This time of year tends to increase feelings of loneliness, depression and stress reactions. With that comes a lot of acting out such as outbursts, short fuse and even withdrawal. These are often talked about throughout the mental health community. I wanted to focus on what to look for around the topic of being held hostage emotionally.
To do that, we first need to define what it means to be an emotional hostage. When individuals use fear, anger or guilt to get what they want they are attempting to take you emotionally hostage. This technique is often used by abusers. It could look as simple as throwing a fit or threatening to go back to drug use if they don’t get their way. Basically, they don’t want to take responsibility for their words or actions and instead attempt to blame others. With addicts new to recovery, it may be an excuse to return to use.
The first thing you need to watch for is a pattern of being put into a position to make a decision where either option feels wrong. People tend to go with the lesser evil so to speak. A highly skilled emotional manipulator can get you to not even consider what you want in that decision. Remember to be an emotional hostage taker, there needs to be a pattern of such attempts to manipulate.
Once you have determined that this is going on in a relationship, you need to figure out where your boundaries are. No matter how you express them, they must include not being accountable for the other person’s emotions. It is okay to refuse to take responsibility for someone else’s feelings. Make it clear that you will not be their emotional punching bag. You do not have to be with people who drain you. Give yourself permission to step away when you begin to feel drained.
The extreme of taking someone emotionally hostage is to threaten suicide if they don’t get what they want. This is seen in dysfunctional marriages. The hostage taker will say that it is because they love you so much, but in reality, it is a ploy in most cases to get what they want. No one wants to be responsible for someone else committing suicide.
One of the ways to put an end to such manipulations is to share with compassion that you will call the proper authorities to get them help right away. If they continue to make suicidal statements. Do it. You can call the police if you know the abuser’s address or location. There is also a line for getting help when someone else is suicidal 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They will be able to help you with what is available in your area.
I encourage you to give the manipulator the suicide prevention line number. (1.800.273.8255) Taking these steps will help lessen the concern that they were serious about their threat. If the individual is with you and has a history of physical violence it may be unsafe to confront the individual. Instead, get to safety then take action to get them help in case they meant it when they stated they would kill themselves.
The threat of suicide without true intent is the extreme of taking someone emotionally hostage. It is also the hardest one to hold your boundaries with because you can never be sure if the threat is real. If such a pattern continues, it is most likely not a healthy relationship.
If you realize you have a pattern of such relationships, you might consider personal therapy to have assistance in discovering how this keeps happening. This kind of deep work usually goes beyond a life coach into the realm of a licensed counselor.
As the holidays progress, make sure to take care of yourself first. You can not be there for other people if you do not love yourself or take care of yourself. It is not selfish. It can feel that way, but you will have more energy and love to give if you are rested and well.
Have you ever been taken emotionally hostage? What happened?