What Does the Bible Say About Manipulative Parents?

Manipulation and control are sadly common occurrences in many parent-child relationships. While parents may justify such behaviors as being “for the child’s own good,” they often stem from the parent’s own insecurities, need for power, or unresolved emotional issues. As Christians, it’s important we look to God’s Word for guidance on handling such difficult family dynamics. The Bible offers both warning and wisdom when it comes to relating to manipulative parents.

Key Takeaways:

  • Manipulation is rooted in selfishness and the desire for control, which Scripture condemns (James 3:14-16).
  • We must test what manipulative parents say against God’s truth, not blindly follow (Mark 7:6-9).
  • We should honor parents but not enable sinful behaviors (Ephesians 6:1-3).
  • Forgiveness and grace, not retaliation, are key to relating well (Colossians 3:13).
  • Healthy boundaries must be set for self-protection (Proverbs 4:14-15).
  • Our true Father is God, and our loyalty belongs to Him first (Hebrews 12:9).
  • With prayer and God’s help, dysfunctional parent-child relationships can be redeemed (Philippians 4:6-7).
What Does the Bible Say About Manipulative Parents?

Defining Manipulation and Control

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines manipulation as exerting “shrewd or devious influence especially for one’s own advantage.” Manipulation involves emotionally unhealthy relating that disregards or overrides another person’s free will for selfish gain. Scripture condemns such selfish ambition and pushing of one’s own agenda above others (James 3:14-16, Philippians 2:3-4).

Manipulative parents may use tactics like gaslighting, guilt trips, verbal abuse, emotional withdrawal, financial threats, and triangulation to maintain control over their child’s life. This stem from a worldly view of power and self-importance, rather than modeling the biblical standard of sacrificial love (Matthew 20:25-28).

While parents have God-given authority over children, this authority should be exercised in a caring, responsible manner, not lording over them as tyrants (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21). Parental authority is intended to nurture growth towards independence, not foster perpetual control and dysfunction.

Testing Words Against God’s Truth

One of the greatest dangers of manipulative parents is they train their children to blindly obey them rather than develop discernment skills. This leaves their children vulnerable to further manipulation and control. As Christians, we are called to test what we hear against the truth of God’s Word (1 John 4:1).

Even from a young age, we must train ourselves to compare a manipulative parent’s words to what Scripture says, not automatically assume the parent is right because of their position. Jesus himself confronted the manipulative religious leaders of his day for exalting their manmade rules above God’s truth (Mark 7:6-9). We must develop the same willingness to make truth, not power or position, the standard for discerning right from wrong.

Honoring Parents Despite Dysfunction

While the Bible gives stark warnings about manipulation and control, it also clearly instructs us to honor our parents (Ephesians 6:1-3). This means showing them respect and seeking to have a right relationship with them as much as it depends on us (Romans 12:18).

Honoring a manipulative parent does not mean enabling their dysfunction or giving them power to keep controlling your life. But it does mean relating to them with dignity, not retaliation or spite (Romans 12:17-21). Difficult as it may be, we should aim to cultivate empathy for what unresolved issues may motivate their unhealthy behaviors, though not excusing the behaviors themselves.

Ask God for supernatural love and forgiveness towards a manipulative parent, just as Christ forgave us (Colossians 3:13). Though parents may fail us, we honor them by leaving judgment to God, who knows all hearts and will render perfect justice in the end (Romans 12:19).

The Importance of Healthy Boundaries

While seeking to honor even dysfunctional parents, it’s essential we also establish healthy emotional and physical boundaries with them for self-protection. Just as a prudent person avoids crooked and dangerous pathways, we must guard our hearts from parental manipulation that seeks to maintain power over us (Proverbs 4:14-15).

Boundaries may include limiting time spent together, refraining from discussing certain topics, and not providing full disclosure of information a manipulative parent may try to use against you. Kind but firm boundaries communicate you will relate with dignity and respect but not tolerate abuse or control. Boundaries also limit escalation and provide incentive for the parent to learn to relate in a healthier manner.

Of course, balancing honoring a parent with healthy boundaries will look different in each unique situation. Pray for wisdom and seek godly counsel from mature Christians, not simply reacting out of hurt and frustration (Proverbs 11:14). And remember that showing mercy and establishing boundaries are not mutually exclusive; both can honor God and lead to redemption.

Whose Approval Do We Really Need?

One reason manipulative parents maintain power is because they train their children to excessively crave their approval. This taps into the innate human desire for love but twists it into dependency on conditional approval. As Christians, we must learn to find our primary identity, worth, and security in Christ alone – not in fickle human relationships (Colossians 3:3-4).

The Bible reminds us that God is our true heavenly Father. If our earthly father fails us, we can trust our real Dad unconditionally loves and supports us (Psalm 68:5). Rather than endlessly contorting ourselves to earn parental approval, we can rest, knowing God delight takes pleasure in us as His beloved children through faith in Christ (Zephaniah 3:17).

Manipulative parents often use withdrawal of love or money to maintain control over adult children. But Scripture encourages us to find our satisfaction in the Lord, not relationships or possessions (Psalm 73:25-26). As we look to Him as our provider, protector and unfailing love, we become less vulnerable to parental manipulation tactics.

God Can Redeem What Seems Broken

It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed and hopeless in relating to a manipulative parent, especially if the dysfunction is long-entrenched. But we serve a mighty God who works in our families in ways we cannot imagine (Jeremiah 32:27). With prayer and godly counsel, even dysfunctional parent-child patterns can be redeemed over time.

Rather than reacting in anger and resignation, respond to a manipulative parent in unexpected ways like humility, respect, and compassion. Ask God to give you supernatural ability to leave judgment to Him and honor your parent in ways that reflect Christ’s love (Romans 12:14-21). Invite other wise Christians into the situation for support and accountability. And pray persistently for God to change hearts and heal brokenness for His glory.

While we cannot control or change others, we can control how we respond. As we choose to relate to a manipulative parent in line with biblical truth – not enabling dysfunction yet showing grace and dignity – we create opportunity for God to work in ways only He can. In time, by God’s strength, even toxic relationship dynamics can be transformed to reflect more of His redemption and healing.


Having a manipulative parent can be incredibly damaging and create lifelong relational dysfunctions if not properly addressed. Yet God in His great compassion wants to help us relate to even dysfunctional parents in a way that honors Him and leaves opportunity for redemption. As we grow in studying His Word, establishing healthy boundaries, and seeking godly counsel and prayer support, we can have hope for freedom and healing.

Rather than getting stuck in bitterness and resentment, we can ask God to cultivate maturity and Christlike love in us towards parents who may not deserve it. When we choose to honor manipulative parents in biblical ways, we leave room for God’s supernatural transforming power. By His grace, let’s reflect His heart in all our family relationships – leaving judgment to Him and pursuing peace as much as possible. God is able to heal and restore even what seems irrevocably broken.

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