Are You an Emotional Blackmailer?

Are You an Emotional Blackmailer?

When I asked a person if they have been engaged Emotional Blackmail (EB), or fallen victim to emotional blackmail, many times I get a very strange look. What I have come to understand is that many people do not understand the meaning of emotional blackmail.

The first book I read on EB was approximately 20 years ago by Susan Forward, Ph.D. The term Emotional Blackmail is used to describe the words or actions of people that create fear, obligation, and guilt to manipulate people into doing things that they normally would not do. Unfortunately, we observe many instances of emotional blackmail in our world today. For example, if your friend doesn’t agree with your social or economic views, you may be emotionally blackmailed by your friend to believe that your views are selfish, and your perspective may be the death blow to the financial well being of others.

We know that one person’s perspective is not the all-in-all to financial prosperity for people, it is much more complicated than that. But if you feel guilty for your feelings and perspective, then you may feel forced to be accepted by your emotional blackmailer and express different thoughts, contrary to how you truly feel. This is how easy it is to fall victim to and be manipulated with emotional blackmail.

I have always felt that education on emotional blackmail should be a prerequisite in middle school, when bullying is at an all time high. Bullying is an extreme state of emotional blackmail. It is emotional blackmail to do intentional and direct harm to others.

For a mild example of emotional blackmail, take my mother.

I had the greatest mom that ever lived and many of the readers of this blog, would say the same about their mom. But if mom wanted me to do something she would say something like, “Are you going to go to the family gathering Sunday, everyone really wants to see you.” No matter how busy I was, and how many plates I was twirling in the air, when my mother made a statement like this, 99% of the time I did what she was wanting me to do. I just did not want to disappoint my Mom, and experience the feelings of being an uncaring daughter. Mom definitely had influence on my life, and most often she could get the response she wanted out of me. When she did not, I knew deep down she loved me regardless and I was not left feeling bad.

The fact is, we all practice emotional blackmail to some degree. Many times we do it without even thinking about it. Feeling frustrated to get my children to brush their teeth at least two times a day, I would sometimes tell my kids if they did not brush their teeth at night, all their teeth are going to rot and fall out. Of course, I knew that missing one night of brushing their teeth was not going to cause them to lose their teeth. But that was my emotional blackmail to make them feel guilty, fearful, or worry that they were going to be walking around without any teeth in their mouth, and look very strange. Explaining the benefits to healthy mouth hygiene would be a much better alternative without this mommy manipulation.

It is said that every action has a reaction; emotional blackmail is a manipulative action that causes a negative response from the recipient. I challenge you to go through the next week and notice your words, and reflect to see if your words are saying something that would result in another person feeling guilty, worried, fearful. Could what you are saying be emotional blackmail?

It is important that leaders understand that EB is not an effective way to lead people. For example, telling an employee that if they don’t work late and do this extra work they are going to get fired, is definitely manipulative and creates fear and anxiety. This type of emotional blackmail is toxic to an organization and eats away at all trust between the leader and the employee. It clearly doesn’t position the leader, as a person who is caring about other people.

It’s always a great time to take the opportunity to discuss emotional blackmail openly to keep our minds sensitive to this type of behavior. EB is not something we want to model in our lives and teach our children.

Individuals on the receiving end of EB, also need to be made aware of how to handle an emotional blackmailer in their lives. Emotional blackmailers are emotionally damaging and create unnecessary hardships for people. Understanding all aspects of emotional blackmail is very important in people’s lives.

Let’s be cognizant of this type of behavior, and not be or fall victim to an emotional blackmail in our life!

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