Emotional Blackmail

It is a serious thing to entertain accusations against another due to certain feelings that one or more people experience.

There is no doubt that feelings tell us something. But we are living in a time when it seems that feelings are validated no matter whether they are founded in truth or not.

Every person should absolutely and always take responsibility for offending or hurting others when they know they are guilty. Yet, too often there is an expectation that people should apologize for someone’s feelings being hurt without any fault being committed against the offended.

I can remember a conversation where someone said that it doesn’t matter if you didn’t wrong the person, if they ‘felt’ hurt, then you apologize.

But wait a minute. Let’s look at some scenarios. Let’s say a husband and wife are shopping and a beautiful woman walks by. The wife looks at her husband and says “I’ll bet you noticed her, didn’t you?” The husband looks blankly back  at his wife and replies, “actually, I was looking at the tools over there.” Angrily, the wife retorts, “you would be blind to have not noticed her and you are lying and owe me an apology!” Any one of us would say that this is not rational nor is it fair. However, there are those who would say, it doesn’t matter because she ‘felt’ hurt.

Having studied personality disorders as well as understanding a little bit about human nature, lets examine this a bit. The wife could have her own issues such as jealously or insecurity that she struggles with. Maybe she has borderline personality disorder or is bipolar and what seems real to her is only a confused perception? Should the husband apologize or get his wife some help? How is it going to serve their marriage by him apologizing for something he did not do? It would only deliver him temporarily from her wrath or land him on the couch for the night. Until, of course, the next situation arises.

What if a pastor is preaching on the doctrine of sin and a parishioner declares “you are a hater and insensitive to people who are upstanding and good in this community. You owe them an apology for telling them they are sinners!” Well, yes, by all means, if said pastor takes the Fred Phelps approach then he most definitely needs to apologize!

But, what if he is just preaching out of the Bible and a desire to see people freed from sin? What if actually he loves and cares about his flock? Assigning a motive of ‘hate’ to him for first of all quoting the Bible and secondly, standing on the conviction that the word of God is true and it is his responsibility to teach it, is to put him in a position of apologizing for committing a sin, which obviously is not what he was doing.

But there are those who would say that he should apologize because people did not walk away from the sermon feeling good about themselves.

These are just a couple of examples, but the reality is that there are truly abuses that happen and people who are obvious victims of great hatred and hurt. However, if we cater to every ‘feeling’ of offense without validating the truth and facts behind it and everyone who cries ‘victim’ gets to be one, then we are not rightly protecting the true victims in life.

I love this quote from John Piper on emotional blackmail:

“But I have seen so much emotional blackmail in my ministry I am jealous to raise a warning against it. Emotional blackmail happens when a person equates his or her emotional pain with another person’s failure to love. They aren’t the same. A person may love well and the beloved still feel hurt, and use the hurt to blackmail the lover into admitting guilt he or she does not have. Emotional blackmail says, “If I feel hurt by you, you are guilty.” There is no defense. The hurt person has become God. His emotion has become judge and jury. Truth does not matter. All that matters is the sovereign suffering of the aggrieved. It is above question. This emotional device is a great evil. I have seen it often in my three decades of ministry and I am eager to defend people who are being wrongly indicted by it.”

I believe Piper is right  in declaring that this is a great evil. I have seen people’s marriages, careers and other relationships damaged because the ear is given more to someone who cries ‘wounded’ than to the facts involved.

Crying ‘wounded’ can be a great leverage for building sympathy or control because there are many ‘rescuers’ out there who will be more than glad to feel like a hero.

The wife in scene one could find more than one friend who would sympathize with her. A wise friend however, will ask her some tough questions about what is going on inside of her?

The parishioner in scene two will have no problem finding others who will meet with him in a quiet corner to shake their heads about the ‘problem’ pastor. However, the truth seekers will ask themselves whether or not what the pastor preached might actually be true?

It is up to all of us to be careful to weigh in when someone cries “victim!” We cannot overlook those who truly are and those who are looking for an opportunity.

“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Ephesians 4:15

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