In our second Consult The Expert interview for March, we spoke with Nonie L. Craige, LCSW, a psychotherapist at the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders.
Our conversation touched on elements of communication, including emotional blackmail, narcissistic abuse, and how to respond to them. We also explored different temperament traits and how parents can learn to adapt to their children’s innate natures to create a healthier parent/child relationship.
“These are my passion areas,” Ms. Craige said, “because they help build self-esteem. Self-esteem is at the foundation of everything!”
Relationship Issues And Communication
The first area we discussed was emotional blackmail. “Back in the ‘90s, Dr. Susan Forward wrote a book called, “Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You,”” Ms. Craige said. “This book examined a very common, hurtful problem that affects our daily living and how we communicate.
Most of us are unknowingly being emotionally blackmailed at one time or another by someone we know and depend on. It could be our spouse, our child, our boss, or our friend. Sometimes, we can be the blackmailer, as well.”
I asked Ms. Craige for an example of emotional blackmail. “Let’s say your mother surprises you with a special dinner – on a night you have other plans,” she responded. “Mom calls you up, very excited to share this delicious meal with you.
You say, “Mom, I can’t come over tonight. I have tickets for a show.” Instead of her saying, “Oh I didn’t know. I should have asked you first,” your mom makes you feel uncomfortable. She says, “But, I made this meal just for you. I cooked your favorites! I thought we were close. I thought you wanted to spend time with me.” This is emotional blackmail, because she is pushing you to change your plans to satisfy hers.”
Ms. Craige says that emotional blackmail is not a matter of miscommunication or different communication styles. “It is about the imbalance of power and control. There are different ways to manipulate, but basically Dr. Forward’s book says that the tools of emotional blackmail are fear, obligation, and guilt (FOG). No relationship or communication should ever include FOG. It is unacceptable.”
Although emotional blackmail implies planning and being devious, Ms. Craige says it really is an impulsive act that’s done because of feeling insecure. “People say things to make you feel uncomfortable and use manipulation if they feel rejected, because it gives them power. When we do this within the dynamics of a couples or parental relationship, we change from a loving spouse or parent to a manipulator in order to feel safe and secure for the moment. We ignore why the person can’t do something and focus on why they should do it for us.”
Emotional blackmail is ultimately a form of emotional abuse, however, and can cause damage to the person who is being victimized.
Narcissistic Abuse In Relationships
How does emotional abuse correspond to narcissism? “The new buzzword right now is “narcissistic abuse,” Ms. Craige said. “Emotional abuse can look like narcissism, but it isn’t a true personality disorder.”
She notes that only about five percent of the population may be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The disorder includes such traits as requiring excessive admiration, lacking empathy, and having no interest in how others feel or what they need.
“The mother who makes you dinner and then says something to make you feel guilty about not coming to eat with her isn’t being narcissistic,” Ms. Craige said. “If she’s usually a warm, loving mom who is giving and caring, then she’s not a narcissist. She’s manipulating you about this particular dinner because she’s feeling rejected.”
“Keep in mind that you are allowed to feel very strongly about something and express those feelings without it involving emotional blackmail,” she says. “If there is no pressure or threat to make the other person feel bad, it is not emotional blackmail. If, in this case, your mother had said she was disappointed that you weren’t coming to eat with her, she would be voicing her feelings. It became emotional blackmail when she made you feel guilty and uncomfortable for not giving up your own plans.”
An emotional blackmailer wants to win at all costs. “If the person who wants something won’t give up, it is abuse. This abuse doesn’t have to come from a person with NPD.”
How To Remedy Emotional Blackmail: Being Assertive
“Assertiveness skills tie into standing up for yourself, but not being angry,” according to Ms. Craige. “Let’s be crystal clear – assertiveness is not being nasty, angry, sarcastic, belittling or nagging. There is no attitude involved in being assertive.”
“Instead,” she continued, “being assertive is sharing how you feel right now. If you are yelling at someone, you are being loud, not assertive. Being assertive is finding the right balance between expressing how we feel, with tact and not being aggressive. It is developing and acknowledging yourself, honing your communication skills and confidence about your message, along with control of your delivery and getting your message across. Don’t distort your message with angry emotions.”
We all have responsibilities we have to take care of. “Many women want to say no when someone asks for help, but they say yes, despite their responsibilities. Once you say yes, you take away your downtime and add stress to your life.”
I asked Ms. Craige how someone can assertively say no in such a situation. “If it fits your schedule, it is okay to help out, but if you can’t do it, then offer to help another time,” she answered.
“If you aren’t comfortable saying no, then don’t say it. Instead, you can offer to help at a later, more convenient time. Say something like, I do want to help, but today won’t work. How about Tuesday instead? You don’t have to give a hard no, but notice that this response is not angry: it gives you a way to say that you want to help without being pushed. And, it conveys that you have other things on your plate, but are willing to help – on your schedule.”
Whether it is your friend, spouse or your boss, when you are asked to do something you feel uncomfortable with, “You can simply say, “I feel uncomfortable about doing that. Can I get back to you?” Ms. Craige replied.
Parent/Child Communication Challenges
Ms. Craige also talked about communication between parents and kids. “The way we interpret and interact with the world around us is called our temperament, she said. “We are all born with different temperaments. Knowing the differences between them is very important for raising children and having a less stressful home life.”
“There are nine main temperament traits,” according to Ms. Craige. “Learning about them will help you understand how you, your spouse, and your children interact and will make life easier. A child’s temperament is not a matter of right or wrong or a result of bad parenting skills. Each of us responds to the world in our own unique way.”
“For example,” she continued, “a parent might be a laid-back type who enjoys relaxing when they have down time, but their child might have an active temperament and enjoy being busy all the time. This can result in irritation for both. An important part of parenting is to reduce friction and frustration by adjusting to the child’s unique needs. A “goodness of fit” must be developed between the parent and child.”
What Is Goodness Of Fit?
Goodness of fit “influences the parent/child relationship and should be monitored and adjusted to by the adult’s behavior, not the child’s,” Ms. Craige said. “This is the bedrock for all areas of development. The parent/child relationship that is influenced by a poor fit between parent and child can disrupt the flow of the household, create unnecessary stress, and places the child at risk for developing other issues.”
Although there are nine temperament traits, we discussed what she considers to be the five most important ones:
- Activity – is the child in constant motion or calm and relaxed? An active child bounces, jumps, runs, and is always moving even when sleeping, eating, bathing, etc. A less active child will enjoy sitting and playing quietly with dolls or reading books or drawing for hours. Be sure to give an active child more time to get ready, get dressed, to finish homework, and so forth, because they will resist being rushed.
- Regularity – some children are predictable: they want to eat, sleep, and use the bathroom at roughly the same time each day. They seem to have their own internal schedule. Children who are not predictable may not want to eat at a scheduled time or may go to sleep early one day and want to stay up on another.
- Approach – some children accept every stranger with enthusiasm and are eager to try new things. Children who are more cautious will hold back and may fuss when asked to do something new, start a new school, and so on. Don’t criticize a cautious child, instead be encouraging and give them time to observe, think about, and adapt to new people or situations.
- Adaptability – some kids take new situations and people in stride. Others have a harder time. For the child who struggles with being adaptable, set routines, avoid unexpected changes, and give them extra time when switching modes.
- Intensity – How does your child react to different situations? Some react strongly and cry or yell when frustrated. Others work through them calmly and with a smile. Try not to overreact to the intensity of a strong reactor. You are not doing anything wrong, this child’s temperament is simply intense.
“Remember that what can seem like a negative temperament trait in childhood can be a positive one in adulthood,” she noted. “You might be annoyed to have to adjust the time for your son who is very methodical and slow when getting ready to go somewhere, but you’ll definitely appreciate his caution when it comes time for him to start driving!”
She said it is important to understand that temperament allows the parent to not take their child’s behavior personally. “What can seem like them intentionally pushing your buttons is often just the child’s traits driving their behavior. It’s not a personal affront.”
Never pit one child against the other, either. “Creating the idea that one child’s response is wrong and their sibling’s is right can create some very disturbing outcomes,” Ms. Craige said. “When it comes to temperament, telling a child to be more like his brother or sister is out of place. The other kid may be doing something more the way you, yourself, would do it, so you feel comfortable with how they are doing it. But this child likely isn’t doing it better than the other child, it’s just that you are more comfortable with their behavior.”
She finished by saying that a child should not be criticized for how they respond. “It is not an issue of being good or bad,” she said. “Remember that the individual response is not inherently wrong, it is most often simply a matter of innate temperament.”
We Are Here For You
If you find yourself in a situation where someone is using emotional blackmail to control your behavior, you can learn to counter their manipulation very calmly and put an end to this unhealthy pattern of communication. Remember that you have a right to set boundaries and, by offering options to help, will eliminate the dreaded word “no” that you don’t want to say. Likewise, parents who may be challenged by their child’s behavior may need some extra support.
Our caring professionals are available to help you on your journey to a healthier, happier life. Contact us for more information or call us today at (561) 496-1094.
About Nonie L. Craige, LCSW – Licensed Clinical Social Work Therapist
Nonie L. Craige, LCSW is a licensed Clinical Social Work Therapist who uses a collaborative interactional approach to create a safe supportive environment during a time of expressed concern and stress. Using several different approaches including Cognitive Behavioral and Dialectic Behavior Therapy, Ms. Craige focuses on enhancing self-esteem and core issues of anxiety and conflicts. Therapy includes enhancing assertiveness and healthy communication skills. Ms. Craige promotes this life changing journey with each patient as she helps you gain new insights and learn new tools with which to reduce or eliminate unhealthy anxiety.
Ms. Craige works successfully with adults who have experienced various forms of childhood and adult abuse. Whether it is emotional, physical, neglect or sexual abuse, patients will gain better awareness and control as well as freedom from self-defeating thoughts.
Ms. Craige received her degree from Adelphi University in New York. She also obtained training at the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry and Psychology and conducted training workshops at FORDHAM University.
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