Stick figure falling.

Uncovering the spiritual dimensions to overcome manipulation in relationships.

Signs of manipulation in relationships: Unveiling the Shadowy web.

Imagine yourself stepping into a beautiful garden only to discover its vibrant blooms choked by thorny vines. Manipulation, a pervasive and insidious behavior, can leave relationships and individuals in a similar state. Its toxic tendrils entangle trust, distort reality, and erode well-being. Even unintentional or subconscious in its origin, the impact of manipulation can be devastating.

Like those thorny vines, manipulation can subtly infiltrate and suffocate the most vibrant relationship. “Psychological manipulation involves using words, omissions, and actions to control how another person feels, thinks, and behaves.” Manipulative behaviors can include flattery, small fibs, using excuses to avoid an uncomfortable reality, slander, blame-shifting, avoidance, criticizing, or shaming. These behaviors can shatter a person’s psychological well-being over time.

As pastors talk more about manipulation and highlight its shadowy web of spiritual influences, many will be able to recognize it, heal from it, be set free from it, and enjoy thriving relationships. This article aims to bring awareness to manipulation and unmask the shadowy web of manipulation in relationships.

Why address the shadowy web of manipulation in relationships?

Women counselor sitting with a client.
A young woman sitting on an armchair during her psychology therapy and talking to a psychologist.

While psychological frameworks offer valuable insights, unraveling manipulation’s shadowy web demands venturing beyond those boundaries. As the apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:10-13, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

This verse underscores the limitations of purely psychological explanations for manipulation, pointing to the potential influence of unseen spiritual forces. Indeed, trauma, unhealthy attachments, and mental health struggles can all influence how individuals engage with others; however, by embracing diverse perspectives, including the potential for unseen spiritual influences, we can gain a richer understanding of manipulation, human behavior, and the forces that shape our interactions.

Like peeling back an onion reveals hidden depths, delving into these spiritual perspectives unveils unseen forces that may influence manipulative behavior. Discussing spiritual forces isn’t about demonizing anyone or establishing a narrow view of a nuanced topic like manipulation but acknowledging the potential for broader influences beyond our immediate understanding, powers that, as apostle Paul suggests, may be spiritual. Now, let’s delve deeper into how spiritual forces work within the shadowy web of manipulation.

I want to start by laying a foundation for what the Bible calls the “works of the flesh.”

Using manipulation in relationships to get what you want is wicked.


Manipulation in relationships bears a chilling resemblance to the “work of the flesh” described as “witchcraft” or “sorcery” in Galatians 5:20-22. This principle extends beyond literal witchcraft. What I and others call ‘relational witchcraft‘ – manipulative behavior, especially within relationships, is also a form of control.  “Just as occultist witches wield intimidation, manipulation, and domination to control others,” so too do those who engage in this “relational” form of witchcraft, often without even realizing it.

While the manipulation tools in relationships may not be cauldrons and potions, their methods are eerily similar. They weave a potent web of control through subtle intimidation, manipulation, and domination, leaving behind a tangled mess of deceit. This deceit reveals itself in the stark contrast between words and actions that do not align, a facade of trust and consistency built on shifting sands.

The deceptive manipulation tactics in relationships expose two fundamental truths:

First, lying and control are akin to the “work of the flesh” described as “witchcraft” or “sorcery” in Galatians 5:20-22. Though witchcraft is a work of the flesh, it relies on the use of the power of god (s) or other spirits, which Christ forbid His followers.

Second, even the most subtle forms of control may originate from forces beyond our immediate understanding. This realization invites us to explore the interplay between human manipulation as a work of the flesh and the possible influence of unseen spiritual forces that may be driving that behavior pattern, paving the way for a more comprehensive understanding and effective response to manipulation. Let’s build on this foundation.

“Works of the flesh” vs. spiritual forces.


It’s crucial to distinguish between manipulative behaviors, rooted in the “work of the flesh,” and those stemming from evil spiritual forces. This distinction, though nuanced, can be likened to the wind. We cannot see the wind itself, yet we recognize its presence through its effects on the leaves. Similarly, while evil spiritual forces remain unseen, we can discern demonic influence through the fruit they bear in our lives. Like the wind, they can entice us with desires and drive us against our will, leaving us feeling lost and disoriented. Let’s look at scripture’s beacon on the influence of evil spiritual forces and their impact on human behavior.

A journey through scripture.

Man reading a bible.
Man reading a bible.

Lies, deception, and manipulation in the scripture.

Acts 5:1-3 tells the story of Ananias and Sapphira, motivated by greed, lying to the Holy Spirit under Satan’s influence. Similarly, Matthew 16:21-23 showcases Jesus rebuking Peter for focusing on earthly concerns, reminding us that satan can tempt us from our true path. Lastly, Mark 14:3-11: Jesus, during his temptation in the wilderness, faces the devil’s direct attempts to lure him away from his divine mission.

Work of the flesh vs. evil spiritual forces in scripture.

King Saul’s torment by an evil spirit in 1 Samuel 16:14-15 is a stark reminder of how negative influences can cloud our judgment and disrupt our lives. Similarly, Mark 5:1-13 presents Jesus’ encounter with a demon-possessed man, showcasing the power of spiritual forces. Finally, Acts 16:16-18 exposes the potential for manipulation through the lens of the slave girl possessed by a spirit of divination, highlighting the importance of discerning truth from deception in a world where manipulation can take various forms.

Warnings to armor against evil spiritual influence on our behavior.

Scripture offers both warning and protection. Jesus, in Luke 22:31, warns of Satan’s “sifting,” urging vigilance. In 1 Corinthians 7:5, Paul advises self-control lest we “tempt the devil.” Finally, in Matthew 6:13, Jesus teaches us to pray for deliverance, finding strength in divine protection. Heeded, these lights guide us through manipulation’s web.

Warnings and guidance to armor against evil spiritual influences.

Light from an open door
Light from an open door

Regardless of their faith or background, anyone can be susceptible to the influence of evil spiritual forces. The result of evil spiritual forces doesn’t necessarily involve full-blown demonic possession (God forbid) but rather a conscious alignment with spiritual powers. This alignment occurs when someone opens themselves to these negative influences, allowing them to exert a certain level of control over their thoughts, actions, or specific areas of their life.

The Bible calls this demonization, and the biblical examples give us valuable insights into the subtle ways these spiritual forces can operate and influence our behavior. While psychological and social factors play a significant role, the scriptures are clear that unseen spiritual forces can also affect our actions and decisions; we must not dismiss this reality regarding manipulation. Below are internal and outward behavioral patterns to unmask when evil forces may be at work within a pattern of manipulative behavior.

The inward signs of manipulation aligned with evil spiritual forces.

Women looking peacefully into the sky
Women looking peacefully into the sky.

While we all face temptation and struggle with our “fleshly” desires, sometimes the intensity and persistence of these urges, especially when we don’t desire them, can point towards a more profound spiritual influence. The influence doesn’t mean instant alignment with spiritual forces but acknowledges a potential realm of power beyond our immediate understanding. Recognizing the signs of this influence is crucial to prevent it from taking root and causing further harm.

Five inward signs of manipulation in relationships may be aligned with spiritual forces.

  1. Compulsion: Humans are tempted to indulge in sinful desires. However, evil forces often involve an irresistible, almost compulsive urge, where inner resistance is futile. Imagine being drawn to an action with a power beyond your control.

  2. Harassment: The Holy Spirit may convict us of sin, but this conviction comes with guidance and hope for change. Evil harassment, on the other hand, feels relentless and destructive, aiming to crush our spirit and drive us further away from God, others, and even ourselves.

  3. Torment: While we all experience pain and suffering, the torment of evil spiritual forces often feels like a constant, unyielding assault on our physical and mental well-being. It hinders growth and genuine transformation, leaving us isolated, sullen, and hopeless.

  4. Intemperance: While addiction can be a decisive struggle, it does not equate to spiritual forces at play. However, when addiction becomes so severe that compulsion and enslavement take over, completely overriding one’s free will without a chance of hope, it may be a sign of evil spiritual influence.

  5. Deception can involve manipulation, twisting truths, and creating false realities.

Manipulation’s outward behavioral signs and unseen spiritual forces.

A woman with her back against the wall looking down into an alley.
A woman with her back against the wall looking down into an alley.

Manipulation in relationships can express itself through internal struggles and specific, observable behaviors. Recognizing inward and outward signs and recognizing these patterns is vital in seeking help. The consistent, factual manifestation of these below behavior patterns, especially when coupled with intense, persistent compulsion, harassment, torment, intemperance, extreme shame, or deceit, may point towards the possibility of spiritual forces at play.


Twelve outward signs of manipulation in relationships.

  1. Warping Facts: Denying, fabricating, or warping facts to fit your narrative.

  2. Envy & Covetousness: Desiring what others have to the point of obsession.

  3. Passive-Aggressive Behavior: Expressing anger or resentment indirectly.

  4. Deceptive Practices: Lying, manipulating situations, and shifting blame.

  5. Controlling Tactics: Using threats, coercion, or micromanagement.

  6. Emotional Withdraw: Emotional Withdrawal: Pulling away emotionally or withholding affection.
  7. Social Isolation: Cutting off social support and denying others’ feelings.

  8. Self-Doubt and Invalidation: Undermining an individual’s behavior and questioning others’ judgment and perceptions eroding their confidence and self-worth.

  9. Harsh Judgment: Harshly judging and criticizing others, often for minor transgressions.

  10. Harmful Spiritual Practices: Engaging in harmful spiritual practices, like slander, curses, or rituals.

  11. Constant Fear, Anxiety, and Lack of Joy: Living in constant fear and anxiety, often fueled by sullenness, fragility, and a sense of being under constant threat.

  12. Inability to acknowledge: The failure to recognize one’s actions or the harm one causes to others is a troubling sign of a lack of self-awareness and empathy.

Remember, this list is not exhaustive, and these signs don’t necessarily indicate spiritual influences, nor should they be used for self-diagnosis. However, awareness of these patterns and seeking professional or spiritual guidance can be crucial in breaking free from manipulation and pursuing wholeness regardless of its source.

How to reclaim your life force from manipulative relationships.

Women with backs against a doorway entry, reflective looking into the vast open landscape.
Women with backs against a doorless entry, reflective looking into the vast open landscape.

Whether in your marriage, friendships, or workplace, manipulation can be a subtle yet damaging force in any relationship. By paying attention to these warning signs and actively protecting your values, identity, and purpose, you can empower yourself to break free from the cycle of manipulation and create a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Vanished Values: When you regularly compromise your core beliefs and principles (e.g., honesty, integrity, respect) to please someone else, it may be a sign of manipulation happening gradually, making remembering your values and boundaries crucial.

Identity Erosion: Has your sense of self become clouded with doubt and uncertainty? Manipulation can involve constant criticism, denying reality, and unfavorable comparisons, chipping away your confidence and self-worth. I want you to please trust your intuition and recognize any attempts to diminish your God-given identity.

Purpose Fleeting: Has your sense of self become clouded with doubt and uncertainty? Manipulation can involve constant criticism, denying reality, and unfavorable comparisons, chipping away your confidence and self-worth. I want you to please trust your intuition and recognize any attempts to diminish your God-given identity.

Remember, you are not alone. 

The man sitting on the ledge. Signs of manipulation in relationships.

Manipulation thrives in isolation, but healing and growth happen in the light of support and truth. By recognizing the signs, understanding the spiritual and psychological motivations, and nurturing healthy connections, we can break free from the thorny vines of manipulation and cultivate thriving relationships.

I want to leave you with a stark reminder: Galatians 2:20 lists witchcraft as a “work of the flesh,” declaring that those who practice it will not inherit the Kingdom of God. This principle extends beyond literal witchcraft. What I and others have coined ‘relational witchcraft’ is manipulative behavior, especially within relationships, which is a form of control that should not be surprising if met with similar faith as those who practice witchcraft.

Any attempt to control others, regardless of the means used, is akin to witchcraft and should be avoided by all Christ-followers. The Holy Spirit, the word of God, and our care for one another are the forces that guide our interactions with others, not manipulating behaviors. 

If this article has resonated with you, share it with others, and feel free to share your thoughts or questions in the comments below. If you believe you may be in a manipulative situation, reach out to us; we can help or point you in the right direction.


The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

2. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN): 1-800-656-HOPE. You can also get help online at RAINN’s website: 

3. The National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE. You can also get help online at the National Sexual Assault Hotline’s website:


OlaDele Okuwobi
OlaDele Okuwobi

Dele Okuwobi, founder of Start With Wonder, envisions co-laboring with Jesus to propel the church toward a deeper understanding of Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God. This vision unfolds through 21st Century Church, a church plant launched in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2020, and the Love & Unity Project, a consulting and coaching agency that equips churches and organizations to combat personal and systematic bias through righteousness and justice. Their combined efforts aim to inspire lasting change and transformation, both within individuals and within the broader church community. serves as a global platform to amplify this vision, where they craft and mold a collection of messages to share the good news of the Kingdom of God and shift culture.”