Two things cause extreme anguish to a person. The first is coercion, when a person is forced to do something against his or her own free will. The second is the loss of free choice. A person who loses free choice loses joy in life. A continued loss of free choice causes emotional damage such as anxiety, short-temperedness and insecurity.
The Crime of Blackmail and Extortion
Extortion and blackmail are similar in concept, but there are differences between the two. Extortion is a form of crime that occurs when an offender obtains money, property, or services from another person through coercion. A form of extortion could include the threat of physical injury, destruction of property, or withholding something vital from the victim.
Blackmail, in contrast to extortion, is when the offender threatens to reveal information about a victim that is potentially embarrassing, socially damaging, or incriminating unless the victim fulfills the blackmailer’s demands, whatever they are.
Most democratic legal systems classify blackmail as a felony, which could result in multi-year prison sentences and large fines. Any criminal lawyer will tell you that even if an act of blackmail does not involve physical violence, its effects are no less damaging.
According to the dry definition of civil law, emotional blackmail is also a serious crime where the offender should be prosecuted and fined. Yet, this doesn’t happen in the physical world because emotional blackmail is so common. The emotional blackmailer – often a parent, sibling, spouse or friend – forces the victim to sacrifice happiness and free choice in order to placate the blackmailer. Few people speak about this, because they are embarrassed, but this crime is rampant.
Even though emotional blackmail might not appear in civil legal statutes, it constitutes several severe violations of Torah law that invoke stern judgments and punishments from above.
Emotional blackmail is a form of manipulation where someone uses your sensitivities to control your behavior. Normally, the objective of the blackmailer is to coerce victims to act against their own will and/or best interests.
The Guilty Conscience Weapon
Emotional blackmail might not threaten the victim with defamation on the front page of the New York Times or the prime-time edition of Foxnews. At any rate, those headlines are forgotten the next day and many people don’t believe them in the first place. The covert threat of emotional blackmail, which so effectively enables the blackmailer to extort whatever he or she wants from the victim, is the guilty conscience. Emotional blackmailers are grand masters in the use of this most damaging weapon. What’s more, a guilty conscience is a lingering threat that does the dirty work for the blackmailer 24 hours a day.
Examples of Emotional Blackmail
A retirement age parent wants the convenience of not having to pay rent or living expenses. The selfish parent also desires round-the-clock care and attention, even though he or she is physically independent and by no means requires geriatric care. The blackmailing parent threatens the son or daughter, “You’re responsible if I get sick or die.” That’s emotional blackmail, with a big guilty conscience to boot.
Your supervisor at work was refused a loan in the bank. He mentions that he’ll soon be writing the annual written assessments of his subordinates that are critical in getting promotions and pay raises. “By the way,” he then asks you to lend him money. If you don’t comply, you can expect a terrible assessment in addition to a cold shoulder and sly efforts to make life miserable for you. That’s emotional blackmail that borders on outright extortion, since non-verbal gestures or other communications in such a situation are like outright threats.
A non-observant sibling calls you on the phone and chastises you for not coming to Mom & Dad’s surprise anniversary party, even though your siblings spitefully planned the party in a way that you’d have to violate Torah law to participate. “Mom and Dad will never speak to you again! Forget about being included in their will…”
Your cousin knows that you have an empty bedroom with a private bath downstairs. He calls you and complains that he lost his job and can’t pay rent. At the end of the month, he’ll be homeless and if that happens, he’ll commit suicide. He doesn’t even verbalize his demand but he has just laid a whopper of a guilty conscience on you: “If you don’t let me stay at your home rent-free for as long as I want, I’ll die or commit suicide, and you’ll be the cause.”
Friends and Acquaintances
You and your wife do not enjoy being overnight guests or even eating in other people’s homes for a number of reasons. An influential member of the community calls and invites you for Sabbath dinner. He says that if you refuse, his wife will be devastated. In other words, sacrifice your will for his wife’s will…
Those typical victims of emotional blackmail, or those who are most susceptible, suffer from lack of confidence, timidity, or lack of self-worth. Fear also plays a big role, when the victim fears that he or she is incapable of repelling the emotional blackmail attempt. Victims also fear that the blackmailer is capable of harming them. Emotional blackmailers smell ambivalence and hesitation, pouncing on situations when the potential victim has a clear notion of what’s right and what he or she wants to do.
Putting an End to Emotional Blackmail
With one word, we can put an end to emotional blackmail – emuna. Emuna is the simple and complete faith in the Almighty. With emuna, we know that no one can touch a hair on our head against the Creator’s will. When we fear One, we fear no one.
The only guilty conscience that hold any legitimacy is when a person willfully violates the Almighty’s laws.
The emotional blackmailers should be the ones with the guilty consciences, for their actions are a violation of Torah.
- Trust in G-d and don’t fear. Easier said than done? Continue to #2:
- If you are following the laws of Torah, you have nothing to fear. When in doubt, ask your spiritual guide or a knowledgeable and reputable rabbi.
- Do nothing against your will. You have free choice and have the right to do what you want whenever you want, as long as it doesn’t violate Torah law.
- Even if you want to do something, or think that you want to do it, do not do it unless it makes you happy. Be very clear about your personal boundaries, and do not let anyone violate them.
Some emotional counselors and psychotherapist advise compromising with emotional blackmailers. I do not.
A foundation principle of traditional Israeli security tactics is no compromise nor no negotiation with terrorism and hijacking.
Emotional blackmail is a form of hijacking. How? The emotional terrorist – the blackmailer – is attempting to hijack your free will. Don’t let him. Strong emuna is the only weapon you need. Even if the blackmailer threatens to take away your health or livelihood, but you know that both come from the Almighty, you disarm him.
Weapons might be effective against hijackers, but only emuna is capable or repelling the guilty conscience. To fight a guilty conscience, you need faith in G-d and faith in yourself. Emuna provides both
How do I strengthen emuna?
Learn about emuna. Choose a spiritual guide whom you trust who can help clarify your doubts and strengthen emuna. Pray to the Almighty and ask for enhanced emuna. Participate in our free weekly Zoom classes and enjoy all the free resources on this website. Read about emuna, especially the 13 Principles of Emuna, 3 Words of Emuna and Bitachon. Wait and see how your inner strength grows beyond your wildest expectations.
Last week alone, I had three different cases of people who perceived that there was no solution to the problem that was making their life miserable. The common denominator was that all three were potential victims of ongoing attempts at emotional blackmail. I explained what was happening to them. They realized that the Creator did not expect them to surrender their free will to the blackmailers, or to anyone else.
Nothing makes a person so vulnerable to emotional blackmail as a lack of faith. On the other hand, nothing makes a person so invincible to emotional blackmail as steadfast faith and awareness of the truth, which is none other than Divine will. When you’re steadfast in your convictions, you’ll really smile.