Don’t negotiate with emotional blackmailers.
There is a sizable subset of people out there who wish to control what you think, feel, and do.
Sometimes they have the best intentions— they might be family, or friends, or professionals who honestly think they have a better way for you to exist than the way you would otherwise live, left to your own devices.
Sometimes they have self-interested intentions— they’re selling a product or service that purports to increase the pleasant feeling states and decrease the painful feeling states in your life.
And, yes, there is a subset of people who will seek to control you simply because that’s what they do. They like controlling people.
Whatever other peoples’ reasons for wanting to control what you think, feel, and do, there tend to be some consistencies about their methodology. The most striking feature of how they do what they do is, they rarely offer their path to you as an option for you to freely choose, based upon your own perception of reality and values system. And it’s not hard to see why they don’t go about it this way: that would require them to respect your autonomy, intelligence, and dignity.
Pesky little obstacles— autonomy, intelligence, and dignity— when you’re trying to control someone.
Far easier, and more effective, when it comes to controlling people is to appeal to their sense of guilt.
Far easier still is to prey upon peoples’ instinctive reluctance to set and enforce boundaries.
Even easier yet is to exploit peoples’ feelings of inadequacy or incompleteness to get them to think, feel, and behave as they’d prefer.
This is what I call “emotional blackmail.” And it’s a behavior change lever that’s used by advertisers, politicians, family members, and even therapists, guides, sponsors, and gurus, every single day.
The thing about emotional blackmailers is, whether they are well-intentioned or not, their “means to an end” is always and only harmful to our self-esteem. Nobody has ever made the “best choices of their life” because of the tactics of emotional blackmailers.
How do we recognize when emotional blackmailers are up to their tricks?
There are a few telltale signs.
One of the most glaring signs is that the appeals of emotional blackmailers are almost never rooted in respect for thoughtful, considered reality testing. Almost always, their appeals are based on getting you to make gut-level, reflexive decisions, without doing any of that pesky THINKING that sometimes gets in the way.
I’m not talking about respecting your instincts. I’m talking about people who encourage you to just “go with” a gut feeling, without asking reasonable questions about what that feeling may or may not be all about. Emotional blackmailers LOVE to tell people that their “hearts” are superior to their “heads” when making decisions— because they know that when people start integrating their intelligence with their instincts, they have a tendency to make better, more autonomous decisions. This is contrary to the agenda of emotional blackmailers.
Another telltale sign of the emotional blackmailer is that their appeals are almost never designed to take you to another, higher level in your life. Almost always, their appeals encourage you to avoid being “one of THOSE people”— i.e., some out-group that the emotional blackmailer knows you want to avoid being part of. They may imply that if you don’t’ think, feel, and do what they’d prefer, you might be unintelligent, or uncompassionate, or otherwise a “bad person.”
The key to the kingdom of controlling people, as far as the emotional blackmailer is concerned, is figuring out a way to make someone feel like a “bad person” if they don’t do what the blackmailer would prefer. Many people will go to great lengths to not feel like “bad people.”
This is why it’s so important that we don’t just rely on our instincts when it comes to decision making. While it’s true that our guts have invaluable information for us that come from primal emotional perceptions and cues, our instincts are designed to work in concert with our magnificent minds in order to make good choices.
We need to decide what it means to be a “good” or a “bad” person based upon our own values system, derived from a purposeful integration of our instinctive and intellectual capacities. Only WE can do this for ourselves.
Understand, emotional blackmailers don’t like it when people catch on to their tricks. Usually what happens when they get a wife that someone is on to them is to double down on their manipulative tactics. Exasperated sighs, eye rolling, head shaking, tsk-tsking. The “shaming” machine gets thrown into high gear.
But ask yourself this question: if someone has your best interests in mind, would they really be encouraging you to NOT to think, to just accept their judgments and carry out their wishes?
Would anyone who wants to ENHANCE your feelings of personal power, autonomy, and dignity be frustrated that you want to think something through for YOURSELF?
Would anyone who really respects you be ANGRY that you want to take the time to think for yourself, especially about what constitutes a “good” or a “bad” person?
Don’t take my word for it— think it through.
You deserve the time and space to think it through.
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5 thoughts on “Don’t negotiate with emotional blackmailers.”
Thank you for your posts. Trusting people freely enhances self esteem, but being made to trust people with egos far above what is genuinely good is so damaging. Your article makes so much sense. _______________________________
My doctor who has just sold her practice tried the emotional blackmail on me …What the heck !!!!
I told her she was melodramatic.. glad she was leaving and would sort my case with the new doctor ..😡😡😡
A great insight – a great read. You never cease to amaze me Doc. You are able to put into words what we already know ourselves, but we are too hesitant to take a ‘stand’ . Rather we often brush it off, thinking, it must be me. I must be the stupid one. Thank you for this article. I intend to refer to it in the future.
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