The Power of Emotional Blackmailers.

Started by

What is it? its origin? Its effects? How it's defeated by some? Why it's victorious over others?
Many of the lives of caregivers that I have read are struggling with the power of an emotional blackmailer in their life. I think it is a big enough topic to warrant a discussion on it using the questions above.

The following is how I basically see this issue and my hope for all of us who struggle with it.

Emotional blackmailers are powerful for the F.O.G. is strong with them. F.O.G. (Fear, Obligation, Guilt) is the path to the darkside of manipulation. May you find freedom, be free, and stay fee from the power of the F.O.G.


I believe society places us into these positions whether we are qualified to be caregivers or not.

And with dealing with someone who we are caring, be it hands-on or watching from afar [be it just next door or the other side of the world], that elderly or ill person is afraid because their independence has been lost and he/she is afraid that the caregiver will disappear, too.... thus the feeling of emotional blackmail to keep us closer.
When you say F.O.G. fear, obligation, guilt who is feeling this or doing it?

1. Who is feeling this?

The person being emotionally blackmailed is the one feeling the fear, obligation and guilt.

2. What it is?

Emotional blackmail is a powerful version of manipulation by making us feel 1. afraid of crossing the person. 2. obligated to give them their way to keep from provoking their anger, and 3. terribly guilty if we don't.

It is a thick and engulfing psychological F.O.G. that blinds us from seeing what they are doing.

3. What is its effects?

Thus, we walk on eggshells around the person and our compliance rewards their emotional blackmail. Every time we reward their efforts by being compliant, we let them know that they can do it again. It eats away at us until it puts our relationship and our whole sense of self respect is in jeopardy. Thus we get locked into an emotional dance of letting them control our decisions and behavior.

Basically, we come to feel insecure, unimportant, unworthy and generally bad about ourselves. We begin to doubt our own ideas and needs. We become isolated. We may have physical ailments or reduced mental health due to the stress. We may even betray and abandon our relationships with other people in our attempts to placate the emotional blackmailer.

We get trained by the emotionally blackmailer to constantly seek their approval, to do our best to avoid their anger and keeping the peace at all costs, and to take the blame that is not ours to take.

Our sense of obligation to them and to keeping the peace becomes so strong that it is more powerful than our sense of self-respect and boundaries of self-caring. Emotional blackmailers work toward this goal and take full advantage of it when accomplished.

4. Who is doing this?

The person seeking to emotionally blackmail us presses our emotional buttons in order to get us to feel fear, obligation and guilt.

Very often this emotional blackmailer has a great fear of abandonment and deprivation. They often feel the need to be the one in control, feel desperate, and are frequently frustrated. Usually, they have been a victim of emotional blackmail themselves; have learned how to do it; and see that it works to get what they want. However, they are so caught up in themselves that they don't think clearly about the reasonableness of their demands. They are skilled at making their demands sound very reasonable although they aren't.

They have different styles. Their pour boundaries leads them to sometimes combine one of the four basic styles with another one.

First, there is the Punisher who lets us know exactly what they want, the consequences we will face if not complied with, and are the most obvious as well as strong. They either express their disapproval in explosive aggressive anger or in smoldering silence. At the most terrifying extreme are threats of physical harm.

Second, there is the Self-punsiher. They turn their threats inward on themselves by threatening what they will do to themselves if they don't get their way. They are drama queens and kings with an air of hysterical crisis which they blame us for creating of course. They often will enmesh themselves with us because they struggle with taking responsibility for their own lives. The most frightening extreme of this is when they threaten to kill themselves if we do not comply.

Third, there are the sufferers who are talented guilt peddlers and blamers. They make us figure out what they want and lead us to conclude that it is up to us to get them what they want, even if they have not told us what they want. They are pre-occupied with how terrible they feel and interpret our inability to read their minds as proof that we don't love them.

Fourth, there are the Tantalizers who will put us through a series of tests and hold out a promise of something wonderful if we will just give them what they want. They are the subtlest blackmailers who promise all sorts of things with the clear understanding that unless we behave according to their wishes, we will not get the prize. Everything from them is seductively wrapped with a web of strings attached. Many will seek to make deals of emotional payoffs, castles of love in the sky, unconditional acceptance, family closeness, healed wounds, and other appealing fantasies whose admission ticket into only requires one thing, compliance. They have not intent on following through with their fantastic promises for once they have what they want, they have won and we are left with broken promises.

People with various personality disorders are predisposed to inflicting emotional blackmail such as persons with obsessive compulsive disorder, paranoid personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder. Those with a borderline personality disorder tend to do this more impulsively instead of making a plan like those with a narcissistic personality do.

What they really need deep down inside is legit, but the problem occurs in how they go about trying to meet those needs by being insensitive to the needs of others in doing so as well as being insensitive to how others are reacting to their manipulation or that it is not right to make someone their emotional hostage.

5. How do they do this?

The basic threat of emotional blackmail is that if you don't do what I want, you will suffer the consequences. They know our vulnerabilities and they use that knowledge to shape their threats to give them the results they want, our compliance. Knowing that we want their love and approval, they will threaten to end the relationship if we don't give in or make us feel that we must earn it by being compliant. They will often use money like threatening to change their Will to get our compliance.

They will regularly discount our feelings and wants by calling us selfish when we express them and claiming that we must no longer love them. They will either say or imply that they will hurt themselves, kill themselves, or become depressed if we don't give into their demands.

They create undeserved guilt by blaming us for whatever is upsetting them or for whatever problems that they are having. There are not statue of limitations as they create this neutron bomb that wears away the trust and intimacy that makes us want to be with them.

They spin our conflicts with them into being examples of how misguided and off base we are while they claim to be all wise and well intentioned. They spin any resistance on our part as evidence that we are flawed, not them. Their spin serves to discredit our perceptions of how the situation really is by challenging our character, motives and worth through labeling us as heartless, selfish or worthless which are very hard to withstand when said by a parent.

Others pathologize any resistance from us as an example of our being the sick one or crazy. Being pathologized by a parent or spouse yields a devastating blow to our sense of self and confidence and serves as quite an effective toxic tool which makes us doubt our memories, our judgement, our intelligence, and our character to the point where we may even doubt our own sanity.

6. What are the origins of this.

Emotional blackmailers hate to loose. For them, it is not important how they play their game as long as they don't lose. To an emotional blackmailer, keeping our trust, respecting how we feel, or being fair does not matter. The usual give and take of a normal, healthy relationship does not exist for them for it is all about them, what they want, and their getting what they want for themselves.

7. Why it is so victorious?

When we have an excessive need for approval from others, an intense fear of dealing with anger, an overwhelming need for peace at any price, very deep self-doubt, and a tendency to take too much responsibility for other's lives, we are both easy targets and easy to keep in such an emotional prison.

These traits make it extremely difficult to break free even when we are aware that we are being emotionally blackmailed because their pressure sets off almost programmed responses in you that sends you into auto-pilot and impulsive reactions to comply with our abuser.

Another issue that makes it so victorious on some people is something called co-dependency. This involves putting a lower than normal priority on our own needs while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others.

The above is a summary from Susan Ford's book, Emotional Blackmail: When People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation and Guilt to Manipulate You. It also includes some input from my research online.
Here is a link to an interesting blog about The Narcissist's Child and Emotional Blackmail.

overwhelm - in your case, you are being manipulated - (jerked around) by your mother and step dad who use FOG - fear, obligation and guilt - to get you to do what they want you to do. They say things so you feel that you owe them, you are afraid to leave them, and so on, while, in fact you are an adult woman who can make her own decisions about her life and who doesn't owe them anything. Don't be afraid to arrange care for your mum and then leave and go on with your own life. They won't like it because they have you there as a servant, but some one else can look after them just as well.
How it’s defeated.

Defeating emotional blackmail in our lives does not mean changing the person doing the blackmailing, but involves changes inside of the person being blackmailed. Since this involves internal changes, it is a very difficult thing to accomplish and very often requires the assistance of a therapist.

So, how do we stop enabling the manipulator’s emotional blackmail?

1. We must recognize our own part in this psychological/emotional dance that by complying with it we have been rewarding bad behavior.

2. Stop focusing on their behavior and thinking that their changing will make things better.

3. Accept that they are how they are and are very likely not going to change.

4. We did not make the person doing the emotional blackmail the way they are. We can’t change them nor can we fix them. All we can really do is to place ourselves on a healthier path of living. We can change how we react to their emotional blackmail.

5. Recognize that our experience of emotional blackmail has contributed to our being in an emotional state called the Stockholm Syndrome which enables the belief that our escape is impossible. The Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological response seen in abuse victims where the victim is loyal to and often defensive of the abuser. It is an emotional bond formed between the victim and the person in power as a survival mechanism.

6. Recognize that the belief that our escape is impossible is a false and irrational belief. We are not helpless. Change and freedom can, must and will start with us.

7. Promise yourself to no longer let Fear, Obligation and Guilt control your life.

8. Learn and practice the necessary skills and strategies.

9. Learn from your lapses into being controlled by F.O.G., hone your strategies and refuse to let mistake allow you to give up.

10. Take good care of yourself during this process and acknowledge as well as encourage yourself for making steps forward no matter how small.

11. Remember that the abuse we experience is not our fault. We do deserve to be treated better.

12. Set new and reasonable boundaries for the relationship.

13. Set concrete consequences for if and when these boundaries are broken.

14. Instead of answering or complying immediately, buy yourself some time to think and come up with an appropriate response. For example. “I don’t have an answer right now. I need some time to think” or “I’m not sure how I feel about what you are asking. Let us discuss this later,”

15. Detach or let go of your emotional ties to being controlled and become an objective observer by questioning your thoughts and feelings as well as those of the person seeking to inflict emotional blackmail. This is a process. The longer you have been complying with their demands, the more self-discipline it will take to no overreact or be triggered. Also, focus on the demand at hand and not all of the past history. This is a key area where a therapist can be very helpful.

16. Avoid using defensive communication techniques that only serve to escalate the conflict. For example, “I’m not selfish. How can you say that about me?” or “How about the time I…….”

17. Use non defensive communication techniques to defuse or reduce the conflict. For example, “I’m sorry you are upset.” “I can understand how you might view it that way.” “Really? That’s interesting.” “Let’s talk about it when you feel calmer.”

18. Stay call, don’t argue, don’t defend, don’t explain, always stay polite, and if possible use humor.

19. Use the suggestions from Susan Forward’s book, Emotional Abuse: When People Use Fear, Obligation and Guilt to Manipulate You, for responding to catastrophic predictions and threats; to name-callling, labeling and negative judgments; and to the deadly whys and hows-demanding a rationalization and explanation for your decisions.

20. Dealing with the person who expresses their anger covertly through silent sulcking are quite a challenge. I found the following suggestions for dealing with this type online.

Frist, don’t expect them to make the first step. Second, don’t plead with them to tell you what is wrong. Third, don’t keep after them for a response. Fourth, don’t criticize, analyze, or interpret their motives or inability to be direct. Fifth, don’t willingly accept blame for whatever they are upset about to immediately get them into a better mood. Sixth, don’t allow them to change the subject. Seventh, don’t let the tension and the anger in the air get to you. Ninth, don’t let your frustration cause you to make threats that you don’t really mean. Tenth, don’t assume that if they ultimately apologize, it will be followed by a significant change in their behavior. Eleventh, don’t expect major personality changes, even if they recognize what they are doing and are willing to work on it.

Instead, confront them when they are more ready to hear what you have to say; reassure them that they can tell you what they are angry about and you will listen without retaliating; say reassuring things like “I know you are angry right now, and I will be willing to listen to this as soon as you are ready to talk about it”-then leave them alone; and accept the fact that you will have to make the first move, most, if not all, of the time.

21. Face the reality that not all relationships can be saved for the person will just continue to break your boundaries and keep trying to emotionally blackmail you. For the sake of your own safety and health, try hard to recognize early if the relationship is even work working on.

22. Remember that no matter what happens, you can handle fear, you can handle frustration, pain, big losses, anger, sadness, embarrassment, responsibility, and guilt.

23. Don’t expect there not to be some resistance to your boundaries, taking better care of yourself and setting consequences for when and if your boundaries are broken. They are use to having you under their control and they are afraid of losing you and your compliance for without your compliance they are powerless.

24. Change is a scary word for many of us.

25. Change will not come by gaining insights into the various dynamics of emotional blackmail.

26. Change will not happen just because we understand why we dong the self-defeating behavior that we do. Understanding alone will not make us stop doing them.

27. Change will only happen when we change our behavior!

28. We have to take the first step down a new and healthier road!

These suggestions come either from Susan Forward’s book, Emotional Blackmail:When People Use Fear, Obligation and Guilt to Manipulate You, and from various site online on this subject.
Hmm well I suffer from OCD and we feel guilty as it is. I don;t know if anyone here understands OCD? Sometimes I feel I am the manipulator or Narcissist, or the one causing the F.O.G.
overwhelm - you are NOT the manipulator or narcissist. You are NOT the one creating FOG. Even the fact that you feel that way shows that you are not. No narcissist blames him or her self.

Overwhelm, I know exactly how you feel. I have a bit of OCD, and I feel everything has to be perfect. And trying to deal with my parents, who still live on their own, it is throwing up speed bumps for my OCD.

I have been able to finally de-stress just by saying *no*..... but it took me having major surgery and mega recovery time to use as a great excuse to saying *no*. I am going to extend this recovery time for all it is worth :)
I truly don't know what I would do without all of the kind spirited lovably souls on this forum. Thank you so ever much. Just having a rough roll of a time right now.

Keep the conversation going (or start a new one)

Please enter your Comment

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support