Emotional blackmail

Long story short, I was having an argument with my friend, and it got to the point where I said that I felt I was being emotionally blackmailed. She said that this was such a grievous insult that she was thinking of ending our friendship over it. So clearly either 1) she feels that her behavior did not match the definition of emotional blackmail or 2) we just have different definitions.

So I’m wondering, how would you all define emotional blackmail? Especially specifically with regards to a friendship (I tried showing some examples from a website but she objected that the website was focused on emotional blackmail in a dating context).

Also, she especially did not like what she considered to be the implication of manipulation. I would say her behavior was perhaps more like bullying than manipulation, and more stubborn than an outright threatening (altho later it did rise to the level of an ultimatum; at the time I said it, it did not). Is there another term for something not quite as “horrible” as emotional blackmail, maybe a lesser form that is similar but not as strong, and not done to be intentionally manipulative?

I can give more background if needed, but was hoping to get more insight into what emotional blackmail formally and also generally means to people, with out getting into who was right or wrong in the particular argument.

I’d say this right here is a perfect example of emotional blackmail.


Sublight and DtC posted exactly what I was going to say.

Hmm, I would say emotional blackmail is when you hold someone’s feelings hostage for getting your own way on something. In other words, getting what you want is more important than how the other person feels.

And what sublight posted.

Could we have the specifics, please? I’m really curious now. :slight_smile:

See this is interesting and why I wanted other’s opinions. I kind of thought it had to do with telling someone that if they didn’t do what you wanted (or did what you didn’t want) that that made them responsible for that person being miserable. Or any other kind of guilting type behavior.

It’s a really long story lol. I’ll try the medium length version and if you still have questions I can go into more depth. Anyway Friday we had some sort of disagreement, I’m not even really sure what it was about. She said she expected an apology, and I said so did I.

So today on IM she apologizes and says now it’s my turn. But I say I don’t feel I did anything I should apologize for. She keeps pressuring me even though I don’t feel it would be right for me to apologize when I don’t think I did anything wrong. And also I wasn’t able to get her to clearly communicate exactly what behavior of mine offended her.

But I guess that wasn’t even relevant to her, because she wasn’t asking me to apologize for what I did, she was asking me to apologize for “hurting my feelings” and “making me feel like crap”. I try to explain that if I had intended to hurt her feelings, or if my behavior or actions were inherently inappropriate or wrong, then I would agree to apologize, but that the mere fact that she took offense at something I did or said did not make me responsible for the feelings that she felt. If it was intentional or wrong, then yes it’s my fault, but if not then either it was a misunderstanding and therefore not my fault, or she was overly sensitive or making negative assumptions in which case it was her own fault.

I kept trying to say that it was clear there was some kind of misunderstanding and we should just move on and forget it happened. But she kept saying that I was forcing the argument to continue by refusing to apologize. Then

Me: “you are asking me to violate my own values and do something I don’t want to do”.
She: “something you dont want to do… like make me feel better”.
Me: “i’m not responsible for your feelings”
She: “like take responsibility for your actions”
Me: “and i’ve already used up my entire alotment of emotional blackmail for one lifetime”

She took great offense at that, because for her it means “manipulative person who only interacts with people to get what she wants”

Then she threatened me, “now you really have something to apologize for, insinutating that i am trying to manipulate you, and if you dont apologize, and if you really feel that way, we can longer be friends”

Of course, whereas previously I hadn’t meant ‘emotional blackmail’ to really mean manipulative, at least not intentionally, now she was doing something that I considered almost an ultimatum.

In any case the argument continued on for over an hour past that, with her finally signing off without resolving anything. I got her to officially say that she was canceling our plans for the next day, but she hasn’t officially committed to the ‘ending our friendship’ thing yet.

I wanted to get a sense of what EB means both officially and in common perception since 1) her behavior seemed to be similar to EB as I understood it and 2) my understanding of EB did not include it under the same list of “unforgivable insults” as apparently hers did. If my understanding was way off base then I could tell her that I simply had the wrong definition and it’s a misunderstanding, and if hers was way off base then I could tell her that it’s not generally understood to be as serious as she took it and there wasn’t a reasonable expectation for me to know how offended she would get.

You didn’t have the wrong definition. Emotional blackmail is an extreme type of passive aggression which involves expressing exaggerated or disproportionate levels of emotional distress in order to get one’s way. Threatening to commit suicide is perhaps the most classic form of emotional blackmail, but threatening to end a friendship because “I’m so hurt” is right up there too.

Your friend is out of line, and IS using emotional blackmail and you have nothing to apologize for. If she really wants to end the friendship, you might actually be better off.

The flip side of this kind of personality is that they tell you how awesome you are if you give them what they want. Does she do that?

I personally would reserve the term emotional blackmail for something long-term. Mothers, bitter custody arrangements, stuff like that. Based on how you said it “had enough for a lifetime” maybe you are especially sensitive to it. But I do think you brought a gun to a knife fight in this case.

If this accurately describes what happened, I think this would be part of the problem. You accepted her apology, knowing that she also expected one, but also knowing that you were not prepared to give one. She offered her apology under the assumption that it woudl be mutual, and you, having been told that she expected an apology, decided you had nothing to apologize for and didn’t follow through on your part of the “deal.”

Her: I expect you to apologize for calling me a pot!
You: I expect you to apologize for calling me a kettle!
Her: I apologize for calling you a kettle!
You: I see no reason to apologize for caling you a pot.

For you to accuse her of that for expecting you to provide a reciprocal apology seems pretty harsh. It’s kind of emotionally tone-deaf not to realize a reciprocal apology is expected. She probably offered her apology out of concern for preserving the friendship rather than acknowledging an obviously wrong action on her part. She thought you would do the same, but you didn’t.

True, you don’t own responsibility for her feelings, but friendship is about sharing positive feelings. For purely rational exchanges, we have computers.

My suggestion? Give it a week of time apart to calm down, then agree to meet for coffee and talk it over.

You have called your friend on a behavior that she wants to continue to be able to do. She wants to feel free to use ‘being hurt’ to make you dance, although maybe only to the extent of apologizing when she feels bad. She also wants not to admit that she’s doing something that isn’t nice. She probably thinks that’s it’s not emotional blackmail if she really is feeling hurt and/or if she’s not asking for anything big or hurtful. Or that it can’t be emotional blackmail if she’s basically a nice person or if she really likes you. She may believe that it can’t be emotional blackmail if it’s done spontaneously, intuitively, or out of habit - that is, she may assume that she has to deliberately plot against you in order for it to be emotional blackmail.

If you agree that what she’s doing is not emotional blackmail, she will continue to do it. She’s doing something that she doesn’t see as wrong. She’s doing it out of habit, as a standard way of dealing with people. You may have to decide if the friendship is worth making apologies just because she feels bad. It’s likely to happen again, but that may be as ferocious as she gets. It may be a quirk that you can learn to live with.

I think the real acid test here is whether she wants you to apologize because she is trying to gain some sort of leverage on you or if she genuinely feels hurt. My gut says it’s the latter, but only you can assess the situation. If it’s the latter, then go ahead and apologize and repair the friendship.

The same words can be used to “emotionally blackmail” or to “communicate honestly and effectively”, it’s all in the intent and tone. If the intent is to hurt you in order to change your behavior, it’s emotional blackmail. If the intent is to communicate her needs, including the need to longer be friends with you if X behavior continues, then that’s not blackmail, that’s letting you know where things stand.

Generally speaking, the more often you hear the sentiment expressed, the more likely it is being used as emotional blackmail. If she feels she can no longer be friends with you over this, there’s really not much more of a conversation to have.

Having someone like this in your circle of friends is emotionally draining as they feed off weaker people who give into their manipulations. Great when they are Up-Up-Up and Happy and RAH RAH You Did an AWESOME JOB!!!1111!!! But, when they don’t get what they want, it’s is wah-wah, boo hoo you hurt my feelings!

Personally, tell her to take her ball and go home.

Harriet hit the nail on the head.

It’s not “emotional blackmail”, it’s a diplomatic move.

It’s that, too.

You weren’t all wrong, but you weren’t all right, either. Whether what you said or did should have hurt her feelings, it did, and that probably did deserve an apology. She should be willing to tell you what it was that hurt her feelings, though; it sounds like she’s playing the bullshit woman’s game of, “If you don’t know what’s wrong, I can’t tell you.” Your expectation for her to tell you what you did that hurt her feelings is reasonable. Her expectation for you to apologize when you don’t know what you did wrong is not. As for the emotional blackmail, yeah, there’s a certain element of that in her actions. The impression I’m really getting here is that you two are not compatible as friends; you are cut and dried, and she is emotional, and expects you to consider her emotions as important as she does.

No, the OP had nothing to apologize for. Trying to make apologies reciprocal when it isn’t warranted, especially when it includes injecting a threat to resign the relationship, is manipulative bullshit.

Part of being well-socialized is being able to recognize when extending an olive branch and offering a few words is the more productive thing to do. A simple “I’m sorry ____ . I truly did not mean to hurt your feelings and I’m sorry that you were hurt. That wasn’t my intent.”

I’m sure she feels like she is genuinely hurt. And at the time that I said it, I probably went a little overboard on the ‘emotional blackmail’ statement. But she has had a habit of being oversensitive, and making negative assumptions about what I mean or might be implying. And then she will insist that I am responsible for her hurt feelings. My basic position on that is that unless I have intentionally tried to hurt her feelings, I can’t be really held responsible for them. I’m willing to discuss what happened and figure out what the misunderstanding is. And even the first few times it happens I might take equal blame, even though there’s not really any blame either way.

But when it happens again and again I have to say that either the person is just overly negative in their interpretation of the world, or we have such different communication styles that no assumptions should be made or implications read without getting confirmation first.

As far as the apology goes, I can see that she thought there was an implied agreement for me to apologize if she did. But I didn’t really want an apology, it was just my way of pointing out to her that I wasn’t going to say I was sorry when I thought she was the one in the wrong. The real sticking point for me is probably linguistic though. There’s “sorry” in the sense of “find it unfortunate” and there’s sorry in the sense of “it was my fault and I won’t do it again”. I care about her and am sorry that her feelings were hurt, but at least in the original case I don’t feel that I did anything wrong and am not sorry for my actions. The ambiguity wouldn’t matter so much to me except that am tired of her blaming me for what she feels. I want her to take ownership of her own feelings.

It’s not an olive branch if ypou’re the one in the wrong. It’s an attempt to avoid responsibility by falsely claiming there is blame on both sides.

Ah, now I’m clearer on it. I don’t think she’s using EB on you, I think she genuinely feels hurt by what you said. But the misunderstanding is hers. Maybe explain your intentions, and it would certainly be a good thing to acknowledge her hurt, but you don’t owe her an apology.

Unless you went all racist on her and called her niggardly.

This one hasn’t been addressed yet. I’m with you on your definition on emotional blackmail and think it’s pretty damn unforgivable. But I also think it’s a grave insult. In fact, I would consider a unwarranted accusation to be emotional blackmail itself: Give in or I’ll (try to) make you feel bad for the way you’re arguing.

I can see how a truly manipulative person would escalate the emotional blackmail by threatening to end the friendship, but, from a truly honest person, a reconsideration of the friendship also seems a good response.

And another big part of being a grownup is being able to recognize when to stand up for yourself. A simple “Fuck you, you’re hurting me. Stop it” also goes a long way. From the OP it isn’t clear at all which situation applies here.

I have to ask: where did you get the impression that jackdavinci didnt’ realize that a reciprocal apology was expected? He just didn’t go along with those expectations.