When we love someone - be they parent, lover, sibling, friend - we tend to want to do things to please them. I will make this cake/buy this gift/offer this massage, whatever the thing is, we want to do it simply out of love. Our repayment is the look of delight on our loved one's face.
Sadly, it is easy for the person on the other end, if they are not an emotionally healthy person, and if we do not have strong and healthy boundaries, ourselves, for that to get twisted around into, "If you loved me, you would do ABC for me." Or, "Obviously, because you won't do XYZ for me, you don't really love me."
We get fogged in, and confused.
According to psychotherapist Susan Forward, who did much to popularise the term, "emotional blackmail" is a powerful form of manipulation in which blackmailers who are close to the victim threaten, either directly or indirectly, to punish them to get what they want. They may know the victim's vulnerabilities and their deepest secrets. "Many of the people who use emotional blackmail are friends, colleagues and family members with whom we have close ties that we want to strengthen and salvage" - parents, partners, bosses or lovers. No matter how much the blackmailer cares about the victim, they use their intimate knowledge to win compliance.
Knowing that the victim wants love, approval or confirmation of identity, blackmailers may threaten to withhold them or take them away altogether, or make the victim feel they must earn them: "as the power of emotional blackmail indicates, self-identity is inevitably affected by... the 'reaction' of the other", as is self-esteem. If the victim believes the blackmailer, he/she could fall into a pattern of letting the blackmailer control his/her decisions and behavior and become "caught in a sort of psychological fog".
Emotional blackmailers use fear, obligation and guilt in their relationships, ensuring that the victim feels afraid to cross them, obligated to give them their way and feeling guilty if they don't: indeed Forward and Frazier invent the acronym FOG, standing for Fear, Obligation, Guilt - feelings which often result from being exposed to emotional blackmail when in a relationship with a person who suffers from a personality disorder.
Fear has to everything to do with gut-level insecurity. If I don't keep this relationship, I may never have someone to love me the way s/he does. Fear that we're unworthy, that we may be abandoned, all kinds of fears may make us cling to a bad relationship that is hurting us. Fear makes us hold on, no matter the cost.
Obligation is when we do things because we feel we should, not because we want to. If we choose to have children or adopt pets, yes, we are obliged to do our best to care for them. Other adults, not so much. If we are married or partnered, we have social obligations towards our partners. Recently I heard a story of a woman whose now elderly mother had mistreated her terribly: always told her she was a burden, that she regretted not having an abortion, beat her frequently, and kicked her out of the house as a very young teenager. Then had little to do with her for years. Now the mother needs food, shelter, financial help for perhaps 10-20 years, and thinks Darling Daughter is obliged to step up.
IMO, no. She may choose to do so, or her own free will, but she does not have an obligation to do so.
Guilt and shame are two emotions it's easy to confuse. According to Brene Brown, shame is feeling bad about ourselves, and guilt is feeling bad because of a specific action/inaction on our parts. I am a bad/unlovable person vs. I did something wrong and now I need to make it right. When we are in a relationship with an unhealthy person, we may feel guilty for doing things we know aren't "right" in a normal relationship; for example, slipping out to meet a friend for lunch and not telling our partner because we know a scene would result.
The fog is rolling (Photo credit: davidyuweb)
Fear, Obligation, and Guilt are all healthy and appropriate in many circumstances; there is no such critter as a "bad" emotion. But when they swirl together to form a fog, often we cannot think clearly, and really sort out what we really feel about a partner, and what would be a healthy way to behave.
To get out of the FOG, the best solution is a change of climate. Take as long a vacation with No Contact from the boss/parent/partner as is possible. If appropriate, end the relationship. Additionally - get help - mental health professional, trusted friends, start or continue enjoyable hobbies. Keep a journal.
I have been "out" of the foggy environment for almost two years now, and there are still some wisps and tendrils lingering in some of my thoughts. But it's better every day.
My A-Z theme is Issues related to Mental Health or Mental Illness.
Have you ever been "fogged in" in a relationship?
Got any other tips for clearing it away?