February 1, 2011

Emotional Blackmail - Difficult People

In a previous post, I was struggling with dealing with passive aggressive people. I've since learned a lot about this, through websites, books, and talking with friends.

Passive aggressive people usually use other tools, too, which are just as hurtful and difficult to navigate: blaming, accusations, martyrdom, labeling, enemy/good guy storytelling (and usually it's them or someone who they are currently putting on a pedestal who is the "good guy"), threats, bringing in other people to gang up on the target, discounting people's value, punishing, expecting mind reading, and many other behaviors that are anything than healthy.

It's no wonder that P/A's are so hard to deal with. They aren't fighting fair.

They also pick their targets carefully. They may not realize they do this, but they manipulate situations and people so that they can craft a reality that does not involve them having to look at themselves, take responsibility, or change. To do this, there are targets who they can make the "other" and there are "friends" who agree with them.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, and if you've been the target of these kinds of bully behaviors, I recommend a book called Emotional Blackmail by Susan Forward. She goes one by one through the different kinds of emotional blackmail, why people use these tactics, what it looks like when they do, how we let them do it to us, and how it gets to the point of making us crazy. Then, she gives us concrete tools on how to deal with people who try to use emotional blackmail on us.

We cannot change people. But we teach them how to treat us by allowing behavior. Emotional blackmail is not fair, and it's not right. We know it, but few of us understand how to recognize it and then how to stand up to it. Most of us use tools that only make it worse - begging, arguing, explaining, staying silent, waiting for things to cool off, trying to give them what they want, or pretending like everything is OK. None of these things work.

Many of us will use emotional blackmail ourselves. Not because we're bad people, but because we are backed in a corner, and what they are doing to us works, so why wouldn't it work back at them? Fight fire with fire. There are no alternatives left.

But when we do use emotional blackmail ourselves, we know it is not who we are, and it goes against our own integrity. There's got to be a better way, but without having seen it in action, having experienced it, or having any clue what other ways there are, how can we do anything different?

I am seeing there are other ways, but it takes being brave, changing my own internal habits and thoughts, and instead of trying to fix the other person, to hold on to who I am, my own integrity, create and defend boundaries, and not be dependent on the other person's approval and love to define my success and self-worth. It's a tough road to take, but it's the only way to stop spinning when dealing with people who do everything they can to keep the spinning going.


Anonymous said...

I have almost gone blind searching the internet for ways to deal with an emotionally blackmailing colleague at work. Her weapon - tears. If, for reasons that have nothing to do with her I don't want to go for coffee break or want to sit with ( GASP! ) other people, she will show up several times that day crying, apologizing ( not knowing for what ), trying to give me money, telling me I am her ONLY friend, and how much she LOVES me, etc etc..... I told her I didn't want to hug her for the 12th time that day and she broke down crying so much other people had to come and help her get her work done. She told them it was because she " misses her daughter " ( in the navy for 15 years and she suddenly misses her ) and now everyone thinks I'm a cold hearted bitch because I wouldn't hug her when she's "missing her daughter". I am currently on a two week sabbatical from work ( just to get away from her ), had to cancel the email address she had for me ( after daily emails about how I'm her only friend, and how much she LOVES me ), and unplug my phone just to get away from her. I've tried explaining and she refuses to listen. All this is bad enough, but I have a mental illness and this is not only making me physically and emotionally sick, but I do not have the " normal" tools to deal with this. I went to my employer who bought the " missing her daughter " story and they told me " Poor Cristina " needs me to just be nice to her. That is all she wants anyway; me - exclusively. HELP! PS this is a 62 year old woman and her son just moved out. If she were a man she would be in jail for refusing to keep her hands off me.

Tammy said...

It sounds like this person has found something in you she has latched on to. I highly recommend picking up "Emotional Blackmail" and reading about the various traits and behaviors in us that attract emotional manipulation like this.

It's OK to make boundaries - even if the other person doesn't like our boundaries. If they don't like our boundaries, they might try to push us to give in, and if we do, they have learned that we give in and it wasn't really a boundary to begin with.

We don't have to be mean to set boundaries. In fact, if we are mean, we aren't setting boundaries, we're fighting. If we set boundaries, we are are saying what kind of emotional behavior is OK for us, and what is not. Kind of like marking off our territory. It's not mean if we don't make it about them, but keep it about us and our emotional property.

BTW, have you talked to your boss about this? Or maybe a therapist? If you have a therapist for the mental illness you mentioned, ask her about how to help you make healthy boundaries.

We can't change them, we can only change us. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tammy. I'm lucky that one of my employee benefits is free counselling with a group independent of the workplace. I just have never had to deal with this before and I'm 47! If I didn't need the job I would just quit. I don't want to have to increase my meds that make me physically sick, to cope with her. I can change how I deal with her, but will still have to look at the long faces, red eyes, and tears while at work; because she doesn't think she has a problem, and unfortunately, no one else at work does either.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Tammy. I was following the other post about passive aggressive people and purchased the book today. I have used emotional blackmail in retaliation even though it is not who I am....I am looking forward to learning strategies to deal with my p/a sister without compromising my own integrity. I am at peace with myself, my husband, my children and my parents. I am also at peace with my career which is a demanding but rewarding one. I have worked hard at this and it is so destructive when my p/a sister interferes with my life. I care about her but it is time for me to move on. Thanks again you have really helped me.

Anonymous said...

hey..i have a friend who is emotionally blackmailing me to accept him as my lover..he wound himself with knife and threatening me..i could not take it and don't know how to handle this situation..i have explained my situation both,softly and also harshly.he listen to it and next day starts up the same thing..cant take it anymore..pls help!!

Tammy said...

Anon - If he is threatening you physically, stay away from him. And if he won't leave you alone, call the police. You aren't a bad person for doing this (although he may try to convince you of this) and you aren't making him violent. He's doing that on his own. Stay away to protect yourself, because you are worth it. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

lIve got a "friend" thats been bullying and manipulating his peer group for years and from time to time I have stood up to it only to have my character crusified . Im disgusted at how people are so ignorant and weak to recognize it. Audacity,arrogance,personal agenda in disguise and an undercurrent of manipulation is constantly in play. Everybody is a pawn.