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Published on July 16, 2020

How to Handle Emotional Blackmail in a Relationship

How to Handle Emotional Blackmail in a Relationship

Have you ever been in a relationship where your partner makes you feel crazy? Or where they wanted to control your every move? Or perhaps you have felt like you were being emotionally blackmailed?

If you have felt that way, you are not alone. Many people find themselves a victim of an emotional blackmailer.

But what exactly is emotional blackmail? Let’s take a look.

What Is Emotional Blackmail?

Emotional blackmail is a very dysfunctional dynamic that happens in some relationships. It is a form of manipulation that a person uses to make demands on and threaten their victims to get what they want.

Just like “regular” blackmail, the message of emotional blackmail is this: “If you don’t do what I want and when I want it, you will be sorry. I will make you suffer.”

An example of “regular blackmail” might look like this. Perhaps you walked in on your married boss fooling around in his office with one of your co-workers (who is not his wife). Since he doesn’t want his wife to find out, he will likely do anything to keep you from telling his secret. So, it would be blackmail for you to say, “I won’t tell your wife if you double my salary.”

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Emotional blackmail is not really that different from this. It just happens in close, intimate relationships.

Someone who is trying to emotionally blackmail you will create feelings of fear, guilt, and anger to get you to comply with what they want. While they are doing this, they try to blame you (the victim) for their own negative behavior.

Examples of Emotional Blackmail

A person who is an emotional blackmailer tends to be emotionally immature. They don’t have any other ways to communicate with someone, and they don’t know how to be in a healthy relationship. Instead, they rely on their negative behavior to bully their partner into compliance.

Emotional blackmail occurs in many romantic relationships. In fact, this is probably the most common type of relationship in which you will find this occurring.

Let’s take the example of cheating. If a woman is caught cheating on her husband (and she is an emotional blackmailer), then instead of expressing remorse and apologizing for her actions, she will instead deflect the blame onto her husband.

In other words, she may say things like “If you were just more loving and attentive to me, then I wouldn’t have had to cheat on you!” In saying this, she is justifying her behavior and confusing her husband so much that he might actually start to believe that it is his fault that she cheated on him.

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He may even start to internalize this and wonder if maybe he is not good enough for her or that he is somehow a bad husband.

Here are some other ways that someone can emotionally blackmail another person:

  • If you ever break up with me, I will commit suicide.
  • You say you love me, but you won’t stop talking to your friend because I want you to.
  • If I ever catch you looking at another woman, I’ll kill her!
  • I’ve talked to my friends and family, and they all agree that you are crazy!
  • You have ruined my life, and now you’re trying to tell me to stop drinking?

You see, an emotional blackmailer will always try to make the victim feel like they are to blame for everything. Here are a couple of more examples:

  • It’s your fault that I didn’t get that promotion at work.
  • If you would just buy healthy food, then I wouldn’t be fat.

They also use strategies that create confusion in their victims. The ways they do this is by making their demands seem reasonable, making their victim seem selfish or crazy, or partnering with someone else to help intimidate them.

How Do You Know If You Are Being Emotionally Blackmailed?

Believe it or not, you might not know if you’re being blackmailed. It might seem like you should know, but sometimes people are too close to the situation and therefore, they don’t recognize the warning signs.

Let’s take a look at some of the things you should be on the lookout for:

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  1. Do you apologize a lot? In other words, do you feel like your partner thinks everything you do is wrong and so, you have to constantly beg for forgiveness?
  2. Do you take responsibility for your partner’s actions? In other words, if they are having a temper tantrum, do you automatically think it’s because you did something wrong?
  3. Does it seem like you are the only one who gives in or makes sacrifices in the relationship?
  4. Do you often feel intimidated by your partner? Do you feel threatened into obeying what they say or forcibly comply?
  5. Do you make changes to your life just to make your partner happy?
  6. Do you find it difficult to stand up for yourself? Or do you feel like you are walking around on eggshells and that you can’t talk about things that are bothering you?
  7. Do you find it impossible to set up boundaries in your relationship or to say no to your partner?
  8. Do you find it extremely difficult to communicate with your partner? And that if you do, he/she will not hear what you are really saying?

If you said “yes” to any of these questions, then you are probably being emotionally blackmailed. And you need to do something about it.

Tips for Handling Emotional Blackmail

If you are a victim of emotional blackmail, there are some ways you can handle it.

1. Be Honest With Yourself

First, you need to be honest with yourself and really take a hard, objective look at your partner’s behavior. Try to recognize their controlling behavior – of all kinds.

2. Keep a Journal

Writing down

your daily interactions with the other person will allow you to go back and review what was said and done by them. That way, you have a written record of the actual behavior that is happening. Because sometimes, our memory can play tricks on us, so it’s important to get it on paper.

3. Seek Help

Try to understand why you are allowing this behavior in your partner. Is there something in your past that makes you think you deserve this negative behavior? If you have the resources to do so, try to seek help from a therapist to help you uncover why you are allowing this in your life.

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4. Determine If You Are in Danger

Many people have their occasional emotional outbursts, but if this has become something regular in your relationship, you need to protect yourself and your children (if you have them).

5. Take Action

Try to get your partner to seek help if he/she is an emotional blackmailer. And if they refuse, then you need to seriously consider ending the relationship if they will not change.

The Bottom Line

No one deserves to be emotionally blackmailed. It is a horrible, mean way to manipulate another human being. So, if you find that you are a victim of emotional blackmail in your relationship, you need to realize that you deserve better.

Save yourself and your happiness, because that is all that really matters.

Read More About Emotional Manipulation

Featured photo credit: Naomi August via unsplash.com

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Carol Morgan

Dr. Carol Morgan is the owner of HerSideHisSide.com, a communication professor, dating & relationship coach, TV personality, speaker, and author.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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