Many people are victims of emotional blackmail and do not even realize it. Emotional blackmail is when others try to hold us responsible for how they will feel if we do not do what they want. “Sure, go out with your friends and leave me here all alone with nothing to do.” “You want to go back to work and become one of those career women who doesn’t care about her husband or children anymore?” “If you really love me, you’ll know what to do.”
People who use emotional blackmail are those who wish to control others to ensure their own happiness. People who are susceptible to this blackmail are those who care about others, and do not want to appear selfish or thoughtless. They are also individuals who are sensitive to criticism. They end up very stressed and anxious because of the ongoing internal battle between what they want for themselves, and what others want of them. Unfortunately, the emotional blackmailers have attached themselves in a codependent way to their victim. They have unmet needs that they expect their victim to fill. Perhaps they need to feel important: the center of someone’s universe. Maybe their self-image is tied up in another’s response to them.
If one’s image of a good mother demands that her children honor her in a certain fashion on Mother’s Day, she may lay a guilt trip if they only send a card. If a man’s image of a good husband and provider means that his wife will be content in a supporting role rather than pursuing her own interests, he may use a variety of tactics to make her feel bad when she starts developing outside interests. If a girlfriend’s insecurity demands that her boyfriend only have interest in her, she may feel threatened when he wants to spend time with friends. A mother who believes her worth is measured by how much her daughter confides in her, will act hurt and abandoned when the daughter stops telling her everything.
Emotional blackmailers need to learn to stop controlling others through guilt, and to accept them as they are. They need to realize that no one is obliged to fill their emotional needs. Those who are victims need to begin setting boundaries, explaining that they must live their own lives free of the constant evaluation by another. They will show their love, support, or friendship in their own ways, not according to the rules of another. Trying to set clear boundaries with an emotional blackmailer is challenging, for they will up the ransom. However, once they realize that the blackmail will not work, they may voluntarily surrender to a healthier way of relating.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit www.gwen.ca. Follow Gwen on Facebook for daily inspiration.