Breaking the Cycle of Emotional Blackmail
by: Jeffrey D. Murrah, LPC
Family decision-making is an intriguing phenomenon. Many factors become part
of the decision-making process. Emotions play an important part in this
Parents and children each use emotions to steer decisions favorable way to
themselves. Using emotions to influence decisions develops naturally.
The use of emotions becomes harmful when they are used as threats to control
or intimidate others. Emotionally charged threats and intimidation leaves their
victims feeling helpless. Victims of emotional blackmail often give in,
believing they have no other options.
Emotional blackmail occurs across ages. Parents use it on children, children
use it on parents and even grandparents often enter the picture with their
opinions. One parent may even use it on the other parent.
Threats often show up as emotion or behavior-based. Emotional threats are
those where the blackmailer uses an emotional state to control the victim. This
commonly occurs through rage, screaming, crying, whining or complaining.
Through making the situation uncomfortable enough, they force the victim to
do something. When this occurs in public places, embarrassment adds pressure to
yield. After several episodes of emotional threats, the victim often gives in to
avoid the very possibility of another scene. The very threat of emotional
discomfort or blackmail creates pressure to give in.
Behavioral blackmail is where potential actions are used to intimidate. These
include threats of violence, suicide, running away, disowning and even calling
Children's Protective Services. The perpetrators may intensify the threats if
the victim 'tells anyone' about the initial threat. Blackmailers may also
threaten to go public with dirty laundry to force the victims into obedience.
By using such threats, the blackmailer gets their way. Rarely does the
blackmailer consider the effects the threats have on other members of the
family. The effect of repeated threats creates a hostage situation within the
Threats also occur in the form of withholding. The blackmailer threatens to
withhold love, attention, money or dignity. These things are held out like a
carrot to entice the family to do things their way. The phrase "it's my way or
the highway" is a common expression of this behavior.
In healthy families, decisions are made through negotiation, clearly defined
rules and a just authority structure. Although pleasing every member of the
family in the decision-making process rarely occurs, parents can listen to each
person's input before making the final decision. Discussion allows issues to be
"out in the open" rather than someone's will imposed on the family. Such
discussion also reduces the feeling of being a hostage.
Displeasure can be expressed in ways without using emotional blackmail. When
rules and expectations are clear, the need for manipulation is lessened. When
the authority structure is clear and just, family members develop trust in the
decisions that are made.
About The Author
Jeffrey D. Murrah, LPC, LMFT, LCDC is The Results-Oriented Therapist
specializing in marriage and family conflicts. Visit
www.RestoreTheFamily.com to sign up for his free newsletter.