There are people who are being emotionally blackmailed and they don’t even know it. The situation may seem benign, but it really could rise to unsafe levels if not remedied. There are things you need to know to either avoid these situations or get out of them.
Below are four things you should know:
- Understanding emotional blackmail.
Susan Forward, PhD., describes it in her book Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation and Guilt to Manipulate You. She states that abusers use it to get what they want. They want you to be afraid, get angry or feel guilty in order to manipulate you to go their way.
Children do it by throwing temper tantrums, but adults use that technique too. They could threaten to go back to drinking or threaten to leave you. They could tell you that you owe them after “all they’ve done.” The underlying theme here is that they don’t accept responsibility for their actions and blame you instead for the fallout if they don’t get their way.
- Knowing when you are an emotional hostage.
Skip Johnson states in his article Emotional Blackmail: Fear, Obligation, and Guilt (FOG) that emotional blackmail indicates there is premeditation. He said this is a bit of a misnomer because most of the time, people want things that are normal and don’t plan out their responses.
For instance, a small child throwing a tantrum isn’t blackmail because they don’t understand manipulation. They are just acting out of emotion. An adult telling you they are going to kill themselves if you don’t do something is an emotional hostage situation because they are deliberately trying to manipulate you with some forethought, although it happens almost impulsively.
- Define your emotional boundaries.
First, you must set them. Identify what you will and won’t accept in a relationship. Then stick to it. If you start to feel pressured about a decision, that is a sign you are headed into an emotional hostage situation. You don’t like your choices and still must choose. That is perfect emotional manipulation. This is about the other person getting the response they want rather than what you want.
If you set boundaries and challenge the person who crosses them the first time, there is less chance of a repeated behavior.
- Distinguish your feelings from their feelings.
An abuser will make you accountable for their feelings. They will tell you that your actions will cause some adverse action, like suicide, in order to get you to do what they want.
Some people romanticize this, but this isn’t love. They are making you accountable for their feelings. That isn’t fair to you.
Emotional blackmail hurts you. It drives you mentally crazy, makes you emotionally unstable and can affect your physical well being. The drama of it results in low self-esteem and could hurt your other relationships because it could cause you to withdraw.
There may be times you legitimately feel guilty or have a sense of fear over a situation. Learn to identify those feelings, which can lead to positive outcomes, from emotional blackmail. Your life will be better for it.