I am thinking about breaking up with one of my friends. This person always has to have their way and when they don’t they use guilt as a stick to beat me down. It’s usually very subtle and I am tired of being around them. I don’t even like who I am when I am with them. I have spoken to this person about this behavior and they denied it saying that it was my issue. They also said that I am too sensitive and they are only keeping it “real”. Whatever that means! What should I do?
– Fed up
Dear Fed up,
If what you are telling me is true then it sounds like you are dealing with a manipulative tactic called Emotional Blackmail (EB).
1. What is Emotional Blackmail?
Psychotherapist, Susan Forward defined emotional blackmail (EB) as a powerful form of manipulation in which blackmailers who are close to the victim threatens punishment, either directly or indirectly, in order to get what they want. This can only work of the emotional blackmailer (EB) is a close relation or friend. These individuals know where you feel the most vulnerable and will use it against you if it will help them. You know you have been the victim of emotional blackmail when you feel emotionally drained, insecure, guilty or vulnerable in response to something someone said after you have rejected their request.
2. Examples of Emotional Blackmail…
The emotional blackmailer will say or imply some of the following:
“After all I’ve done for you…”
“How could you be so selfish…”
“I would do it for you…”
They bank on the fact that their victim want love and acceptance and have no problem using fear, obligation and guilt to get their way. If you feel that you are being a victim of EB, here is one tactic that might help you.
3. Flat out rejection
If you feel you are being emotionally blackmailed into doing something that you don’t want to. For instance, you are being pressured to host a game night at your home when its inconvenient. Flat out refuse. (This will take courage, mind you…) They may say, “What’s the problem? Why can’t you? I do it all the time!” Don’t worry about the emotions of guilt or shame that will rise within you. They are there only because they have been triggered by this individual. When you get a chance, privately go over the event to see if what you did what in fact rational. You may find that it was but you are still feeling guilty. Think about what is making you feel guilty. Does it make sense? If not. Let it go. Be warned, true EB’s will try to corner you into submission before you had time to think it through. Don’t let them. Rinse and repeat and the offender will probably leave you alone. Sometimes completely alone! You may lose a friend, but the good news is this. If they do go way they were never your friend to begin with.
I hope you find this helpful. I will leave you with this quote.
“If we are going to be kind, let it be out of simple generosity, not because we fear guilt or retribution.”
All the best,
For more information, Susan Forward wrote a great book on the subject called (you guessed it!) “Emotional Blackmail”. Check it out!
Are you a victim of Emotional Blackmail? Feel free to share your story or offer any advice here. I just ask that you remain respectful in what you say. If you have any questions for me send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you! Just remember, I am not a licensed therapist therefore not liable for any advice that is shared here. – Blessings!