Unchecked emotional wounds are like our own little black holes that indiscriminately suck up all manner of BS that floats our way, and cause the wrong people to gravitate toward us. Sometimes, we’re fully aware that we’re attracting the type of people who’re likely to leave us just as empty as we were before, yet we still tend to let them stay. For me, shouldering a hefty share of guilt and shame is what left me wide open to the wrong people, and a lot of emotional blackmail.
So, let’s talk about the shame trap…and how you should claw your way out of it.
Unless you’re drop-kicking puppies off of overpasses for fun, you need to get over your level of shame before it becomes a cyclical part of your life. If and when it does, it’ll bleed into your relationships like a bad dye job. Then you’ll become bitter because you’ll keep looking at the healthy relationships around you while feeling like you’re unworthy of one. Or you’ll become one of those weirdos who take their cynicism about love too far, and start shading couples’ happiness on Facebook.
Save yourself from being that person, because everyone hates a killjoy. But you know what people hate even more? A fucking doormat.
If you want to measure how conditioned you are to letting people shame and bully you about your life, then just take a step back and seriously think about the way you view yourself–because there’s a direct correlation. If you truly feel like you were made for abuse and refuse to train yourself out of it because that’s all you’ve ever known, take a Sharpie to your forehead and write “Doormat” on it, because you’re in for a shitty existence until you learn to do better. (Ask me how I know.)
The thing that’s most damaging about immersing yourself in emotional blackmail from lovers, friends, and family is that swallowing enough of their toxic rhetoric will probably make it a prophecy over your life. Then, when you’ve finally grown weary of the Samurai-death version of duty they’ve imposed on you, you’ll still walk away feeling like a villain.
Again, ask me how I know.
But hey, there are always a few people in our lives who we let run game on us because they’re close to us and we want to consider their feelings and advice with every move we make. And when we think of it that way, letting them do so always seems like the right thing, even when the results wreak havoc.
Here are the three factors that typically influence our decision to let someone guilt us a little–or a lot.
This person took care of me.
Most mothers I know have a black belt in emotional blackmail. It’s a type of currency they start accruing from the moment their baby’s head crowns. It’s used to guilt us into performing tasks that range from calling them every Sunday and helping them move large pieces of furniture, or it can go a lot further, like pressuring marriage to a person of the same ethnic or religious background. The latter is an extreme example, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t commonplace.
The bright side is, small issues can be mitigated as long you create boundaries when a parent or guardian actually asks you to do something that challenges your morals or sanity. So choose your battles but understand that ultimately, if you have a mama and a heart that isn’t made totally of stone, she’s gonna blackmail that ass, and there’s little you can do except find a balance between being tactful with her–and grateful for her.
But in romantic relationships, it gets trickier. Do you owe a person who helped you through a time when you were down? I suppose it depends on what they signed up for.
If two ambitious people come together with hopes and dreams that align in the beginning, but then one person becomes stagnant and needs to be carried for awhile, the person who’s doing the carrying has a choice to make: either ditch the union for a new one or wait it out. Thing is, though, if you stay with a person for the purpose of being emotionally abusive to them while they figure things out, just know that the latter is emotional blackmail on your behalf. Also, as they humbly swallow your bullshit and slowly boss up in life, know that they’re also building up resentment toward you that’ll probably make them leave when they get to where they want to be.
I can honestly say that I’ve been on both sides of this scenario and a simple way to avoid it happening more than once is to develop a mantra:
If I’m with someone, it’s because I want to be. I’m not being coerced into staying because I put a lot of time in and they’re making me feel guilty about leaving, and I’m certainly not doing the equivalent to them. I’m there because it’s a partnership.
I’m not signing up to be anyone’s stepping stool and I’m not willing to make someone mine, either. I’ve been through that. I’ve met someone when I was down, only to have them continually remind me that they “took me on” during that time. What’s worse is, they persisted in that narrative even when long after my situation changed for the better, financially and emotionally. ‘Twasn’t healthy, love.
But that just told me that they were more fond of my initial, vulnerable state than they were of me, and drawn to me at that point because they thought I was the perfect candidate to offer up duty and gratitude as their reward for being with me. I can’t be certain why, but I imagine it was because they weren’t getting it elsewhere. After suffering through that enough, I realized that when a person makes someone feel emotionally indebted, it is has to do with an emotional deficiency in them, and that’s something for them to do some soul searching about.
Emotional blackmail born out of fear that someone is becoming a better person and will eventually be too good for you, is actually the worse kind. It reflects the deepest sort of insecurity and fragility.
I have children with this person.
I think ‘KIDS ARE NOT PAWNS’ should be written on refrigerator magnets, club fliers and ATM home screens. Also, on some people’s foreheads. Maybe then, people would remember that kids should never be used for strategic maneuvering after failed romantic endeavors.
Children are often the unwitting overhead luggage for split-fueled guilt trips. But really, if you’ve done the work, gone to therapy, and put years of effort into fixing a barren situation, you owe yourself space to pursue a better one. The world won’t end if you do, and the children won’t end up on black tar heroin–despite what your ex (and reruns of Intervention) suggest. Plus, holding onto something that you really don’t feel is worth it spoils the partnership and creates a tense environment, and children can sense that.
DISCLAIMER: Men or women who wholeheartedly abandon their children on a whim do deserve to be emotionally blackmailed. And emotionally blacklisted. And made to feel like shit in any way possible. So, I’m not talking about that. Also, if you want to try a million times to fix your marriage because you truly believe that a million-n-one times is the charm, go for it. I’m referring to shielding yourself from absorbing the harmful rhetoric of an ex who doesn’t get that you’re a whole fucking person with:
- A need to feel desired.
- Dreams you had way before you met them.
- Sacrifices that have gone largely unnoticed by them because they’ve been conditioned to think that you’re supposed to double as their mother/father.
This person knows and accepts my past.
Longevity does not a friendship make. For real. If you keep a messy friend around because you have a long history of doing reckless, immature things with them, you should cut them loose if you plan to (or have already) moved on from that stage. It doesn’t even have to be a total disconnect, really. Just an understanding and a little distance.
Then–and this is where I failed with some of my high school friends–don’t let that person shame you for doing better. Because that’s total bullshit, and I swallowed a lot of it from someone I thought was a dear friend once because I felt that it was just her way keeping me grounded. In reality, her life was a fucking trashcan fire right then and she wasn’t going to happy with me unless I let her turn me into a highly flammable, discarded fast food bag thrown on top of it.
“Nah” to that.
In all, I’m loving my (nearly nonexistent) dating life right now, checkered past and all, because it’s truly on my terms. It’s sad that I wasted many years as a person who didn’t think of herself as someone who had to be earned. Honestly, I just grew up on fairy tales and rom-coms about falling in love. That, mixed with the shame and guilt I carried from past traumas, made me into one crazy-bitch-sorbet who felt that my past excluded me from being worthy of some good old fashioned wooing all through my teens and most of my twenties.
But I’m done with that now.
I’ve remedied all the anxiety I had about starting over by letting whoever I choose to deal with know that when it comes to my past,”Shit is fucked up, B.” *in my Camron voice*
Then I shrug it off like, take it or leave it. (SPOILER ALERT: They take it.) What I refuse to let them do is reel me in with a promise of acceptance, then allow them to volley my past around for leverage.
I’m whole, I’m loved, and I’m finally far enough away from my emotional black hole that I don’t feel it pulling at my light anymore.
My galaxy’s full of fire, explosions, collisions and uncertainty, but it’s my own to explore, and I decide who gets to share my pace.
So it’s all good.