In this week’s episode of The Baggage Reclaim Sessions, I delve into the tricky topic of emotional blackmail. One of the things I became really aware of about some of the painful situations that I used to find myself in is that not only did I experience emotional blackmail, but I didn’t recognise it for what it was at the time because I was desensitised to it thanks to childhood experiences but also because I was prone to emotionally blackmailing myself via my people pleasing. I’m not alone in having been through this, and I think it’s vital to educate ourselves to not just recognise it in others but to be aware of signs from within us that we’re experiencing it.

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Some nuggets from the episode:

  • Emotional blackmail is direct and indirect coercion aimed at influencing and controlling your feelings and behaviour so that the person gets what they want. It results in you ignoring your needs, wants, expectations, feelings, desires and opinions to capitulate to their demands that are disguised as a ‘loving’ desire.
  • In emotional blackmail dynamics, the person demands empathy, understanding and agreement to their desires but doesn’t give you these in return. 

  • What happened after you said/showed no or they perceived resistance?
    A) Nothing, everything was normal.
    B) Their mood, attitude and behaviour changed by enough of a degree that you felt tense, uncomfortable, afraid, anxious.
    C) They backed away from something they’d previously agreed to or promised.

There is a boundary issue if it’s B or C, especially if it results in them getting what they want and they’re willing to capitalise on your discomfort and upset. Someone who isn’t emotionally blackmailing you won’t be comfortable with you acquiescing if they so much as suspect that you’re doing it to appease them or doing it out of fear. They’d rather address the issue.

  • Someone who speaks the language of emotional blackmail presents their desire as being something you ‘should’ both want, and any hesitation or resistance on your part, or quite simply being unable to meet their demand, is read as you hurting them and not wanting what is supposedly in the best interests of the relationship.
  • Their behaviour isn’t a one-off, and it’s not caused by you. It’s a pattern of behaviour that they’ve learned is effective at getting them what they want and/or avoiding responsibility, conflict, abandonment etc.
  • It’s critical to recognise that doing what you think is diffusing tension, getting them off your back or making a point, is a vicious cycle. It provides temporary relief and then you’re back to square one or worse.

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