These days I usually get excited by mail. I rarely get bills anymore: that stuff’s all paid online. So if there’s something in the old PO box it’s usually some skin care I ordered or a benefits update from the hubby’s job. Good stuff – stuff I like.
But there’s a type of mail I’ve been learning about, that I’ve been getting for years, and it’s way worse than any bill I could ever get.
It’s called Emotional Blackmail.
Equally as shocking as realizing the people in your life might be dishing out emotional blackmail is when, “Holy shit, I think I’ve done that before, too” hits you. If you’ve read much of my blog you know I’ve had big time issues with addiction, and addicts are prominent emotional blackmailers. That means by default I’ve delivered some rousing performances in the EB department, of which I am not proud to admit/realize/acknowledge.
But there it is. Addicts will do whatever they need to do to get what they want, and I was no exception to that rule when I was in the thick of running from my feelings and the trauma that created them.
But I’ve turned my life around. Still have some things I’m working on, but generally speaking, I’m grateful to be here, which is why I’m doing so well. And I’m obsessed with healing rather than numbing myself by running from how I feel, which is the basis for all addictions, which is how I happened upon the book I’m sharing with you today.
My therapist recommended it, and full disclosure, it took me a long while to crack it open. That title sounds super depressing, right? And I don’t know about you but I want to focus on feeling good, not getting all bummed out thinking about shitty behavior.
But the process of getting better, not just temporarily feeling better, requires a bit of ugh. It’s inevitable: if you want growth you need to be willing to feel sporadically less than great in the process.
This book has been extremely therapeutic for me. It got me realizing that some of the stuff that’s been going on in some of my close relationships, since I was a kid and presently, isn’t healthy and I can’t keep ignoring it – it’s affecting my mental health and has played a key role in some of my most difficult and troubling emotional issues.
It’s helped me take a fine tooth comb to the behaviors I felt weird about but dismissed in the interest of not being argumentative (The classic “Good girl” trait that women try to live up to which doesn’t serve any of us, or society, one iota. I’m over it.)
It’s teaching me that even though people are capable of being jerks it doesn’t mean I need to be a victim: I can stand up for myself in a non-aggressive way.
It’s also got me thinking, “It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be true,” when I’m not reacting or responding to emotionally manipulative behavior in the most productive way.
Here’s the deal about emotional blackmail tactics:
Some people don’t know they’re using them, they’re just doing what they think they need to do – what they’ve always done – to survive. Others do get it, which is scary, but they might not understand why they feel compelled to act so shitty.
I realized that I used to be an emotional blackmailer, and guess what? I didn’t always know I was doing it, nor did I understand what compelled me to act that way. Through the process of acknowledging my past and reading this book, now I do.
This book helped me validate the legitimacy of my feelings on a deeper level. I’ve long felt uncomfortable about certain behaviors religiously offered to me, but couldn’t figure out why. Something inside would say, “Andrea – this isn’t right – you need to do something!” but I couldn’t fully comprehend or make sense of the feeling, so I didn’t pursue acting on it.
At least not in a productive way. Getting aggressive with an aggressor? That just makes more aggression.
This book is helping me understand bulldozing behaviors and it’s giving me the tools to stop contributing to them. It’s also helping me find some clarity in the relationships I feel compelled to step back from, which is something I’m in the process of doing right now, in the name of my own health and healing.
To be clear, figuring out who’s an emotional blackmailer is not about pointing out who’s an asshole. We all have it in us to take the prize in that department depending on the feeling we’re trying to process.
It’s about learning how to notice and stop contributing to manipulative behavior.
So give Emotional Blackmail by Susan Forward a read and let me know if you have any questions or comments about it.