Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Emotional Blackmail

Is there a terrorist in your relationship, your family, your group of friends or your office? Emotional blackmail is a nasty pattern of manipulating for control of the outcomes that everyone needs to know about, and watch out for.This pattern can be very confusing to the people targeted by it.You may find yourself walking on eggshells in order not to awaken the beast within the blackmailer.They must win at all costs, regardless of the impact on those closest to them.

Author and psychologist Susan Forward coined the term in her 1997 classic "Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt". Susan also penned several other books I recommend to patients, including "Toxic Parents", "Men Who Hate Women,and the Women Who Love Them", and "When Your Lover Is A Liar". All are great reads with lots of practical strategies.

Why would people resort to using emotional blackmail in relationships? Most people who use this strategy are insecure, needy, and dependent. In their childhood or past relationships, the blackmailer has been frustrated at not getting their needs met, and they are using this unhealthy, controlling method to avoid a fear of loss.They threaten to end the relationship if they don't get their own way at all times. They pout.They prey on your kindness,and try to whip up feelings of guilt when you are asking for something completely reasonable.For example, if you spend time with your friends, this relationship is over. Somebody call the relationship ref to drop the penalty flag!

While emotional blackmail can occur anywhere in your life, it is most difficult to deal with it when this manipulation is launched by those closest to you----your parent, partner or child. Through the use of FOG(fear, obligation,and guilt)the blackmailer twists the story to make the reasonable person feel bad and want to give in and placate to get peace. Wrong move.If you let this pattern continue, your self-esteem will be damaged,and you will feel distant from the other person. You will not feel you have the safety of give and take in the relationship, because they can withdraw affection, love, time, money,promotion unless you give in. Every time. This is emotional terrorism.

In healthy relationships,people are not forced to do things that don't feel right to them or compromise their authentic self in order to preserve the relationship. This is like being in a relationship on a banana peel,ready to be released at any moment. In healthy relationships, in contrast, partners can disagree without attacking each other personally or making threats, and return to a feeling of closeness and safety. There is a respect for the differences between individuals.Forwards' book has good, practical ideas for how to regain limits, set boundaries,regain your emotional strength and integrity if this difficult drama is happening in your life. Get educated about emotional blackmail,and begin taking care of yourself,and past your own fears.

Emotional blackmail is not good for people or relationships. It kills the joy when people can't relax and be themselves in a relationship. Don't give anyone the power to control you in this way.The price is too high.Take back your ability to set reasonable limits and disagree respectfully.Afterall,if two people agree about EVERYTHING,something is fishy.

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