Stopping Emotional Blackmail

Note: This is the second of a two-part series. Click here for part one

Some people who use emotional blackmail are passive, some quite aggressive.  Some are direct and others are extremely subtle.  Some let us know precisely what the consequences will be if we displease them, others emphasize how much we are making them suffer.  Yet no matter how different they appear to be on the surface, they are all manipulative and destructive to love, trust and good will in an intimate relationship.

Everyday manipulation becomes emotional blackmail when it is used repeatedly to coerce us in complying with the blackmailer’s demands, at the expense of our own wishes and well-being.  So says Susan Forward in the book Emotional Blackmail (Quill).

She says that if a person genuinely wants to resolve a conflict or difference with you in a fair and caring way, s/he will talk openly about the conflict with you; inquire about your feelings and concerns; explore why you are resisting what s/he wants, and accept responsibility for his/her part of the conflict.  But if someone’s primary goal is to win, s/he will try to control you; ignore your protests; insist that his/her character and motives are superior to yours, and avoid taking personal responsibility for his/her part of the conflict.

What can you do about emotional blackmail?  Forward recommends:

First, don’t make a decision about how to respond the moment a demand is made.  You could say things like:  “I don’t have an answer for you right now.  I’m not sure how I feel about what you’re asking.  I need to give thought to what you want.”

Second, notice your emotions.  Are you feeling angry; irritated; wrong; anxious; trapped; threatened; insecure; inadequate; unloved; unlovable; overwhelmed; hurt; frustrated; doomed; resentful; guilty; disappointed; stuck?

Third, examine what your personal triggers are that lead you toward giving in to a demand.  Think over past instances of blackmail and then list the behaviors that get to you the most, such as yelling; door slamming; particular words (like “selfish”) that make you feel bad about yourself; crying; sighing; anger; the silent treatment.

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