Does your partner threaten to kill himself if you try to leave him? Does he tell you you don’t love him enough? That he just can’t cope without you? Then you may be on the receiving end of emotional blackmail. Here’s my guide to identifying and dealing with one of the most powerful tactics in an abuser’s toolkit.
If you are in – or have gotten out of – an abusive relationship, you will have experienced emotional blackmail. Some blackmail tactics are in-your face and blatant. Some are much more subtle and insidious. All fall broadly into just three categories.
1) Blame and denial
I call these the ‘if, only and just’ statements. Watch out for these words, which are designed to minimise the abuse or deflect responsibility elsewhere.
- I only hit you when I’m drunk. Why won’t you help me to stop drinking?
- It’s your fault I yell at you. You shouldn’t wind me up.
- Your mother hates me. You shouldn’t listen to her.
- I’m only so critical of you because I love you.
- You were a better wife to me before the kids came along.
- If I didn’t care about you so much, I wouldn’t care what you do.
- You drink too much – anyone would be angry in my shoes.
- It was just a slap.
- My ex wife was abusive. That’s why I act like this.
- We were much better together before we moved to this town.
- You always start the fights – I just stand up for myself.
- If you would stop antagnosing me, I wouldn’t need to shout at you.
- You don’t love me.
- You don’t have time for me since you started that new job.
The point he’s trying to get across? You are over-reacting, and anyway, it’s not his fault.
WHAT he wants to achieve
Well, he wants YOU to change! You should change your perception of what is acceptable (ie. whatever he does is fine or understandable, in the circumstances). See things from his point of view, be more understanding of all the pressures on him. Stand by your man (thank you, Tammy Wynette). Above all, stop being a hysterical woman, quit acting crazy and blowing this all out of proportion.
You should also change your own behaviour. After all, he wouldn’t get so jealous if you didn’t insist on going out without him, and he wouldn’t get angry if you remembered that he drinks his tea with three sugars rather than two, this week. And, if you don’t give him cause for argument, he’ll have nothing to be upset with us about – will he?
2) Pity and promises
These attempts at emotional blackmail usually come when the abuser feels threatened – for example, if he thinks that you’re about to leave – or maybe, have already gone. Notice that it is all about him and his needs. You don’t feature at all!
- You are my world. I can’t cope without you.
- I have an awful, life-threatening illness. Don’t leave me to face it alone.
- I just lost my job. Don’t walk out on me now.
- I’m about to be evicted.
- You are the only one that can help me.
- I’m nothing without you. I won’t do it again.
- My mother is dying. It’s hard to bear, and I need your support.
- I don’t have any family. How can I do this on my own?
The point he’s trying to get across? It is your job to fix him. It is your fault if his life falls apart. He’ll be a better man if you are a better partner to him.
WHAT he wants to achieve
Unsurprisingly, though the statements are all about him – it’s you that has to change (again!) Firstly, you should put all thoughts of leaving firmly out of your mind, forever. If you have already escaped the relationship, you should definitely come back. And, when you do, you will bail him out of the financial hole he has dug for himself, you will cook and clean and take care of him, and you will be available to him emotionally and sexually at all times. You should put his needs above our own – you’ve always done that anyway, so why change now?
If you don’t, his physical, emotional, financial, and mental well-being will collapse. And it will be your fault, lady!
These blackmail attempts are usually easier to spot. They hit directly on your soft spots and often include promises to falsely slander you and ruin your life if you don’t do as you are told. The dangerous thing is that some abusers – when threats alone don’t work – may go on to act on them. For this reason, please take all threats extremely seriously, and be proactive in protecting yourself. Document them all, keep text messages and emails, and even voice recordings if you can. Report them to the police.
- I’ll hurt the children if you try to leave.
- I’m sure your boss would love to hear that you love BDSM parties.
- I’ll kill myself if you don’t come back to me.
- Don’t even think of getting yourself a new boyfriend: I will kill him and you.
- You won’t survive without me – you don’t have a job now and I won’t help you with money.
- Our children won’t have a father. They will blame you for it and hate you forever.
- Next week, check out BustyBabes.com. After I post those intimate photos, you’ll be the star attraction.
- My next call is to child protection. They need to know that you’re an unfit mother.
The point he’s trying to get across? Your life will be ruined if you don’t stick with him. And you’ll only have yourself to blame.
WHAT he wants to achieve
Yes, you guessed it. It’s you that has to change. You should do as you are told and submit to his control, or face the consequences. If you succumb to this tactic, he will hold it over your head forevermore – so be prepared to live life in fear as he knows exactly which strings to pull to make you dance.
If you don’t, he is absolved of all responsibility (again) because he warned you what would happen. It’s not his fault, after all. He told you the terms. You silly woman, you didn’t listen.
Dealing with emotional blackmail
My abuser used emotional blackmail time and time again to make me stay and to compel me to come back. It worked up until I realised this…
Emotional blackmail is a cyclical tactic designed to manipulate us. It is about his need to control us. If we resist his demands, he will increase the pressure. If that doesn’t work, threats will follow. If we give in and do as he wants, the cycle will begin again. For me, each cycle got progressively more extreme as I learned to resist for longer. For example, what started as passionate declarations that life was worthless without me became drunken suicide threats, which later became stone-cold sober self-harming.
To bust out of the cycle, we need to consider the answers to these six big questions:
- Am I prepared to spend the rest of my life putting his needs above my own?
- Will my children be happy and safe around abuse?
- Do I want to live with this abuse forever?
- Am I willing to continue to allow him to shirk responsibility for his own actions?
- Do I accept the blame for his behaviour?
- What can I do now to achieve safety and happiness?
Emotional blackmail is commonplace in abusive relationships, because it relies on our low self-esteem and independence – usually this has been ground out of us by our abuser. So, having answered these questions, remember that you deserve love, happiness and safety.
When confronted with this poisonous tactic, try not to let fear, pity or guilt make your decisions – doing so will condemn you to more misery-making abuse, and new cycles of blackmail.
Instead, be prepared to stand firm and strong. He is responsible for his actions and well-being. Not you. You do not need to change. In fact, changing will make things worse for you – because you show him that emotional blackmail works. Also, the abuse will likely increase as he feels even more need to control you than ever before. Take steps today to protect yourself, and push the button on that ejector seat!
© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013