, in the end, I don’t want that. I want to lay aside all my manipulative attempts to be God and just relax and bask in God’s glory alone. I want to flee the sin of manipulation and rest in God alone.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? James 4:1, ESV.