Emotional Blackmail

Emotional blackmail: That’s the term for Tracy’s demand that I accept her verbal abuse of me as my due, and sit and let her scream and yell at me in person about all my “faults” and all the “horrible” things I had done, or else I never am allowed to speak to or e-mail Richard again.

Basically, she was to change nothing about herself, while I was to change everything about myself and grovel at her feet, or else I lose what I thought was my best friend.

It hit me when reading this post:

Brian denied that he needed any help.  He thought he was fine the way he was and he had good reasons every time he exploded.  It was everyone else’s fault that he lost his temper, and they deserved what he said or did to them.

He told Carl clearly that if Carl didn’t do what he wanted and didn’t endure the attacks, Brian wouldn’t allow Carl to see his grandchildren.  There it was; not only attacks but also blackmail. –Ben Leichtling, PhD, How can we stop bullies if we’re compassionate?

Yep, there it is: What Brian did was exactly what Tracy did to me.  Bullies find your weak spot, the thing or person that means the most to you, and keep it from you unless you give in to their demands.

In my case, it was my friendship with Richard, with all the privileges his other friends had; she always held it up like a carrot, always out of my reach, sometimes letting it down enough so I could nibble it for a while, then yanking it back up again.

Well, I was tired of dancing for Tracy, always at risk of her blowing up at me the way she did to Todd.  It was degrading.  That’s why I’m gone.

“Best friends forever” phbbt–If Richard were really my friend, he never would have allowed her to manipulate me like this.  Instead, he tried to pull me into her quagmire and then beat me up emotionally when I was down.

And you know what?  Finally refusing to give in to her, to chuck everything rather than keep dealing with her constant covert and overt bullying and abuse–That was my declaration of freedom.

I began to breathe more freely, felt greatly relieved to have her out of my life.  No longer was I made to feel like an evil witch simply because I am shy, quiet and refuse to let dangerous people into my confidences and inner circle.

No, I’m not making excuses; I freely own that I kept her at arm’s length on purpose.  The NVLD was merely used as a reason why I had trouble “reading” her supposed cues to have conversations.

Selective mutism explains why I, for my entire life, have had trouble making conversation with most people.  My shyness and quietness is indeed a marked trait that many people have noted and continue to note.

I was polite to her and kind, never tried to offend or snub her.  I gave her gifts, did things for her, gave her stuff she badly needed, babysat her kids, changed poopy diapers for her, complimented her cooking and asked for recipes, asked her to watch movies with me….

But I deliberately kept her from getting close to me by not opening up to her about myself or seeking out her company, because I saw her abuse Richard and the children (and others), and found that contemptible.

I freely own this and do not, will not apologize for it.  I exercised my human right to choose my own confidantes and friends, no matter what obligation they think I owe them merely by a chance of social ties, no matter how they try to force their friendship on me.

And, by choosing to harass and intimidate me this past summer rather than trying to settle things peacefully and admit to what she has done, she has confirmed my impressions of her to be absolutely correct.  So I stand even firmer than before against ever letting her back into my life.

What I asked for, again and again, and clearly, was that she stop treating me badly.  What I wanted was for her to stop abusing everybody, including me.  This, and only this, would allow me to put down my guard and let her closer.

I’ve noticed, however, that rather than do this, not only did she just keep treating me like sh*t, but when I clearly laid out everything she did to me and she read it all, she responded with threats to sue, and more treating me like sh*t.

Basically, more blackmail: “Be my good little puppet and don’t tell anyone what I’m doing to you, and let me do whatever I want, or I’ll sue you.”

Which proves to me that I sized her up correctly.  Decent people do not behave this way.  Take my story as a warning: This is what abusers will do to you, too.  Do not fear them, do not let them control you through blackmail.

There was no apology from Tracy.  But I see from blogs by the children of narcissists that even an apology from one can be as bad as none at all: “I was mean/nasty/abusive, but it was the disorder/just the way I am/YOUR FAULT.”  Not a real apology but another attempt to manipulate.  And if you don’t buy it–you’re the bad, unforgiving, self-righteous one.  More emotional blackmail.

And sure enough, that’s what I got all the time: excuses for Tracy’s bad behavior.  No matter what crap she pulled, what snark she made, what punishment she gave me, she always blamed me for it, made excuses.

She never took responsibility for her own bad behavior, just threw the guilt on my shoulders, or on his shoulders, or on the kids’ shoulders, or on Todd’s shoulders.

Even Richard did this, making excuses for her, whether her abuse was directed at me (my fault) or at him/the kids (hormones, stress, something he did) or at Todd (when Todd, after taking her abuse for quite some time, finally blew up at her and gave her back what she’d been giving him).

Richard was her abuser-by-proxy.  This is emotional blackmail.

As I read further in the earlier link, I find that

Separate from the blackmail, Carl suffered from a common misunderstanding about compassion.  He thought compassion meant that he had to give Brian what he wanted and to keep giving and to take the abuse in hope that, someday, his love and forbearance would cause Brian to have an awakening and become a grateful, appreciative, civil and polite person.

That’s a common mistake among the abused.

  So what did Carl do?

  • He and Vickie decided to tell Brian that they wouldn’t take the abuse any more.  They were going to create an Isle of Song for the rest of their lives.  Good behavior was required from anyone to get on that Isle; blood wouldn’t count.
  • They knew they’d said that before, but they’d always given in and had pretended that the bullying had never happened.  They knew also that Brian counted on that.
  • The next time Brian exploded at them in front of his 11 and 13 year-old children, Carl said publicly that they weren’t going to put up with that behavior any more.  They weren’t going to see Brian.  They’d love to see the kids but Brian probably wouldn’t allow that.  They wanted the kids to know who was responsible for the breach.
  • Carl told Brian they were taking a break from involvement with him for at least six months.  He’d have to make it on his own.  After then, if he wanted to resume contact he’d have to call and apologize and promise never to act that way again.  He’d especially have to apologize to Vickie.  Carl was going to protect his wife against all comers, even his son.
  • Even after that time, they were going to continue to withhold money because they wanted interactions to be based on fun, not need or greed.

Six-month break.  Sounds familiar.  And also, the fact that the “break” will only end if Tracy calls and apologizes for what she’s done, and promises never to do it again.  That has always been the condition, from the beginning of the break to now–though I never had the chance to say so to her.

As another post on that blog reads,

Therefore, we clear the bullies from our lives and we create space for the right people to come in.  The reality shows also say the same thing, although not so poetically.  “Vote selfish, narcissistic, insensitive, nasty, abusive people off your island.”

Who do we allow on our Isle?
People we want close to us and who behave the way we need.

Who do we vote off our Isle?
Remove anyone who won’t behave according to our standards.  I don’t mean only bullying spouses.  Our lives become much better when we use this general rule in all situations – with our toxic parents, relatives, adult children, friends, co-workers, bosses. –Ben Leichtling, PhD, Vote Selfish, Narcissistic, Insensitive People Off Your Isle of Song

Who’s coming into our lives now?  Sweet people.  Nice people.  Fun people.  I’m starting to clear out that old, nagging feeling that I can never be “complete” until the toxic people are made untoxic.  Some people just don’t deserve to be in your life.

In another post we find:

All the callers recognized that continued, long-term exposure to those bullies would destroy their own and their children’s self-confidence and self-esteem.

They could see how the bullying was causing sleepless nights, anxiety, nail-biting, discouragement, negative self-talk and even depression.  Their children’s school work suffered.

They could see their children either being beaten into submission or adopting bullying as their own strategy for success….

They had tried everything they could think of: understanding, reasoning, sweet-talk, begging, bribery, appeasement, the Golden Rule and threats but nothing had been effective in changing the bullying behavior.

So they were stuck, knowing they were tolerating bullies and behavior that was harming them and their children.

Their hope was that I could provide a magic technique to convert those adult bullies into nice, sweet, kindly relatives; the loving, caring, concerned relatives they thought they’d have.

But they had already tried all the “magic wand” techniques and discovered that those family bullies wouldn’t change.

After all, from the bullies’ perspective, why should they change?  They’d gotten away with being abusive, demanding bullies for years; they got their way so why change?  They were beyond appeals to conscience or to considering the feelings they were hurting. –Ben Leichtling, PhD, Stop Bullies: Support Good Behavior, Not Bad Blood

I certainly tried the Golden Rule, appeasement, sweet talk, but it didn’t work: The bullying and verbal abuse just continued.  The blog post goes on to say how they were able to stop the bullying, stand up to and get the bullies at a distance.

Tracy accused me of needing to “GROW UP” because I finally stood up and said NO MORE.  That’s not childish: That’s setting boundaries and standing up for myself.

What she called childish, my priest called very wise: asking for a 6-month break.  He also said that her response showed the true nature of her friendship.

Now, which of the two do you think I’ll listen to: somebody throwing a tantrum for not getting her chance to yell and scream at me, or my priest?  As is written here:

They make the rules; they control everything.  You feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained [typical warning sign of abuse, #2]….

To decide whether we should act or not, instead of the external standards and definitions, use an internal test.  We can simply ask ourselves, “Am I in pain?  Do I want to be treated this way?”

Notice that these questions are about us; about how much things hurt, about our desire to get away from the pain, about what we’ll allow in our personal space.

We don’t need some external standards of right or wrong, normal or abnormal.

We don’t need the self-doubt, self-questioning and negative self-talk that come from asking questions like, “Is it my fault?  What have I done wrong?  Do I deserve this?  Is this the way it’s supposed to be?”

Simply start by saying, “Ouch.  Cut it out.  Act better or you’re gone.  I don’t care what your reasons, justifications or excuses are; act nicer or I’m gone.” 

And any “best friend” who doesn’t understand your human right to dignity and decent, kind treatment, who defends the one who bullies you and treats you like it was her right to bully you, is no “best friend” at all.

As they say, with friends like that, who needs enemies?  You need a “best friend” who has your back, not one who stabs you in it and betrays you.  Just ask Christ.

Your moral failings can also be a big handle. Bullies are good at emotional blackmail. Your moral failings weaken you.

We see this in politics all the time. The whole objective of “opposition research” is to hunt down every scent trail in the hope of finding some moral failing of a candidate to use to weaken them.

Some uncovered indiscretion is all it takes to disarm you against the assault of an emotional bully. Your sins weaken you because your conscience becomes a bludgeon in the hand of the bully.

Nothing like an accusation that has some foundation in truth to weaken your knees and make you submit to the abuse and perhaps become an accomplice with the bully.

I’m not saying the bully has the right to beat you up for your moral failings. They don’t. It is hypocritical for them to do so.

I only hope by pointing out this possible tool of the bully that you will be prepared to stiffen your spine and not let them use your conscience against you. Forewarned is forearmed.

You will feel overwhelmed at the moment they use this tactic. Even if it is something you long ago stopped doing and repented of. They love to throw it in your face anyway.

Many decent people can be blindsided by this cruel tactic. Don’t crumble. Don’t cave. Stand up straight and blow it back at them. I hope I’ve given you some idea of how to take a good hard look at your self so the bully can’t use YOU against YOUR SELF. –Anna Valerious, A Few Thoughts on Bullies

Even things I stopped doing, out of respect for her feelings, kept getting drudged up over and over again, whether to Richard (who told me about it) or to me.  That is emotional blackmail.

According to psychotherapist Susan Forward, who did much to popularise the term,[4] “emotional blackmail” is a powerful form of manipulation in which blackmailers who are close to the victim threaten, either directly or indirectly, to punish them to get what they want. They may know the victim’s vulnerabilities and their deepest secrets.

“Many of the people who use emotional blackmail are friends, colleagues and family members with whom we have close ties that we want to strengthen and salvage”[5] – parents, partners, bosses or lovers. No matter how much the blackmailer cares about the victim, they use their intimate knowledge to win compliance.

Knowing that the victim wants love, approval or confirmation of identity, blackmailers may threaten to withhold them or take them away altogether, or make the victim feel they must earn them:

“as the power of emotional blackmail indicates, self-identity is inevitably affected by… the ‘reaction’ of the other”,[6] as is self-esteem. If the victim believes the blackmailer, he/she could fall into a pattern of letting the blackmailer control his/her decisions and behavior and become “caught in a sort of psychological fog”.[7]

Emotional blackmailers use fear, obligation and guilt in their relationships, ensuring that the victim feels afraid to cross them, obligated to give them their way and feeling guilty if they don’t:

indeed Forward and 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…..

Daniel Miller objects that in popular psychology emotional blackmail has been misused as a defence against any form of fellow-feeling:

“The English talk of emotional blackmail, the mere idea that you should have to contemplate the feelings of others, becomes a threat to personal freedom. So generosity, kindness, consideration are all transformed into the curse of emotional blackmail”. —Emotional Blackmail

That last part of the above quote is certainly true; I’ve seen it used that way on websites, like if you simply want kindness, understanding or a listening ear, you’re being an emotional blackmailer.

I felt accused of some form of emotional blackmail whenever I tried to get kindness or consideration out of Richard or Tracy which they did not want to give:

Richard accusing me of guilt trips for trying to get him to talk to me when he’s just made some accusation out of the blue, or being treated like a whiner, excuse-maker, or spoiled brat for saying that Tracy was abusing me and others and had to stop this if she wanted me to befriend her.

I was emotionally blackmailed for telling my husband what she was doing, for not doing just what she wanted when she wanted (without even knowing either thing), for speaking up about what I saw going on, for telling her I wanted a 6-month break, for finally posting here on this blog in desperation (and anonymously) about all that I had been put through, for standing up to her finally and telling her to leave me the F*** alone.

What did I want in the last two points?  For her to leave me alone, so she did not give it to me, did precisely what she knew would give me the most anger and pain, because I would not back down, and as a means to force me to shut my mouth about the truth of what she had done.

And she tried to make me feel like a blackmailer and bully myself for insisting that she either apologize or stay away from me, for writing in a blog months earlier–not directed at her at all–that I would have to go to my priest for help if they started coming to my church all the time.  That’s when her threat to sue came in.

Um, no, that’s not bullying or blackmail, that’s protecting myself from bullies.  And they can’t tell me what I can or can’t say to my priest.  I did not give in to any of her threats, which were yet more blackmail; I stood up for myself and did what I said I would do.  And with every little thing I do to stand up to her and not let her control me, I get stronger.

What she did to me, again and again, was emotional blackmail.  And I finally stood up and said no more, stopped it from continuing.  Now her blackmail is broken into pieces on the floor.  And I am free.

I never used profanity, in 38 years, before dealing with these people.  But no euphemisms seem strong enough.  And with bullies, you have to be firm, use language they understand.

My ex Phil also used emotional blackmail.  He accused me of needing to have my own way, and always being right, for refusing to let him emotionally abuse me, for refusing to be an “obedient” wife, and for refusing to let him force me into having painful sex.

He told me that if I wouldn’t take it up the back, he wouldn’t sleep with me at all.  And this was a guy who had never heard of using lubricants, did not believe in condoms, and rarely bathed, all making anal a horrible proposition.

Phil is divorced, while I have been married for 15 years to a much better man, more tender and loving, not one of those testosterone-poisoned “macho” chauvinists.  Breakups are painful, but like the pain of necessary surgery, as they remove the thing that is going to keep causing you pain throughout your life.

Emotional abusers and blackmailers are dangerous to your emotional health and self-esteem.  Don’t let them in; don’t let them win; take your power back from them.

[UPDATE 3/22/13]: I just got this response from the Bullies BeGone site author when this blog post pinged back to his site:

Hi Nyssa,

Thanks for mentioning my articles on your blog.

Keep up your own great personal work.

What’s the price of putting up with bullies? Slow erosion of your soul!

Best wishes,
Ben —http://www.bulliesbegoneblog.com/2010/07/01/stop-bullying-by-toxic-adult-children/