Vinita Dawra Nangia
Dr Benjamin Spock warns parents to put an infant to bed in an independent room from Day 1 and not to give in to cries in the middle of the night. He suggests that infants realize early that crying has parents rushing to their bedside and if successful once, will try the same trick every night!
If the art of emotional blackmail is something we are born with, why expect to grow out of it as we go on? Watch a child when it howls for something. In between heart wrenching sobs, he keeps stealing glances to ensure he hasn’t lost the interest of his target audience, mostly parents.
As besotted parents give in to the cute little tyrant’s emotional blackmail, this sets the pattern for the habit of a lifetime. All of us indulge in a bit of emotional blackmail; we give in to it or resist a bit of it every day in almost all relationships. And we even enjoy it in its most innocent form. A lover and a beloved, for instance make a fine art of emotional manipulation and cajole each other into doing what they want.
Emotional involvement with another creates undefined boundaries between people. Expectations have no set models and could vary crazily, thus setting the grounds for misunderstandings. Put together unjustified demands along with misplaced expectations and the situation could be rife for disaster.
Healthy relationships are able to define boundaries as they go along. Amoeba like they shift, adjust and realign themselves till a comfort level is reached for both parties. And all is well so long as both parties take considered decisions to accept, circumvent or reject attempts at emotional manipulation. So long as there is a healthy give and take both ways, there is no issue.
And hence there’s not much harm, and sometimes even pleasure, in giving in to a child’s innocent attempts at manipulation by using emotion as a threat. Or, even in indulging the beloved who refuses to talk, smile, or allow sex till some demand of hers is met. There is a light interplay of emotions in these circumstances that even helps cement the bond. There is a thrilling sense of power in watching your loved one give in to your emotional demands and a certain reassurance that can only help the relationship.
However, emotional blackmail isn’t always as simple or innocent as that between a child and a parent or an upset beloved with an indulgent lover. And often in the hands of the wrong person can become an instrument of emotional manipulation and control.
It’s when all demands emanate from one person and all adjustments are expected from the other that light, emotional interplay crosses the boundary over to heavy emotional blackmail.
It’s important to recognize the first indication that you are a victim of emotional blackmail before you get pulled along with the tide and find it difficult to extricate yourself, says Aruna, who has been a victim of such behaviour and was introduced to me by a psychiatrist friend who helped the couple out of a dead-end relationship.
The modus operandi of an emotional blackmailer is to play up emotions on an all-time high. Aruna explains how her husband would often threaten her directly or threaten to harm himself; at times he would act the martyr to attract sympathy or try to tantalise with attempted bribery. All the time he demanded an overdose of attention, expect his demands to be met at any and every time. Aruna reveals how she would spend all her time catering to his demands, whims and fancies. And he would never care about her needs or emotions ever.
Experts describe the emotional blackmailer as someone who usually gives in to fluctuating moods, is an intense personality who listens to dark music and is attracted by emotional lyrics and poetry. He normally blames the rest of the world for all his troubles, is a loner who claims nobody understands him and is someone who often threatens to walk out of relationships.
Aruna talks about another favourite technique of emotional manipulators. It is “the Silent Treatment,” she says with a sad smile. This is a great attention-seeking strategy. Such people withdraw, remain silent and don’t allow you an inch to approach them. “After an interval, he would turn up again and blame me for not being there when he truly needed me,” she says. It’s a no-win situation for the victim and helps manoeuvre you into the position the perpetrator wants.
How does one get out of such a situation? Aruna advises one must first and foremost understand they are being blackmailed and that this is totally abusive behaviour. The next step is to draw boundaries and refuse to be a victim anymore. It is important to understand and consider one’s own needs. And if need be, one should seek help. As Aruna did.