Emotional blackmail is a form of emotional abuse. It’s a powerful type of manipulation where people directly, or indirectly, threaten to punish us for failing to do or give them what they want. It can occur between any two people, regardless of what kind of relationship they have. It can happen between friends, lovers, co-workers, or members of the family.
Emotional blackmail confuses us and plays on our doubts, fears, guilt, and sense of obligation. It exploits our feelings and causes us to feel lost. When emotional blackmailers go to work, it isn’t always easy to see things clearly or for what they are. Emotions are not rational things and emotional blackmail is a way others manipulate our feelings into controlling our actions.
Emotional Blackmail is Like a Heavy Fog
Fog is a perfect way to symbolize emotional blackmail. Our blackmailers turn up the pressure and can push us into a highly emotional state. They press our panic buttons. It’s hard to think clearly when we are in a state of high emotional distress. Our ability to reason or apply logic is muddied. It’s like driving down a dark road with a heavy fog. If you try to turn on the high beams to have better light, the light just bounces off the fog and you still can’t see. It’s hard for us to navigate through and the things we see are always obscured partially by the fog.
Fog is also a useful acronym for what emotional blackmail exploits against us: fear, obligation, and guilt. These are powerful emotions that drive a lot of our actions. We spend a good portion of our lives trying to reduce their impact on our lives. When we can’t, it can create a sense of strong discomfort, anxiety, and insecurity. This leaves us prime targets for emotional blackmail.
Fear & Emotional Blackmail
The things we fear are very personal. Our experiences shape what we fear and we respond accordingly. We avoid certain things, even run from them. We may have a strong emotional reaction or maybe our bodies just go rigid. We build our life and structure it so we can avoid what we fear the most.
It’s common for many people to fear being alone or seen as less by others. It is also fairly common for people to fear anger or making someone angry. All of these things can place in a moment of emotional stress.
Emotional blackmailers can pick up on our fears and use this knowledge to their advantage. They simultaneously put on the pressure onto these fears and also offer to relieve that tension if we give in to their demands.
Obligation & Emotional Blackmail
The majority of people are raised with a healthy sense of obligation. As young children, we start to form ideas on what obligation looks like from watching our parents and other adults in our lives. Our childhood experiences shape our values on what we feel we others and ourselves. It also helps us define what we see as ethical and what duties we should take on.
Emotional blackmailers push the boundaries of the give-and-take interactions most people are used to. They will seek to emphasize their role in your life, what they do for you, and how much they have sacrificed for you. They work hard to create a sense of obligation to them. They feel strongly that you owe them and they rely on your sense of that obligation to fulfill it.
The hard thing about the emotional IOU is that it is never-ending. Blackmailers will never allow the sense of debt to disappear, regardless of how much has been done. The blackmailer will continue to lean on that sense of duty.
Guilt & Emotional Blackmail
Guilt is a natural function that leads us to grow as people. It serves to keep our moral compass working. It forces us to re-evaluate our actions if we feel we have violated our own ethics. Guilt can be very helpful to us but it can also be harmful. Sometimes our sense of guilt is too sensitive. We take on too much and our guilt is undeserved. Undeserved guilt has very little to do with us actually have done anything to harm others but relies on us believing that we are responsible.
Emotional blackmailers can capitalize on our guilt. They try to make us believe that we have caused them harm. They make us feel responsible for the pain that they are in so they make it our job to fix it. These kinds of strategies are often effective because on top of creating guilt, it attacks our perception of ourselves that we are caring and supportive people.
Awareness Is the First Step to Stopping Emotional Blackmail
Emotional blackmail is something that usually creeps up on us. Our blackmailers start small and often we don’t always know what’s happening. Our turmoil confuses us. We are lost in that emotional fog. Learning about different kinds of emotional abuse, such as blackmail, is one of the first steps to being able to change what’s happening. If you feel that you have been a target of emotional blackmail, it’s important that you continue to learn more and seek support. Sometimes the support of our family and friends is enough but sometimes we need support from an impartial and professional source. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
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