Did you ever do things only because someone would get angry at you or you felt guilty?
Emotional blackmail occurs in all types of relationships: parents-children, couples, boss-subordinate, student-teacher, but most often blackmail comes from family members and close friends.
The structure of emotional blackmail
Characters: the victim (the person who feels guilty or obligated) and the blackmailer (the person who knows the victim’s weakness and uses it).
Stages of emotional blackmail:
- Proposal/request – the blackmailer demands something
- The opposition of the victim – it refuses to respond to the request
- Threat – the victim is threatened with “anger”, withdrawal of attention, separation, revealing certain secrets, the loss of something dear, and so on.
- Obedience – the victim submits
- Repeating the cycle – continuing the demands and the manipulation techniques
- Blackmail in different types of relationships
Emotional blackmail occurs and becomes aware of preschool children, from the age of 3. Children use emotional blackmail to get what they want. Once you cede to children’s “threats” when they are little, they learn that these are the best and most successful ways to get what they want.
An interesting fact is that parents are mentors who allow children to use these methods. The problem is that children will use these techniques throughout their lives and try to manipulate everyone around them.
As they grow older, they learn which “buttons” to push so that parents would comply with their requests. The lines used by children are generally these: „all the other parents do it”, „I will run away from home”, „you love my sister/brother more than me,” „I won’t raise my children as you did with me”, „you’re the worst mother/father”, „I don’t love you”, „I will kill myself and you’ll feel guilty all your life”.
Parents use emotional blackmail on their children using phrases like: „I struggled so much for you.” The reality is that it was the parent’s choice whether to struggle or not. The child is under no obligation to listen to you just because it was hard on you at some point in life. It makes sense for a child to listen because he was educated that it is good/moral/nice to do it when he chooses, not because someone forces him.
Another phrase often heard and used as a manipulation technique is „Don’t upset me (mom/dad)”, which makes the child feel guilty and finally comply. Question: Why is it wrong for the baby to put his hands in the plug? Because you get upset or because it’s dangerous? The fact is that when you are not present and there isn’t any risk to get angry, the child will reach for the electrical device not knowing what the consequences are.
The same principles apply with secretly smoking, sexual relations at an early age, drugs, and anything else you want to put on the list as a parent.
Another form of manipulation parents use is displaying an upset face that clearly shows the child that at that moment he is persona non grata. Thus, children feel guilty and accept to do what they are asked. In this kind of situation, parents still use words like: “Why are you doing this? Why are you trying to upset me? Do I deserve this from you?”
Parents should remember that if they don’t teach their children to say ‘no’ and accept their refusal as well, at some point they will be manipulated by others. Teach your children to act as they consider proper, not because it upsets someone, not even you, but because they think it’s right.
They use words like “You don’t really love me unless you do X” (it is frequently used by boys when they want to sleep with a girl who initially refuses, but finally accepts the proposal because she feels guilty and doesn’t want to upset or lose the boy).
Another manipulative strategy used by couples is the display of anger and the threat of telling friends something „hidden/bad” about the other. Most partners are sensitive to each other’s anger so that the sensitive one takes on the role of the victim and responds to his partner’s requests.
Behaviors used by the manipulator include: silence (especially in women), sexual refusal, verbal and physical threats, threats of abandonment, and so on.
Former partners/spouses know your weakest points and hit you where it hurts the most. If there are children involved in the conflict, they will threaten with the refusal of seeing your children, for example, or will try to leave you penniless. In relationships where there are no children and the victim tries to leave, she will be threatened in any possible way by the manipulator in order to make her obey.
How to deal with a manipulator?
First step: to realize that you’re being manipulated. Does the manipulator threaten to leave you or make your life a torment if you don’t do as he/she wants? No matter how much you offer, the manipulator always claims more? She/he is not interested in your feelings, desires and accomplishments? Makes promises but doesn’t follow through? If you don’t give in, he/she will think you are insensitive or selfish? Do you feel that every day you lose ground, giving more and receiving less? If the answer to at least two of these questions is “yes”, then you are dealing with a manipulator.
Step two: to become aware of the responsibilities towards the manipulator. Are his/her wishes, claims justified or not? Are the couple’s tasks divided fairly or not?
Step three: think about what to expect from the relationship and the person you love. What do you want to do, what are your desires? Are they reasonable? Can he (she) satisfy your dreams?
Then you should talk to your partner calmly about what you want and ask if he/she is willing to satisfy your wishes. Don’t expect him/her to guess what you want. Therefore, communicate your needs and desires!
For better communication, develop your emotional intelligence. Learn to listen to your partner and try to put yourself in his/her shoes, trying to understand him/her. Also, learn to make yourself heard and understood. Non-sexual physical closeness, listening to music or just sitting quietly and meditating together, can facilitate intimacy and balance on a mental and spiritual level.
If the other knows how to say „no”, you should too, no matter what this new attitude will engage. Don’t let yourself be manipulated and blackmailed, if your demands are reasonable.
If all your efforts don’t lead to any positive result, accept the idea of getting out of the relationship which is a permanent source of frustrations.