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Emotional Blackmail


Emotional Blackmailers:

Threaten to make things difficult if you don't do what they want.

Constantly threaten to end the relationship if you don't give in.

Regularly ignore or discount your feelings and wants.

Tell you or imply that they will neglect, hurt themselves, or become depressed if you don't do what they want.

Shower you with approval when you give into them and take it away when you don't.

Use money as a weapon to get their own way.

Emotional blackmail is a powerful form of manipulation in which people close to us threaten (either directly or indirectly) to punish us if we don't do what they want. At the heart of any kind of blackmail is one basic threat, which can be expressed in many different ways: If you don't behave the way I want you to, you will suffer. A criminal blackmailer might threaten to use knowledge about a person's past to ruin her reputation, or ask to be paid off in cash to hide a secret. Emotional blackmail hits closer to home. Emotional blackmailers know how much we value our relationship with them. They know our vulnerabilities. Often they know our deepest secret. And no matter how much they care about us, when they fear they won't go their way, they use this intimate knowledge to shape the threats that give them the payoff they want: our compliance. Knowing that we want love or approval, our blackmailers threaten to withhold it or take it away altogether, or make feel we must earn it. For example, if you pride yourself being generous and caring, the blackmailer might label you selfish or inconsiderate if you don't accede to his wishes. If you value money and security, the blackmailer might attach conditions to providing them or threaten to take them away. And if you believe the blackmailer, you could fall into a pattern of letting him control your decisions and behavior. We get locked into a dance with blackmail, a dance with myriad steps, shapes and partners.

Emotional blackmailers hate to lose. They take the old adage "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game", and turn it on its head to read "It doesn't matter how you play the game as long as you do not lose." To an emotional blackmailer, keeping your trust doesn't count, respecting your feelings doesn't count, being fair doesn't count. The ground rules that allow for healthy give-and-take go out the window. In the midst of what we thought was a solid relationship it's as though someone yelled "Everyone for himself!" and the other person lumped to take advantage of us while our guard was down. Why is winning so important to blackmailers, we ask ourselves. Why are they doing this to us? Why do they need to get their way so badly that they'll punish us if they don't?

Below are some specific ways to answer the most common types of responses. It can't emphasize too strongly how important it is to practice saying these statements until they feel natural to you. How to respond to the other person's catastrophic predictions and threats. Punishers and self-punishers may try pressuring you to change your decision by bombarding you with visions of the extreme negative consequences of doing what you've decided to do. It's never easy to resist the fear that their bleak vision will come to pass, especially when the theme they're pounding home is "Bad things will happen - and it'll be your fault." But hold your ground.

When they say: Then you say:
If you don't take care of me, I'll wind up in the hospital/on the street/unable to work.
* You'll never see your kids again.
* You'll destroy this family.
* You're not my child anymore.
* I'm cutting you out of my will.
* I'll get sick.
* I can't make it without you.
* I'll make you suffer.
* You'll be sorry.
* That's your choice.
* I hope you won't do that, but I've made my decision.
* I know you're very angry right now. When you've had a chance to think about this, maybe you'll change your mind.
* Why don't we talk about this again when you're less upset.
* Threats/suffering/tears aren't going to work anymore.
* I'm sorry you're upset.

When they say: Then you say:
* I can't believe you're being so selfish. This isn't like you. You're only thinking of yourself. You never think about my feelings.
* I really thought you were different from the other women/men I've been with. I guess I was wrong.
* That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.
* Everyone knows that children are supposed to respect their parents
* flow can you be so disloyal?
* You're just being an idiot.
* You're entitled to your opinion.
* I'm sure that's how it looks to you.
* That could be.
* You may be right.
* I need to think about this more.
* We'll never get anywhere if you keep insulting me.
* I'm sorry you're upset.

* How could you do this to me (after all I've done for you)?
* Why are you ruining my life?
* Why are you being so stubborn/obstinate/selfish?
* What's come over you?
* Why are you acting like this?
* Why do you want to hurt me?
* Why are you making such a big deal out of this?
* I knew you wouldn't be happy about this, but that's the way it has to be.
* I here are no villains here. We just want different things. * I'm not willing to take more than 50 percent of the responsibility.
* I know how upset/angry/disappointed you are, but it's not negotiable.
* We see things differently.
* I'm sure you see it that way.
* I'm sorry you're upset.

Handling Silence

But what about the person who blackmails through anger that is expressed covertly through sulks and suffering? When they say nothing, what can you say or do? For many targets, this silent anger is far more maddening and crazy than an overt attack. Sometimes it seems as if nothing works with this kind of blackmailer, and sometimes nothing does. But you'll have the most success if you stick to the principles of non defensive communication and stay conscious of the following do's and don'ts.

In dealing with silent blackmailers, DON'T:
  • Expect them to rake the first step toward resolving the conflict.
  • Plead with them to tell you what's wrong.
  • Keep after them for a response (which will only make them withdraw more).
  • Criticize, analyze or interpret their motives, character or inability to be direct.
  • Willingly accept blame for whatever they're upset about to get them into a better mood.
  • Allow them to change the Subject.
  • Get intimidated by the tension and anger in the air.
  • Let your frustration cause you to make threats you really don't mean (e.g., "If you don't tell me what's wrong, I'll never speak to you again").
  • Assume that if they ultimately apologize, it will be followed by any significant change in their behavior.
  • Expect major personality changes, even if they recognize what they're doing and are willing to work on it. Remember: Behavior can change. Personality styles usually don't.
DO use the following techniques:
  • Remember that you are dealing with people who feel inadequate and powerless and who are afraid of your ability to hurt or abandon them.
  • Confront them when they're more able to hear what you have to say. Consider writing a letter. It may feel less threatening to them.
  • Reassure them that they can tell you what they're angry about and you will hear them out without retaliating.
  • Use tact and diplomacy. This will reassure them that you won't exploit their vulnerabilities and bludgeon them with recriminations.
  • Say reassuring things like "I know you're angry right now, and I'll be willing to discuss this with you as soon as you're ready to talk about it," Then leave them alone. You'll only make them withdraw more if you don't.
  • Don't be afraid to tell them that their behavior is upsetting to you, but begin by expressing appreciation. For example: "Dad, I really care about you, and I think you're one of the smartest people I know, but it really bothers me when you clam up every time we disagree about something and just walk away is hurting our relationship, and I wonder if you would talk to me about that."
  • Stay focused on the issue you're upset about.
  • Expect to be attacked when you express a grievance, because they experience your assertion as an attack on them as an attack on them.
  • Let them know that you know they're angry and what you're willing to do about it. For example: "I'm sorry you 're upset because I don't want your folks to stay with us when they're in town, but I'm certainly willing to take the time to find a nice hotel for them and maybe pay for part of their vacation."
  • Accept the fact that you will have to make the first move most, if not all, of the time.
  • Let some things slide

These techniques are the only ones that have a chance to interrupt the pattern that's so typical of a silent, angry blackmailer, the cycle that goes "Look how upset I am, and it's all your fault. Now figure out what you did wrong and how you're going to make it up to me." I know how infuriating it is to have to be the rational one when you feel like strangling the other person, but it's the only way I know to create an atmosphere that will allow change to take place. Your hardest job will he to stay non defensive and to convince the quietly angry person that it's OK for them to be angry when they've spent lifetime believing just the opposite.

Information on this page comes from: Emotional Blackmail : When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation and Guilt to Manipulate You by Susan Forward, Susan Forware, Donna Frazier Price: $10.40 Paperback - 272 pages 1 Harper edition (March 1998) paperback) ISBN: 0060928972

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