Oct 22, 2015

Emotional Blackmail

I bet all of us know at least one person who resources to this kind of thing in order to get what they want. Most likely we have ourselves have used to get something, either because we thought it was the easiest way to do so, or because that's how we've learned that certain things must be done. It's sad but none the less true. Just look at children: basically instead of teaching children to voice clearly and rationally their needs, parents one way or another enforce in them the idea that if they want something they must cry and throw a temper tantrum. How? Parents ignore the child when speaking but agree to their terms in order to have it shut up or stop making a scene. Parents also use this sort of blackmail when trying to coax children to do stuff, for instance when they tell the child that if they don't do this or that, mommy or daddy would be sad.

The thing is that as we grow up the emotional blackmail grows along and becomes an encroached thing that many find hard to escape. You actually have to grow what looks like a heart of stone in order to deflect most if not all attempts at emotional blackmail.

We hear of a lot of cases of emotional blackmail within families or significant others, where often this sort of behavior might seem part of the normal dynamics. Just think of the times someone could afford to do something by themselves without taking the blackmailing relative or significant other. And think of the reaction when the person actually follows through with a plan that actually excludes or goes against the wishes of the blackmailer. Just to put the picture ahead: imagine that you want to go to have a coffee with your friends, so instead of going home after work, you go to some place and have a blast with your friends. Perhaps it's not an impromptu situation, but you told your family, or your significant other that you have this date with your friends. The emotional blackmailer would either make coments like "you go out with them all the time", or maybe say nothing but start acting sad or withdrawn. Maybe acts like it has nothing to do with them, but you can feel the tension, the sort of tension that says the person is angry or displeased, then, at one point, the emotional blackmailer comes with some plan, which enforces on you so you "make up for going our with your friends the other day".

And this might seem normal to many, after all we are taught that "family is the most important thing in our lives" and also that having someone, a significant other, validates us socially as people who are worth loving. Just think about it, basically all chick flicks, all romantic comedies and a large portion of movies sell this idea, and let's not talk about novels here. We live in a society where the ultimate goal of every person is to have a significant other, where "finding love" is a valid goal in life. And once found, you have to keep it, you have to work for it, because someone could steal it away or it could wilt away and then you'd be a failure. So yes, we are already set in a scenario that enables and promotes emotional blackmail, and that's expected. After all, we are being emotionally blackmailed into buying these ideas. The promotion of any rational, independent behavior would be counterproductive. I mean, can you imagine society if people were to decide that they actually don't want to have a partner, nor want to go to school or get a job, but go into the wilderness and live from homesteading, internet be damned and all that?

Ok, I'm running ahead of myself here.

What I wanted to land on was that, actually, emotional blackmail, believe it or not, actually happens everywhere, and sadly, also among friends. This sort of thing I resent quite greatly. People who actually dare to call you their "friends" and yet have no qualms to laying on you teary stories and your baggage in order for you to pick up the pieces of their messed up lives and rearrange them over and over and over. These friendly emotional blackmailers will often frame the whole thing under "I'm just venting out to you, but you should know that [INSERT STORY AIMED TO MAKE YOU FEEL BAD AND EXTRACT FAVORS FROM YOU]"- pretense. Their family bullies them, their coworkers or bosses bully them, they are so sad, they are so unlucky, nothing goes as planned for them... And curiously, you offer them solutions that mean that they have to take some sort of action and their reaction time and again is to shake their heads sadly and assure that "it won't work". Then they'll get money from you because they make you feel so sad you start paying for every going out to make it better for them, they start hogging your time because you feel obligated to either keep them from the people hurting them or make up for the hurt they receive. Slowly they go on sucking up just about everything about you.

They might be doing things for you too, and that might be the thing that makes it hard to untangle, because it might feel like it's an equal relationship in some cases, when it's not. You see in a healthy relationship with friends, things you do are because you WANT to do them. They make you happy and you don't feel compelled to do them. Compelled being the operative word here. You are not doing them to fix something in your friend's life or perception, but you do them because they make you happy, they make them happy BUT if they don't happen they don't make you unhappy. See it this way: it makes you happy to have a trip to the beach with your friends, but it also makes you happy to go alone or with other friends, or with family, or even if your friend goes without you (and you are not paying that trip). BUT if you go to a trip alone or with other friends and feel guilty because you are not with the friendly emotional blackmailer... well, you know where you stand.

If you have to hide activities you like from your friends, because they'll resent you didn't do them with them, you are being emotionally blackmailed. If you need to hide your income, your new clothes, or anything you have because your friend will resent you didn't give it to them, or spent that money on something you said not to, which they wanted, you are being emotionally blackmailed. If you are doing something, a project or anything fun with a group that doesn't involve your friend, and your friend realizes and acts sad, mad, resentful (jealous), do I need to say more?

When you realize you are being emotionally blackmailed by a friend, the solution is simple:

1. Face your friend. Stop hiding what you do, "protecting" them, and tell them, "hey, I've a life. You are my friend and I love you, but I don't have any obligation with you, and even if I did, that wouldn't be grounds for you to come and make me feel guilty or try to make me feel bad about you for things you could fix yourself. Really, grow up or go blackmail someone else, because I'm not taking that crap anymore". Yes, your relationship might end after that - emphasis on MIGHT, as some emotional blackmailers actually don't know what they are doing - but then again, what are you really losing? A leech. If you lose someone because you've confronted them for emotional blackmail, trust me, they neather loved you nor were your friends. So now you have more space for more friends! Do try and make a better one.

2. Get the hell away from that friend, as fast and smoothly as you can. Friend-fade. Maybe not the nicest thing to do, but it happens, and it happens all the time. Just think of the number of people that used to be your friends and then you lost contact with them and are no longer friends. See? No biggie. Losing a friend hasn't killed anyone.

Now, whatever you do, DO NOT TRY TO FIX YOUR FRIEND. You are not a shrink, you can't help them, but even if you are, you are not being paid for that, and you should know better than to work on people you are involved with. Suffering through it... it's an option, but a stupid one. It's not like they'll stop or get better. People don't change from a position of comfort, and people who blackmail are comfort seekers. They won't stop, but they'll evolve, so you'll never get used to it.

Be warned.

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