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"Author bio and credits: Susan Forward, Ph.D., is an internationally acclaimed therapist, lecturer, and author. Her books include the #1 NY Times bestsellers 'Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them' and 'Toxic Parents', as well as 'Obsessive Love', 'Betrayal of Innocence', and 'Money Demons'. She lives in Los Angeles.
Author's Big Thought:
Emotional blackmail is a powerful form of manipulation in which people close to us threaten to punish us for not doing what they want. Emotional blackmailers know how much we value our relationships with them. They know our vulnerabilities and our deepest secrets. They can be our parents or partners, bosses or coworkers, friends or lovers. No matter how much they care about us, they use this intimate knowledge to win our compliance. This book offers a method to break this cycle for good by giving blackmail targets the tools they need and steps they can take.
Emotional blackmail is a powerful form of manipulation in which people who are close to us threaten, either directly or indirectly, to punish us to get what they want. Knowing that we want love or approval, blackmailers threaten to withhold it or take it away altogether, or make us feel we must earn it. If you believe the blackmailer, you could fall into a pattern of letting him/her control your decisions and behavior.
Blackmailers create a thick 'fog ' that obscures their actions. FOG is a shorthand way of referring to fear, Obligation and Guilt. Blackmailers pump up an engulfing FOG into their relationships, ensuring that we feel afraid to cross them, obligated to give them their way and terribly guilty if we don't.
Blackmail takes two: it is a transaction. Following clarity comes change. It's easy to focus on other people's behavior and to think that if they change things will be fine. The change has to begin with the blackmail target. Our compliance rewards the blackmailer, and every time we reward someone for a particular action, whether we realize it or not, we're letting them know in the strongest possible terms that they can do it again. The price we pay when we repeatedly give in to emotional blackmail is enormous. It eats away at us and escalates until it puts our most important relationships and our whole sense of self-respect in jeopardy.
PART 1: UNDERSTANDING THE BLACKMAIL TRANSACTION
Diagnosis: Emotional blackmail
The issues may differ, but the tactics and actions will be the same, and clearly recognizable.
1 A demand: it may be direct or indirect and may not even sound like a demand until the blackmailer is set in the course of action and is not willing to discuss or change it.
2 Resistance from the target.
Manipulation becomes emotional blackmail when it is used repeatedly to coerce us into complying with the blackmailers demands, at the expense of our own wishes and well being. When you see other people are trying to get their own way regardless of the cost to you, you're looking at the bottom-line of the emotional blackmailer. There is little interest in compromise or conflict resolution.
The Four faces of Blackmail
Punishers let us know exactly what they ant, and the consequences we'll face if we don't give it to them, are the most glaring. They may express themselves aggressively or they may smolder in silence, but either way, the anger is always aimed directly at us. The closer the relationship, the higher the stakes and the more vulnerable we are to punishers. When blackmail escalates, the threatened consequences of not acceding to a punisher can be alarming: abandonment, emotional cutoff, withdrawal of money or other resources. Explosive anger directed at us. And, at the most terrifying extreme, threats of physical ham,
Self-punishers turn the threats inward threatening what the will do to themselves if they don't get their way. High drama, hysteria and an air of crisis (precipitated by you, of course) surround self-punishers, who are often excessively needy and dependent. They often enmesh themselves with those around them and struggle with taking responsibility with their own lives. The ultimate threat self-punishers can make is frightening in the extreme: It's a suggestion that they will kill themselves.
Sufferers are talented blamers and guilt-peddlers who make us figure out what they want, and always conclude that it is up to us to ensure they get it. Sufferers take the position that if they feel miserable, sick, unhappy, or are just plain unlucky, there's only one solution: our giving them what they want ' even if they haven't told us what it is. They let us know, in no uncertain terms, that if you don't do what they want, they will suffer and it will be your fault. Sufferers are pre-occupied with how awful they feel, and often they interpret your inability to read their mind as proof that you don't care enough about them.
Tantalizers put us through a series of test and hold out a promise of something wonderful if we'll just give them their way. They are the subtlest blackmailers. They encourage us and promise love or money or career advancement, and then make it clear that unless we behave, as they want us to, we don't get the prize. Every seductively wrapped package has a web of strings attached. Many tantalizers traffic in emotional payoffs, castles in the air full of love, acceptance, family closeness and healed wounds. Admission to this rich, unblemished fantasy requires only one thing: giving in to what the tantalizer wants.
Each type of blackmailer operates with a different vocabulary, and each gives a different spin to the demands, pressure, threats and negative judgments that go into blackmail. There are no firm boundaries between the styles of blackmail, as they can be combined.
A Blinding FOG
Emotional blackmail flourishes in a cloud just below the surface of our understanding. Our judgment becomes hazy. In the midst of the FOG we're desperate to know: How did I get into this' How do I get out' How do I make these difficult feelings stop' When blackmailers pressure us, there is practically no time between feeling discomfort and acting to get relief.
The Real F-Word: Fear
Blackmailers build their conscious and unconscious strategies on the information we give them about what we fear. The blackmailers fear of not getting what they want becomes so intense that they become tightly focused, able to see the outcome they want in exquisite detail but unable to take their eyes of the goal long enough to see how their actions are affecting us. At that point, the information they've gathered about us in the course of the relationship becomes ammunition for driving home a deal that's fed on both sides by fear., One of the most painful parts of emotional blackmail is that it violates the trust that has allowed us to reveal ourselves.
Often our ideas about duty and obligation are reasonable, and they form an ethical and moral foundation for our lives. Sometimes these are out of balance. Blackmailers never hesitate to put our sense of obligation to the test. Reluctance to break up a family keeps many people in relationships that have gone sour.' Most of us have a terrible time defining our boundaries ' when our sense of obligation is stronger than our sense of self-respect and self-caring; blackmailers quickly learn to take advantage.
Guilt is an essential part of being a feeling, responsible person. It's a tool of conscience., in its distorted form, registers discomfort and self-reproach if we've done something to violate our personal or social code of ethics. One of the fastest ways for blackmailers to create undeserved guilt is to use blame, actively attributing whatever upset or problems they're having to their targets. Once blackmailers see that their target's guilt can serve them, time becomes irrelevant. There is no statute of limitations.' Guilt is the blackmailer's neutron bomb. It can leave relationships standing, but it wears away the trust and intimacy that makes us want to be with them.
Tools of the Trade
The tools are a constant that runs through the endlessly varied scenarios of emotional blackmail, and all blackmailers, no matter what their style, use one or more of them.
Blackmailers see our conflicts with them as reflections of how misguided and off base we are, while they describe themselves as wise and well intentioned. They let us know that they ought to win because the outcome they want is more loving, more open, more mature. Any resistance on our parts is transformed from an indication of our needs to evidence of our flaws. In addition to discrediting the perceptions of their targets, many blackmailers turn up the pressure by challenging or character, motives, and worth. We may be labeled heartless, worthless or selfish in any relationship with a blackmailer, but those labels are especially difficult to withstand when they're coming from a parent who can wipe out our confidence faster than anyone else.
Some blackmailers tell us that we're resisting them only because we're ill or crazy. This is called pathologizing. The experience of being pathologized can be a devastating blow to our confidence and sense of self and is therefore an especially toxic and effective tool.
Pathologizing often arises in love relationships when there's an imbalance of desires ' more love, more time, more attention, more commitment ' when it's not forthcoming, he/she questions our ability to love. Like the spin, pathologizing makes us unsure about our memories, our judgments=, our intelligence, and our character. With pathologizing the stakes are higher, and can make us doubt our sanity.
When single-handed attempts at blackmail are effective, blackmailers call in reinforcements (family members, friends), to make their case for them and to prove that they are right. They may turn to a higher authority such as the bible.
Blackmailers often hold up another person as a model, a flawless ideal against which we fall short. Negative comparisons make us feel suddenly deficient. We react competitively.
The Inner World of the Blackmailer
Emotional blackmailers hate to lose. Blackmailers can't tolerate frustration. To the blackmailer, frustration is connected to deep, resonant fears of loss and deprivation, and they experience it as a warning that unless they take immediate action they'll face intolerable consequences. These convictions may be rooted in a lengthy history of feeling anxious and insecure. Complementing and reinforcing possible genetic factors are powerful messages from our caretakers and society about whom we are and how we are supposed to behave. Blackmailers believe that they can compensate for some of the frustrations of the past by changing the current reality.
The potential for blackmail rises dramatically during such crises as a separation or divorce, loss of a job, illness and retirement, which undermine blackmailers' sense of themselves as valuable people. Often people who have had everything and have been overprotected and indulged have had little opportunity to develop confidence in their ability to handle any kind of loss. At the first hint that they might be deprived, they panic, and shore themselves up with blackmail.
Usually blackmailers focus totally on their needs, their desires; they don't seem to be the least bit interested in our needs or how their pressure is affecting us. They often behave as though each disagreement is the make-or-break factor in the relationship.
Blackmailers frequently win with tactics that create an insurmountable rift in the relationship. Yet the short-term victory often appears to be enough of a triumph ' as if there were no future to consider. Most blackmailers operate from an I-want-what-I want-when-I-want it mind-set. Any logic or ability to see the consequences of their actions is obscured by the urgency blackmailers feel to hold on to what they have.
The most important thing to take away from the tour of a blackmailer's psyche is that emotional blackmailer sounds like it's all about you and feels like it's all about you, but for the most part it's not about you at all. Instead it flows from and tries to stabilize some fairly insecure places inside the blackmailer. Many times it has more to do with the past than the present, and it's more concerned with filling the blackmailer's needs than with anything the blackmailer says we did or didn't do.
It takes two
Blackmail cannot work without the target's active participation. The target gives it permission to occur. You may be aware of the blackmail but feel as though you can't resist it, because the blackmailer's pressure sets off almost programmed responses in you, and you're reacting automatically or impulsively.
Blackmailers may be aware of your hot buttons. Faced with resistance, blackmailers' fear of deprivation kicks in and they use every bit of information to ensure that they prevail. The protective qualities that we have that open us up to emotional blackmail are:
• An excessive need for approval
• An intense fear of anger
• A need for peace at any price
• A tendency to take too much responsibility for other people's lives
• A high level of self-doubt
When kept in balance and alternated with other behavior, none of these styles dooms you to the status of 'preferred target' of an emotional blackmailer. Emotional blackmailing takes training and practice. Emotional blackmailers take their cues from our responses to their testing, and they learn from both what we do and what we don't do.
The Impact of Blackmail
Emotional blackmail may not be life threatening but it robs us of our integrity. Integrity is that place inside where our values and our moral compass reside, clarifying what right and wrong for us.
• We let ourselves down
• A vicious cycle ensues
• Rationalizing and justifying
The impact on our well being:
• Mental health
• Physical pain as a warning
We may betray others to placate the blackmailer. It sucks the safety out of the relationship. We may shut down and constrict emotional generosity.
PART 2: TURNING UNDERSTANDING INTO ACTION
To change, we need to know what we have to do and then we have to act. If you're willing to take action now and let your feelings of confidence and competence catch up with you, you can end emotional blackmail.
The first Step:
Three simple tools:
1 A contract
2 A power statement: I CAN STAND IT
3 A set of self-affirming phrases
Step One -: Stop
You don't make a decision about how to respond the moment a demand is made. Give yourself time to think.
Step two: Become an Observer
Gather the information you need to respond to the blackmailer.
Understand what really happening:
What are you thinking'
What are you feeling'
What are your flashpoints'
Keep observing until you begin to make connections between your beliefs, feelings, and behavior.
A Time for decision
There are three categories of demands:
1 The demand is no big deal.
2 The demand involves important issues, and your integrity is on the line.
3 The demand involves a major life issues, and/or by giving in would be harmful to you or others. ' Stretch out your decision making process, carefully considering how much each option will affect your life and your integrity.
When you make decisions based on criteria that are your own rather than the blackmailers, you have dealt a crippling blow to the emotional blackmail cycle.
For relationships that are physically abusive, don't go it alone.
Strategy 1: Non-defensive communication
Do not defend or explain your decision or yourself in response to pressure. Use phrases like: I'm sorry you are so upset, Really' I can understand how you might see it that way. Without fuel from the target, the blackmail attempts that worked so well in the past fizzle.
Choose time and place carefully. lay down conditions for the meeting announce decision and stand by it ' offer a suggestion that they nor respond immediately.
Anticipate their answers. Practice or role play.
The book provides suggestions on how to respond to the person's:
1 Catastrophic predictions and threats
2 Name-calling, labeling and negative judgments.
3 The deadly whys and hows ' demanding explanations and a rationale for your decision.
For silent angry people, stay non-defensive.
Strategy 2: Enlisting the blackmailer as an ally
When emotional blackmail reaches an impasse, it's often helpful to shift the conversation by involving the other person in your problem-solving process. Approach with curiosity and a willingness to learn. Use the 'wonder tool'. 'I wonder what would happen if'?
Strategy 3: Bartering
When you want another person to change his or her behavior, and at the same time you acknowledge that you need to make changes of your own, barter may be in order. It's win/win. It enables resentments to be put to one side.
Strategy 4: Using Humor
In a relationship that is basically good, humor can be an effective tool for pointing out to the other person how their behavior looks to you.
Related articles on this subject at couples company"
Verbal assault includes berating, belittling, criticizing, humiliating, name-calling, screaming, threatening, excessive blaming, shaming, using sarcasm in a cutting way, or expressing disgust toward the person. This kind of abuse is extremely damaging to a person's self-esteem and self-image. Just as assuredly as physical violence assaults the body, verbal abuse assaults the mind and spirit, causing wounds that are extremely difficult to heal. Yelling and screaming is not only demeaning but frightening as well. When someone yells at us, we become afraid that he or she may also resort to physical violence.
When you have abusive expectations, you place unreasonable demands on your partner. For example, expecting a partner to put aside everything in order to satisfy your needs, demanding a partner's undivided attention, demanding constant sex, or requiring a partner to spend all of his or her time with you are all examples of abusive expectations. A partner with abusive expectations can never be pleased because there is always something more you could have done. You are likely to be subjected to constant criticism and to be berated because you don't fulfill his or her needs.
Emotional blackmail is one of the most powerful forms of manipulation. It occurs when one partner either consciously or unconsciously coerces the other into doing what he wants by playing on his partner's fear, guilt, or compassion. Examples of emotional blackmail include one partner threatening to end a relationship if he doesn't get what he wants and one partner rejecting or distancing herself from her partner until he gives in to her demands. If you partner withholds sex or affection or gives you the silent treatment or the cold shoulder whenever he is displeased with you, threatens to find someone else, or uses other fear tactics to get you under control, he is using the tactic of emotional blackmail.
The term comes from the classic movie Gaslight, in which a husband uses a variety of insidious techniques to make his wife doubt her perceptions, her memory, and her very sanity. A partner who does this may continually deny that certain events occurred or that he or she said something you both know was said, or he or she may insinuate that you are exaggerating or lying. In this way, the abusive person may be trying to gain control over you or to avoid taking responsibility for his or her actions. This is one of the forms of emotional abuse that is done very consciously and deliberately. It is sometimes used by those who need to discredit their partner in order to get access to his or her money, in order to turn others against him or her, or as a way to justify their own inappropriate, cruel, or abusive behaviour. In the movie, the husband needed to make his wife and others to think she was insane in order to get access to her money.
Overt and Covert Abuse
A pattern of emotional abuse occurs on both an overt and a covert level. Overt abuse is openly demeaning.
Covert emotional abuse is subtler than overt abuse, but no less devastating. When the wife gives her husband contemptuous looks when he tells her they can't afford something, when she offhandedly suggests that maybe some other man might buy it for her, she is being covertly abusive.
Intentional and Unintentional Abuse
Many experts would add that another way of deciding if a behavior is emotionally abusive is whether or not it is intentional. In fact, when most clinicians refer to emotional abuse, they usually mean intentional abuse. While some partners deliberately use words, gestures, silence, or scare tactics to manipulate or control their partner, many do so without conscious intent. This is particularly true when one or both partners are repeating his or her parents' behavior. [...]Definition of emotional abuse [...] includes any behavior or attitude that emotionally damages another person, regardless of whether there is conscious intent to do so.
Many abusers are totally unaware that their attitude and/or behavior is abusive. This doesn't, however, make their behavior any less destructive or damaging to their partner or the relationship. Even those who are ware they are being abusive often do so in a desperate attempt to gain a feeling of control in their lives. Add to this the fact that we can all become emotionally abusive given the right circumstances, and we can see that emotional abusers are not necessarily horrible people at all. Most people who emotionally abuse others were themselves emotionally abused and are merely reenacting what was done to them. However, this doesn't make their actions, attitudes, or words hurt any less nor does it make them any less damaging.
Certainly, some people deliberately and maliciously set out to destroy their partner. But most people who emotionally abuse their partner do so either unconsciously or as a way of surviving the stress of an emotional relationship. When our first experiences of intimacy were fraught with fear, abandonment, humiliation, or smothering, we can't help but repeat these behaviors when we become adults and enter into intimate relationships. Most people initially felt love feelings for their partner, otherwise they wouldn't have chosen to be with him or her. But those love feelings can be destroyed by feelings of anger when our hopes are dashed, when our partner fails to meet our expectations, or when we come to feel rejected, betrayed, or abandoned by our partner.
To complicate things, sometimes we become emotionally abusive because we love our partners so much or because we are insecure. This is particularly true of those who "love too much" and those who tend to lose themselves in their relationships. Sometimes our love becomes distorted by our feelings of insecurity and our fear of abandonment. This is the often the case with those who become overly controlling and overly smothering of their partner. Others become emotionally abusive because of their fear of intimacy.
Even intentional abuse is not always malicious. In the heat of passion we are all guilty of wanting to hurt our partner (OMG!! I don't know if I can agree to this.) If our partner has hurt us, we want him or her to hurt, too. We may deliberately say something hurtful even though we know the effect it will have. We may threaten to leave, knowing it will cause our partner to become insecure. Or we may give our partner the silent treatment or withhold affection or sex in the hope that he or she will suffer from our rejection. Although these are all forms of intentional emotional abuse, even the most loving person is guilty of these actions from time to time (really?!)
Again, it does not become emotional abuse unless there is a clear and consistent pattern.
There is another form of intentional abuse that is more insidious and far more damaging. I call this malevolent (lethal) abuse. Malevolent abuse is abuse that is not only intentional but deliberately undermining. It is when one partner is bent on undermining on even destroying the other, when one partner is so angry or envious or so full of hate that he deliberately and maliciously sets out to sabotage a partner's success, health, or happiness.
Personality traits that set one up for abuse
- strong desire to avoid confrontation
- tendency to pretend things are better than they are
- tendency to feel responsible for others
- tendency to blame oneself for problems in a relationship
- fear of being alone
- tendency to doubt oneself, including one's perceptions
- tendency to make excuses for another's behavior
- tendency to be naive about others and to believe that love makes one a better person
Confront your partner on his or her abusive behavior
Role play these strategies with a friend or counselor before you try them with your partner, especially if you tend to become overwhelmed, frightened, or tongue-tied when he or she is being abusive. If you don't have someone with whom to practice, you can put an empty chair in front of you and imagine that your partner is sitting in it. This will help you get over some of your fears about confronting him or her and will make you more confident about what you want to say. The following suggestions will further prepare you for your confrontations:
- Be sure to speak clearly and firmly. Hold your head up high and look directly into your partner's eyes.
- Make sure your feet are firmly planted on the ground, whether you are standing or sitting.
- Take a deep breath before beginning your confrontation and make sure your eyes are clear and that you are in the present. (Often emotional or verbal abuse can trigger childhood memories and catapult you into the past.)
There are two ways to confront. You can sit down with your partner and have a talk with him about the fact that he is being inappropriate or disrespectful toward you, or you can call him on his behavior or attitude the next time he is abusive. The way you choose to go about confronting your partner will have a lot to do with the status of your relationship. If you and your partner are still emotionally close a great deal of the time and are still able to communicate with one another over most issues, approach number one--a serious discussion--may be the best choice. This approach will be especially effective if you have not confronted him on his abusive behavior in the past. If, on the other hand, you have confronted him before and he has ignored you or insisted that you are making too much of it, then you may need to try the second approach and confront him whenever he commits the abusive behavior. This is also the best approach for couples who have grown distant and noncommunicative.
If you are in a relatively new relationship and have begun to see warning signs of emotional or verbal abuse, a serious discussion with your partner is probably the best approach. Many people are simply unaware that their behavior is abusive. if he is young or has little to no experience in a long-term relationship, he may simply be repeating one or both parents' behavior without being aware of how it affects his partner. Even if a person has been in previous relationships, their past partners may have put up with the abuse without saying anything or may have blamed themselves for their partner's behavior, never realizing that they were being abused.
"Unable to get our own way, often we settle for trying to prevent other people from getting their way." Sheldon Kopp, What Took You So Long?
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