Continuing to excavate territory that is often buried in subterfuge and misunderstanding, psychologist Forward (Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them) here turns her attention to relationships in which one person repeatedly manipulates another at the expense of not only the victim’s autonomy but of their well-being, self-respect and integrity. Labeling such behavior “”emotional blackmail,”” Forward describes who does it, how it’s done and the many ways and reasons people succumb to it. She encourages the “”targets”” to take responsibility for their own behavior and for their compliance with their blackmailers. Forward helps readers identify the steps of emotional blackmail (demand, resistance, pressure, threats, compliance and repetition), the types of blackmailers (punishers, self-punishers, sufferers and tantalizers) and the inner motivations of both parties involved. Providing the kind of gentle support that a good therapist offers clients face-to-face, the author leads readers through the necessary steps to clear the “”FOG”” (fear, obligation and guilt) that “”emotional bullies”” use, to stand up to their pressure and to carry out effective “”strategies… for ending emotional blackmail.”” Forward offers useful information, effective skills and the compassionate encouragement that victims of this kind of manipulative behavior need to change themselves, their relationships and their lives.
When in a dysfunctional cycle of emotional blackmail, the victim may be inclined to: apologize, plead, change plans to meet the others’ needs, cry, use logic, give in, or challenge. Typically, they will find it difficult to stand up for themselves, directly address the issue, set boundaries, and communicate with the blackmailer that the behavior is inappropriate. They do not consistently set clear boundaries indicating what is acceptable for them.
Forward and Frazier recognize four types of blackmailing, each with varying manipulation tactics.
- Punishers – Punishers operate with a need to get their way, regardless of the feelings or needs of the other person. Their motto is “my way or the highway.” Punishers will insist upon pushing for control and getting what they want with threats to inflict damage or harm.
- Self-punishers – Individuals can make threats of self-harm if the partner does not comply with what they want.
- Sufferers – this is the voice of a victim conveying guilt on the partner if they do not do what is demanded. If they don’t comply, there is a suggestion that their suffering will be the others’ fault. “After all that I’ve done for you, you are going to let me suffer…?”
- Tantalizers – This can be the most subtle and confusing form of manipulation. There is a promise of what will be better if they comply. It sparks hope yet is still connecting a threat to the demand.
Emotional blackmail is a dysfunctional form of manipulation that people use to place demands and threaten victims to get what they want. The undertone of emotional blackmail is if you don’t do what I want when I want it, you will suffer.
The term was introduced by Susan Forward, Ph.D., in her book Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You (Forward & Frazier, 1998).
She describes how emotional blackmail tactics are used by abusers to threaten in order to get what they want. In placing demands and threats, they create feelings of fear, guilt, and anger to solicit compliance from their victims. In doing so, they divert blame and responsibility to the victim for their own negative actions. Typically, this dysfunctional type of manipulation occurs in close relationships.
Emotional blackmail is a concept recently developed and one receiving increased attention. The #MeToo movement is bringing education and awareness around the dynamics of emotional abuse and its powerful negative impact. In this article, we explore the meaning behind emotional blackmail, examples of this manipulation, the damage that occurs from this emotional abuse, and ways to handle it.
Psychological abuse involves a person’s attempts to frighten, control, or isolate you. It’s in the abuser’s words and actions, as well as their persistence in these behaviors.
The abuser could be your spouse or other romantic partner. They could be your business partner, parent, or a caretaker.
Here are some examples:
- Name-calling. They’ll blatantly call you “stupid,” “a loser,” or words too awful to repeat here.
- Derogatory “pet names.” This is just more name-calling in not-so-subtle disguise. “My little knuckle dragger” or “My chubby pumpkin” aren’t terms of endearment.
- Character assassination. This usually involves the word “always.” You’re always late, wrong, screwing up, disagreeable, and so on. Basically, they say you’re not a good person.
- Yelling. Yelling, screaming, and swearing are meant to intimidate and make you feel small and inconsequential. It might be accompanied by fist-pounding or throwing things.
- Patronizing. “Aw, sweetie, I know you try, but this is just beyond your understanding.”
- Public embarrassment. They pick fights, expose your secrets, or make fun of your shortcomings in public.
- Dismissiveness. You tell them about something that’s important to you and they say it’s nothing. Body language like eye-rolling, smirking, headshaking, and sighing help convey the same message.
- “Joking.” The jokes might have a grain of truth to them or be a complete fabrication. Either way, they make you look foolish.
- Sarcasm. Often just a dig in disguise. When you object, they claim to have been teasing and tell you to stop taking everything so seriously.
- Insults of your appearance. They tell you, just before you go out, that your hair is ugly or your outfit is clownish.
- Belittling your accomplishments. Your abuser might tell you that your achievements mean nothing, or they may even claim responsibility for your success.
- Put-downs of your interests. They might tell you that your hobby is a childish waste of time or you’re out of your league when you play sports. Really, it’s that they’d rather you not participate in activities without them.
- Pushing your buttons. Once your abuser knows about something that annoys you, they’ll bring it up or do it every chance they get.
Tools of the shame and control game include:
- Threats. Telling you they’ll take the kids and disappear, or saying “There’s no telling what I might do.”
- Monitoring your whereabouts. They want to know where you are all the time and insist that you respond to calls or texts immediately. They might show up just to see if you’re where you’re supposed to be.
- Digital spying. They might check your internet history, emails, texts, and call log. They might even demand your passwords.
- Unilateral decision-making. They might close a joint bank account, cancel your doctor’s appointment, or speak with your boss without asking.
- Financial control. They might keep bank accounts in their name only and make you ask for money. You might be expected to account for every penny you spend.
- Lecturing. Belaboring your errors with long monologues makes it clear they think you’re beneath them.
- Direct orders. From “Get my dinner on the table now” to “Stop taking the pill,” orders are expected to be followed despite your plans to the contrary.
- Outbursts. You were told to cancel that outing with your friend or put the car in the garage, but didn’t, so now you have to put up with a red-faced tirade about how uncooperative you are.
- Treating you like a child. They tell you what to wear, what and how much to eat, or which friends you can see.
- Feigned helplessness. They may say they don’t know how to do something. Sometimes it’s easier to do it yourself than to explain it. They know this and take advantage of it.
- Unpredictability. They’ll explode with rage out of nowhere, suddenly shower you with affection, or become dark and moody at the drop of a hat to keep you walking on eggshells.
- They walk out. In a social situation, stomping out of the room leaves you holding the bag. At home, it’s a tool to keep the problem unresolved.
- Using others. Abusers may tell you that “everybody” thinks you’re crazy or “they all say” you’re wrong.
- Jealousy. They accuse you of flirting or cheating on them.
- Turning the tables. They say you cause their rage and control issues by being such a pain.
- Denying something you know is true. An abuser will deny that an argument or even an agreement took place. This is called gaslighting. It’s meant to make you question your own memory and sanity.
- Using guilt. They might say something like, “You owe me this. Look at all I’ve done for you,” in an attempt to get their way.
- Goading then blaming. Abusers know just how to upset you. But once the trouble starts, it’s your fault for creating it.
- Denying their abuse. When you complain about their attacks, abusers will deny it, seemingly bewildered at the very thought of it.
- Accusing you of abuse. They say you’re the one who has anger and control issues and they’re the helpless victim.
- Trivializing. When you want to talk about your hurt feelings, they accuse you of overreacting and making mountains out of molehills.
- Saying you have no sense of humor. Abusers make personal jokes about you. If you object, they’ll tell you to lighten up.
- Blaming you for their problems. Whatever’s wrong in their life is all your fault. You’re not supportive enough, didn’t do enough, or stuck your nose where it didn’t belong.
- Destroying and denying. They might crack your cell phone screen or “lose” your car keys, then deny it.
- Demanding respect. No perceived slight will go unpunished, and you’re expected to defer to them. But it’s a one-way street.
- Shutting down communication. They’ll ignore your attempts at conversation in person, by text, or by phone.
- Dehumanizing you. They’ll look away when you’re talking or stare at something else when they speak to you.
- Keeping you from socializing. Whenever you have plans to go out, they come up with a distraction or beg you not to go.
- Trying to come between you and your family. They’ll tell family members that you don’t want to see them or make excuses why you can’t attend family functions.
- Withholding affection. They won’t touch you, not even to hold your hand or pat you on the shoulder. They may refuse sexual relations to punish you or to get you to do something.
- Tuning you out. They’ll wave you off, change the subject, or just plain ignore you when you want to talk about your relationship.
- Actively working to turn others against you. They’ll tell co-workers, friends, and even your family that you’re unstable and prone to hysterics.
- Calling you needy. When you’re really down and out and reach out for support, they’ll tell you you’re too needy or the world can’t stop turning for your little problems.
- Interrupting. You’re on the phone or texting and they get in your face to let you know your attention should be on them.
- Indifference. They see you hurt or crying and do nothing.
- Disputing your feelings. Whatever you feel, they’ll say you’re wrong to feel that way or that’s not really what you feel at all.
What I regularly tell clients with such fears is that if they’re not yet ready to bring something up, then—by all means—don’t. But I also assure them that chances are that when they’re ready to disclose their zealously guarded secret, they’ll likely discover they’re actually not opening a can of worms at all (and certainly not some evil-saturated Pandora’s Box!). That is, I let them know that their willingness to divulge something which up till now has felt too dangerous to go public with, will probably defuse it. That the toxic energy so long attached to it will probably be released—at long last, discharged.
Almost invariably, when clients do evolve the mental and emotional strength to share the narrative of that which has saddled them with exaggerated feelings of anxiety, sorrow, guilt, or shame, the residual negative impact of that situation is greatly reduced. For they can then be helped to understand what they did—or what happened to them—in a new, more realistic, and substantially more favorable light. And once that event (or series of events) has been freshly illuminated, its wounding to their sense of self can begin to heal. Now they can recognize how their original, negatively distorted interpretation of what transpired seriously compromised their self-image. Continue reading “Can of Worms? Pandora’s Box? Divulging Your Dark Secrets”
“..[The] disclosure of the incest secret initiates a profound crisis for the family usually…the abuse has been going on for a number of years and has become an integral part of family life. Disclosure disrupts whatever fragile equilibrium has been maintained, jeopardizes the functioning of all family members, increases the likelihood of violent and desperate behavior, and places everyone, but particularly the daughter, at risk for retaliation.”
“Through an intensive clinical study of forty incest victims and numerous interviews with professionals in mental health, child protection, and law enforcement, Judith Herman develops a composite picture of the incestuous family. In a new afterword written especially for this edition, Herman offers an overview of the knowledge that has developed about incest and other forms of sexual abuse since this book was first published. Reviewing the extensive research literature that demonstrates the validity of incest survivors’ sometimes repressed and recovered memories, she convincingly challenges the rhetoric and methods of the backlash movement against incest survivors, and the concerted attempt to deny the events they find the courage to describe.”–Jacket Continue reading “The incestuous family”
We’ve all been burned by psychopaths largely because we fell for their lies and their lines. The better informed people are with their techniques of deception, the more they can recognize them and protect themselves against them. A psychopath gets you within his power largely through deception. As Cleckley noted in The Mask of Sanity, the main reason why people are easily taken in by their lies is not because the lies themselves are that convincing, but because of the psychopaths’ effective rhetorical strategies. What are those?
1. Glibness and Charm. We’ve already seen that these are two of the main personality traits of psychopaths.
2. Analogies and Metaphors. Because their facts are so often fabrications, psychopaths often rely upon analogies and metaphors to support their false or manipulative statements.
3. Slander. A psychopath often slanders others, to discredit them and invalidate their truth claims. He projects his faults and misdeeds upon those he hurts. To establish credibility, he often maligns his wife or girlfriend, attributing the failure of his relationship to her faults or misdeeds rather than his own.
4. Circumlocution. When you ask a psychopath a straightforward question that requires a straightforward answer, he usually goes round and round in circles or talks about something else altogether. .
5. Evasion. Relatedly, psychopaths can be very evasive. When you ask a psychopath a specific question, he will sometimes answer in general terms, talking about humanity, or men, or women, or whatever: anything but his own self and actions, which is what you were inquiring about in the first place.
6. Pointing Fingers at Others. When you accuse a psychopath of wrongdoing, he’s likely to tell you that another person is just as bad as him or that humanity in general is. The first point may or may not be true. At any rate, it’s irrelevant.
7. Fabrication of Details. In The Postmodern Condition, Jean-François Lyotard shows how offering a lot of details makes a lie sound much more plausible. When you give a vague answer, your interlocutor is more likely to sense evasion and pursue her inquiries.
8. Playing upon your Emotions. Very often, when confronted with alternative accounts of what happened, psychopaths play upon your emotions. They’re as dangerous to their partners as any hard drug is likely to be. If their partners know about their harmful actions and about their personality disorder, then at least they’re willingly assuming the risk. Everyone has the right to make choices in life, including the very risky one of staying with a psychopath. But at least they should make informed choices, so that they know whom they’re choosing and are prepared for the negative consequences of their decision.
Deception constitutes a very entertaining game for psychopaths. They use one victim to lie to another. They use both victims to lie to a third. They spin their web of mind-control upon all those around them. They encourage antagonisms or place distance among the people they deceive, so that they won’t compare notes and discover the lies. Often they blend in aspects of the truth with the lies, to focus on that small grain of truth if they’re caught. The bottom line remains that psychopaths are malicious sophists. It really doesn’t matter how often they lie or how often they tell the truth. Psychopaths use both truth and lies instrumentally, to persuade others to accept their false and self-serving version of reality and to get them under their control. For this reason, it’s pointless to try to sort out the truth from the lies. As M. L. Gallagher, a contributor to the website lovefraud.com has eloquently remarked, psychopaths themselves are the lie. From hello to goodbye, from you’re beautiful to you’re ugly, from you’re the woman of my life to you mean nothing to me, from beginning to end, the whole relationship with a psychopath is one big lie.
Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness Continue reading “Dangerous Mind Games”
Emotional Blackmail – A system of threats and punishments used in an attempt to control someone’s behaviors.
Misusing the Keys to Our Hearts
In a nutshell, emotional blackmail is a psychological-emotional ransom note that says, “if you don’t do what I want then I will make you hurt”.
In order for emotional blackmail to occur there must be four things present – a demand, a threat, a blackmailer and a victim.
The Demand – Emotional blackmailers demand something the victim does not want to give, in an attempt to gain the upper hand where there are conflicting interests or wants.
In general the blackmailer is usually asking for something which the victim regards as unreasonable and which the blackmailer believes they can get – if they apply enough pressure. For this reason emotional blackmail patterns are often cyclical – with both the blackmailer and the victim learning over time what level of demand will be tolerated without retribution and what degree of blackmail it takes for the victim to comply.
The Threat – The blackmailer may threaten to hurt the victim directly, or more commonly threaten to hurt something or someone the victim cares about. This could take the form of damaging or destroying their reputation, an object, an agreement, a relationship or a trust. Blackmailers may also threaten to hurt themselves to pressure a victim into compliance.
The Blackmailer – Although an emotional blackmailer is fighting for control over their victim, they often have little control over themselves. They may feel desperate inside and justify their actions as a means to an end of soothing their own desperate internal pain. In some cases, an emotional blackmailer may not always realize the extent of the hurt they are inflicting on their victim (and ultimately on themselves). They may not be able or willing to “snap out of it” and change their behavior.
The Victim – In order for emotional blackmail to work there has to be a willing victim – a person who is willing to sacrifice their principles, values, goals and boundaries to “keep the peace”, “turn the other cheek” and give in to the demands. Victims are often bridge builders – people who have compassion or pity on the blackmailer and are willing to go the extra mile for them. Victims may have low self-esteem of their own and be generally afraid to stand up for their own ideas and principles. They are caught in a vicious cycle as each time they yield something important to the abuser they suffer a loss of their own self-esteem and begin to feel more powerless, hopeless and trapped in their situation.
In their book, Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You, authors Susan Forward & Donna Frazier invent the acronym FOG, standing for Fear, Obligation, Guilt – feelings which often result from being exposed to emotional blackmail when in a relationship with a person who suffers from a Personality Disorder.
What it looks like
What NOT to do
What TO do
Related Personality Disorders: