Escaping from a Manipulator (Genesis 31)
Any survivor of an emotionally-manipulative relationship should identify with Genesis 31. It’s crazy how many techniques of narcissistic, abusive people are found in this one story.
Jacob the Deceiver has met his match in Laban, an opportunistic father-in-law who takes advantage of Jacob’s every weakness. I’m going to list several elements of Laban’s narcissistic abuse below.
If you’ve made it out of a relationship with someone like Laban, you’ll remember what it feels like to be in this sort of situation. You’ll also see how God sees what Jacob has endured and helps him escape it.
Even though Jacob hasn’t been perfect in his own choices, God helps him find a new life post trauma. That’s encouraging to me as someone who has lived a broken life. He’s in the business of redemption. We can trust him to lead us out of emotional chaos.
GAS LIGHTING occurs when an abuser attempts to control a situation by challenging your perceptions. He uses rhetorical force to reorient your understanding by superimposing his views on your memories. Over and again, a gaslighter will contradict your complaints with, “It didn’t actually happen like this...here is the REAL situation.” Over time, this erodes your trust in your own observations.
“Then Laban answered and said to Jacob, ‘The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine.’” 31:43a).
No, Laban. They aren’t yours. Jacob worked for them.
PROJECTION occurs when an abuser is unwilling to admit is own failures, instead projecting all blame on his victim. For example, when a sexual abuser claims that a woman seduced him instead of owning his choices, he is projecting or blame shifting.
“Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, ‘Jacob has taken all that was our father's, and from what was our father's he has gained all this wealth.’ And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before.”
Though Jacob has been upright, helping grow Laban’s business, Jacob is still blamed for Laban’s inability to meet his own goals.
CASTING YOUR STRENGTHS AS WEAKNESSES. Because your gifts are a natural threat to a narcissist, he attempts to recast them in a negative light, causing you to feel shame and hesitation.
“These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times.” (31:38-41)
Though Jacob had been a faithful and productive partner, Laban accused Jacob of being damaging and selfish instead of helpful.
MOVING THE GOAL POSTS: Demanding more an more from someone after he or she has met your initial requests.
“You know that I have served your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me.” (31:6,7)
Laban didn't just switch Leah for Rachel. Over and again, he used his position of power to shift his demands of Jacob. It’s impossible to please someone like that. It’s a game the abused can never, ever win.
THREATS: Subtle or overt claims that an abuser could hurt you, if he wanted to.
“It is in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ “ (31:29)
Laban feels the need to flex before Jacob. “I could hurt you if I wanted to.” It’s ugly and ridiculous because he’s posturing before a man God has promised to bless and protect.
FALSE GENEROSITY and HOOVERING: Pretending to be benevolent. Promising to change after the abused has left.
“Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre? “ (31:27)
“The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day for these my daughters or for their children whom they have borne? (31:43b)
Laban is pretending to be what he is not—a kind and loving father-in-law. This attempts to create shame and dependency in Jacob, as well as allegiance that he does not owe.
In the New Testament, we find a Christ who embodies the Truth. Jesus is the living standard for veracity, Facts Incarnate. Because of this, he is able to judge us (and those who oppress us) perfectly. Because of this, he is able to see and heal us. It’s so important to run to him when a manipulator is attempting to lead our lives because he can see through the rhetorical fog and divide light from darkness. He can tell us who we truly are and explain our calling with utter clarity, though the noise and accusations of the world threaten to sink our hearts.
Notice how God sees straight through all of Laban’s posturing. He states: “for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.’” (31: 12b,13.) He’s ready to lift Jacob out of this trap and put him in a place where he can grow. This same voice can lead you home as well.