Busting emotional blackmail

Joey Garcia

I am getting remarried in August, and my ex-husband has hinted to me that he expects to be invited. He has asked our daughters to insist that he be sent an invitation. I do not want him at my wedding, and neither does the man I am marrying. But now my daughters feel uncomfortable because he tells them how left out he feels and how he wishes I could understand that he is still family. He told my youngest that he would spend the day depressed if not invited. What should I do?

Learn to recognize emotional blackmail. Here’s a handy definition from Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation and Guilt to Manipulate You by Susan Forward: “Emotional blackmail is a powerful form of manipulation in which people close to us threaten, either directly or indirectly, to punish us if we don’t do what they want. At the heart of any kind of blackmail is one basic threat, which can be expressed in many different ways: If you don’t behave the way I want you to, you will suffer.”

Scary, huh? We usually think of blackmail in criminal terms—the unsavory choice to use information about a person’s past to damage their reputation or to solicit cash. Emotional blackmail occurs in relationships with people who know we value our relationship with them. As Forward writes, “No matter how much they care about us, when they fear they won’t get their way, they use this intimate knowledge to shape the threats that give them the payoff they want: our compliance.”

Your ex-husband is emotionally blackmailing you and encouraging your daughters to do the same. Don’t give in. Stay serene by realizing that he enjoys pushing your “needy” button. When you begin to accept yourself as a loving person who does not need his approval, his power over you recedes. As Forward notes: “Knowing that we want love or approval, our blackmailers threaten to withhold it or take it away altogether, or make us feel we must earn it. For example, if you pride yourself on being generous and caring, the blackmailer might label you selfish or inconsiderate, if you don’t accede to his wishes. If you value money and security, the blackmailer might attach conditions to providing them or threaten to take them away. And if you believe the blackmailer, you could fall into a pattern of letting him control your decisions and behavior.”

Forward’s book includes an instructive checklist of damaging behaviors. If any one of the following situations is true, you are being emotionally blackmailed. So consider whether important people in your life:

• Threaten to make your life difficult if you don’t do what they want

• Constantly threaten to end the relationship if you don’t do what they want

• Tell you or imply that they will neglect, hurt themselves or become depressed if you don’t do what they want

• Always want more, no matter how much you give them

• Regularly assume you will give into them

• Regularly ignore or discount your feelings and wants

• Make lavish promises that are contingent on your behavior and then rarely keep them

• Consistently label you as selfish, bad, greedy, unfeeling and uncaring or as not meeting their expectations when you don’t give into them

• Shower you with approval when you give in to them and take it away when you don’t

• Use money as a weapon to get their way

The only way to stop being a victim of emotional blackmail is to make new choices. Step away from your ex-husband’s demands. Be true to yourself instead. You should also show your daughters this column so they stop themselves from evolving into blackmailers, too.

Meditation of the week
The best moment in the Sacramento Theatre Company’s recent production of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure was when the title character exclaimed, “Divas live for confrontation!” Does that explain any of your difficult relationships?

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