- Myths, Psychology, Tips

What is Emotional Blackmail?

Imagine this: You’re on the phone with a friend. They’ve made you angry and in your fight, you told them that you want to be left alone for a bit. You say they aren’t allowed to come to your house until further notice and that’s when the dam breaks. They tell you that if you don’t let them come over, they’ll drive their car over a cliff You don’t want to be the reason they’d do something like that, so you agree to allow them to come over. The scenario above is an example of emotional blackmail and is, in fact, a form of abuse. At Psych2Go, we hope to bring light to a form of emotional abuse many don’t even know exists.

If you notice similarities to the above scenario or any of the points in this video, please speak with a licensed mental health professional. Here are four ways to tell what emotional blackmail is. 1 Understanding what emotional blackmail really is: Emotional blackmail, as described by Susan Forward Ph.D. in her book ‘Emotional Blackmail’, “When people in your life use fear, obligation, and guilt to manipulate you.” Emotional blackmail is a tactic used by abusers to threaten you to get what they want.

The point is to make you feel fear, obligation or guilt or F.O.G so they can have things go their way. This may be something as simple as throwing a fit or going as far as threatening to go back to drug use if they can’t see someone or be somewhere they want to be. The whole point is to refuse to take responsibility for their own actions and instead blame others for their bad decisions. 2 Knowing what constitutes an emotional hostage situation By the definition above, it could be easy to assume that all children take their parent’s hostage emotionally. In R. Skip Johnson’s article, ‘Emotional Blackmail: Fear, Obligation and Guilt’ Johnson point out that using the term blackmail means that there is forethought from the individual. A child throwing a tantrum in the store to get a toy isn’t necessarily emotional blackmail as they are merely subject driven and have no concept of the manipulation factor.

A teenager exploding emotionally over not being able to borrow the car then running off to their room with a knife is an emotional hostage situation. They want to get something and will make it appear that they will injure themselves to get it. 3 Know where your emotional boundaries are. By knowing where your emotional boundaries are, you will be able to tell when someone oversteps them. In the early stages of this form of abuse, you might not even register that something’s wrong. You may just assume that the other person gets carried away at times. As time goes on, you might start to feel like the other person places you between a rock and a hard place. Either option you have is a bad one, but you tend to favor those that are the lesser of the two evils This is emotional manipulation at its finest. What you want isn’t important. It’s about what the other person can do to elicit the emotional response that they want. 4 You are where their feelings lie.

Someone who holds you, hostage, emotionally will hold you accountable for their feelings. This may take the form of a significant other stating that a breakup from you would cause them to commit suicide. You might see this as them being so in love with you that they would rather die without you. That isn’t the case. They are manipulating you to get what they want. The point is to hold you accountable for the feeling of sadness that would follow a breakup. They may be feeling anxious about the relationship, but instead of facing those fears head-on, they force you to carry them. Understanding what being held hostage emotionally and emotional blackmail really means is a great start. But remember, just because someone makes you feel guilty for something, doesn’t necessarily mean they are manipulating you. It all has to do with the present situation and past experiences. Have you been in a situation of emotional blackmail before?

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