One thing that destroys family relationships, marriages and friendships is the inability to rightly communicate our wishes, desires, and expectations in a healthy way. Because people don’t know how to say what it they want or respect other’s decisions and wishes, they end up acting out towards their loved ones in painful ways.
In the Cambridge online dictionary, the definition of emotional blackmail is
- the act of using a person’s feelings of kindness, sympathy, or duty in order to persuade them to do something.
- feel something or a way of trying to make someone do something by making them feel guilty.
In an article by Psychology Today, According to Susan Forward, Ph.D. (Forward and Frazier 1997), emotional blackmail is a “powerful form of manipulation in which people close to us threaten, directly or indirectly, to punish us if we don’t do what they want.”
This breaks down relationships by creating resentment, anger and injustice between the two parties. Eventually, if there isn’t an intervention or reconciliation, the relationship can take a turn for the worst. The good news is that the more aware you are, the more you can spot it and stop it dead in its’ tracks!
So what are some examples of emotional blackmail and, more importantly, how can we stop it in our own relationships?
Examples of Emotional Blackmail
Emotional blackmail usually begins with either a direct (I want a cookie), indirect request (I wish someone would give me a cookie), or demand (give me a cookie!). When the demand is not met by the person, usually a form of acting out ensues. Here are some examples:
- A mother becomes angry at her daughter for coming home late. She lectures her about all the things she has sacrificed for her, how she lives her life just for her daughter and how she needs to do what she says. The intention the mother has is to keep her daughter safe, but when she uses fear and guilt as a tactic to get her daughter to do what she wants, she unconsciously participates in emotional blackmail.
- A wife is very controlling of her husband. Her worst fear is her husband will cheat on her or leave her for another woman, so she demands to know where he is at all times. She may check his phone regularly and throw emotional tantrums if he doesn’t disclose details of his whereabouts. She may even threaten divorce in order to get him to communicate with her. The real enemy here is her own insecurity.
- A woman uses emotional blackmail to get her other friends to do what she wants. She will say things like, “I have to plan this gathering all by myself,” in a tone that encourages her friends to pity her, and with the intention to get her friends to support her without her needing to ask them upfront.
- THE SILENT TREATMENT (I have been guilty of this in the past). If you can go days and possibly even weeks without communicating to your spouse or significant other due to his or her behavior which you oh-so-obviously did not approve of, you have participated in emotional blackmail! I call this having a “business” relationship; mainly because it is transactional in nature. It is the act of “I will love you if you act accordingly, and if you don’t act accordingly then I will take my love away!” Love is not business folks!
- Emotional blackmail happens when a child asks their mother for a cookie, and when denied attempts to use fear in order to get what they want: “I love daddy more because he gives me cookies.” Of course, children are problem-solvers by nature and are always figuring out how to get what they want, but the fact of the matter is they probably learned this behavior somewhere.
How to Stop Emotional Blackmail in Relationships
As stated earlier, the best way to stop emotional blackmail is to first be aware of it in yourself and others.
- How do you participate in it?
- Do you cave if your child wants a cookie and says that he will love daddy more if you don’t give him what is wanted?
- Do you allow yourself to be guilted into situations or scenarios that you don’t want to partake in?
- Do you have an idea about yourself such as, “I want to be a good friend or wife, so even though I don’t want to do this, I will do it anyways”?
- Do you do things you don’t want to do out of “fear” or out of “fear of losing”?
- Do you allow yourself to be dragged into unwanted situations and persuaded by guilt or obligation?
Emotional blackmail is not a pleasant thing, but keep in mind, the person who is dishing it out may not be aware of their behavior, or may feel it is the only way to get what they want.
The bottom line is, if you choose not to participate in emotional blackmail and address it when it does come up, you stand the chance of eliminating it from your relationships. Learning Nonviolent Communication is a great way to learn how to express your desires and needs without using fear, obligation or guilt toward other people you love and care about.
If you are interested in learning more about nonviolent communication, and are based in Springfield, Missouri, feel free to contact Travis Maddox at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.
Love and hugs,
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