If you don’t love me, I’ll kill myself

The title of this post is a music reference, for those of you who for whatever reason don’t remember the 90s or aren’t into obscure tunes; it sounded so much more interesting than my working title “Emotional Blackmail.”

The first time I heard the term “emotional blackmail” I was a child. My mother told me she would not allow herself to be “emotionally blackmailed” by me. I can’t remember what I said or did that prompted it, nor do I know where she heard the term, probably from a book about parenting a difficult child. Out of the Fog, a website for people who have a loved one with a personality disorder, describes emotional blackmail as: “A system of threats and punishments used in an attempt to control someone‚Äôs behaviors.” As I’m sure you can imagine, growing up with an undiagnosed emotional sensitivity disorder (or personality disorder if you prefer, I find the clinical term too stigmatizing and prefer to use the phrase that Dr. Linehan mentioned when I saw her speak at the 2012 NAMI National Convention) was difficult both for me as well as my family members.*

I know I said and did many things that were manipulative as a teenager, I think that’s pretty common. Some teens are difficult and it’s hard to know where the line is between “teenager” and “has a diagnosable disorder”, it can be very blurry. What happens though when manipulative maladaptive behaviors aren’t something we grow out of? Some people – perhaps many people – grow into dysfunctional adults who use techniques like emotional blackmail and gaslighting to get their way, people who have no diagnosable disorder at all. It can be hard to know what to take seriously and what to dismiss, and it can be even more difficult to know exactly where the boundaries should be with someone who engages in these types of behaviors whether they are a friend, family member, partner, ex-partner, boss, etc.

One of the most extreme forms of emotional blackmail I have ever encountered is what I call “If you don’t love me, I’ll kill myself.” It happened after the alcoholic and I had broken up. As can happen with relationships, especially dysfunctional ones, a break-up had not stopped us from fighting with one another. I was trying to set and maintain clear boundaries, but that can be difficult for me as I did not grow up with boundaries and didn’t realize I even needed them until I was in my 20s. This particular day I was traveling for work (my job covers the whole state) and I happened to be driving back from the Gulf coast. My ex called me and we started to fight about one thing or another, I don’t even remember what at this point. She was baiting me with some secret mean thing that she had started to tell me but then said “no never mind” knowing it would drive me crazy. During the call, the man that I was working with to secure a mortgage called on the other line. I told her that I had to take the call, my mortgage broker was calling and it must be important. I switched over without giving her time to protest. During the twenty or so minute call with the mortgage broker, the alcoholic called me four times in quick succession. I did not answer, because it made no sense to. I had told her the call was important, in fact this was the middle of my workday and I was traveling for work!

When the call with the mortgage broker was concluded, I picked up the 5th call. I told her that it was inappropriate to call me multiple times like that, especially when she knew I was on an important call. I told her that there was really no point in us continuing to fight, because we had broken up, and then I terminated the call. Not the most mature thing to do but under the circumstances it seemed like the best way to not have to spend another half hour fighting with her on the phone. At some point in the hour and a half between that call and my arrival back home, she sent me a text message saying it didn’t matter anyway. She had taken a “bunch of pills” and was feeling “sleepy” now. Threats of suicide, whether the person is serious about attempting or not, can be a form of emotional blackmail. However, as a mental health professional who is trained in applied suicide intervention (ASIST) and mental health first aid I knew that one thing you should never do is not take someone seriously when they talk about suicide. There is no “boy who cried wolf” when it comes to suicide threats, because the 9th time may be the time they succeed or decide to actually go through with it. Whatever the reason someone decides to either threaten or attempt suicide, action has to be taken. It is possible however, to help the person while maintaining your boundaries.

In this case, I did try to call her, which I am sure was the intended response. I had refused to talk to her before, and now she had manipulated me into calling her. She did not pick up, and I realized that I had a choice. I could frantically continue calling her, violating my previous statement that I did not want to continue talking to her on the phone and validating the power that her threat had over me, or I could take action to make sure that help was given to her whether or not she needed or wanted it. In case you’re not familiar with my story, this ex lived over 1,000 miles away from me in New Mexico. As it happened, I had her mother’s (whom she was mostly estranged from) phone number in my cell phone. I texted her mother and told her that her daughter had told me that she had taken pills in order to kill herself, that I did not know whether or not it was true but that someone needed to get her help. Thankfully, her mother intervened, going to her house with one of her friends and knocking on the door. Apparently she did not answer at first but eventually they did get into contact with her. Her mother texted me to let me know that she was ok.

I do not know whether or not she did what she said she did, and really it doesn’t matter. Every life is important, every person deserves to live. Later, the alcoholic did accuse me of “bothering” her by sending her mother to her home, and claimed that she had been in serious condition, implying she would have died if intervention had not happened. I also do not know whether that is true or an exaggeration/outright lie (she was prone to lying.) I simply told her that because of my licensure with the state, I am a mandated reporter of suicidal or homicidal intentions expressed to me. Had I not been able to get in touch with her mother, I would’ve tried a friend and finally the local police. Truthfully, she has been slowly killing herself with her drug and alcohol abuse all these years, but that isn’t my responsibility. By telling me that she was in the process of attempting suicide, she made her possible impending death my responsibility.

Obviously her intention was not to be bothered by her mother. Whether or not she intended to die that day, the response she wanted from me was attention, perhaps guilt, quite possibly the guilt of feeling like she had ended her life because of me. Often emotional blackmail suicide threats have an attitude of “I’ll show them. They’ll be sorry when I’m gone.” The entire process was very emotionally draining for me, and in a lot of ways she did get what she wanted by upsetting me, forcing me to deal with her, and then acting as though I had somehow wronged her by asking her mother to intervene. Emotional abuse takes a toll on us whether we set boundaries with the person or not. In the end, I had to finally tell her that she had no place in my life. I did not want to be her friend because we were never friends in the first place. Anyone in the throes of addiction is much too self involved to be a friend to anyone else anyway. I wrote this post partially because I find blogging about these things to be freeing, the ability to let out what I am holding inside. This was one of the most extreme situations I’ve ever been in, and it was incredibly difficult to experience.

My final thought is this – don’t give in to emotional blackmail, it does no one any good. Think outside the box if someone’s life is at stake, but you don’t have to allow them to get whatever they are seeking from you. Also, take all suicide threats seriously. You can take measures to save someone’s life even if they don’t want it, and you can do it in a way that doesn’t compromise your boundaries. Read through the different types of emotional abuse on Out of the Fog too. Just because someone has a mental illness, a disorder, an addiction, etc it does not give them the right to treat you in a way that is abusive.

clouds

* If you want to know more about BPD and my experience having an emotional sensitivity disorder, visit my “What is BPD?” post.

More on red flags

Yesterday, I blogged about red flags and why we ignore them. I had seen an article over on the Huffington Post that I wanted to read and perhaps link to if it was relevant. As often happens, I lost track of it, so I searched on their website to try to find it. 207,000 hits on HuffPo searching “red flags divorce”. Wow! A lot has been written on red flags, apparently. I guess ignoring them or not seeing them is truly universal behavior.

Although it was not the article I had been searching for, I read Susie & Otto Colllins’ “Red Flags In A Relationship: 10 Behaviors To Watch Out For” which touches on some much more dangerous red flags than the ones I mentioned in my post. “Calling you fat”, “yelling when drunk”, and “putting you down.” These are obviously red flags that you are in a relationship that is potentially emotionally abusive and could become physically abusive as well.

There’s also a user-submitted comment slideshow of “red flags I should not have ignored” that vary quite a bit, everything from “He told me to STFU and get out of a cab in NYC, he didn’t follow me, we were tourists.” to “when I felt lonely when I was with him.” But here’s an interesting one in that slideshow, “her taking too long to do her makeup.” It doesn’t clarify if that was a red flag that she was having an affair, but let’s assume that she’s not having an affair – would that be a red flag to you? Would perhaps a disregard to your time and need for punctuality be a problem? It’s funny how some of these things can be really personal but red flags nonetheless.

Sandy Weiner’s article “Dating After Divorce? How to Spot Red Flags points to some less obvious but still problematic thoughts and behaviors that can be big red flags. (This article is applicable for anyone, not just those who have been through a divorce.) Here’s a great one that you might not pick up on in the moment: “He says too much too soon. Dave’s first personal email to me was over 2,000 words long (yes, I checked). He shared his life story… from birth. I’m not kidding. TMI… he argued that it was important for me to know his history in order to “get” him. I disagree — telling too much too soon is a great way to freak someone out. It usually signals insecurity. Less is more. Healthy relationships build slowly and steadily.” What do you think? I’m torn on this one, obviously with the other things she mentions about Dave there was a problem there, but what if this stood alone without the other red flags?

It’s interesting how what anyone could see as a problem, such as abandoning someone in a strange city alone at night could be a deal breaker or a big red flag but what if things just aren’t right? Different senses of humor for example, is that a red flag that could indicate a compatibility problem? What about people with fear of commitment, could they see things as red flags as an excuse to abandon a relationship becoming more serious? Absolutely. The question really is, how do we know in the moment what is a red flag? Can we know for certain without waiting for the clarity of hindsight?

In my opinion, it is knowing not only the universal red flags, and as I stated in my previous post having the strength to walk away when the big red flags start waving, but also knowing what is a deal breaker for you personally. Think about it if you haven’t. Write it down if that helps. Start with things that your ex did that made you upset/angry/annoyed/hurt you, along with the red flags you identified after the relationship’s demise. Get to know what you’re willing to compromise on and what you can’t. Let me be clear here, I am not saying learn how to tolerate intolerable behavior such as the cab incident – if someone is emotionally or psychologically abusive that should be a big sign for “run away fast and now” not a simple red flag. I’m talking about the things that are your personal pet peeves or issues. For example, a red flag for me is a political incompatibility. I am a flaming liberal loud-mouth and notoriously so. My ex-husband and I got into heated arguments over abortion that I took personally. I absolutely cannot date someone who is not pro-choice; I’m simply not capable of getting over that particular incompatibility. For others, political views mean very little and they have zero problem being in a serious relationship with someone whose views are radically different.

There’s also a respect component to red flags. A lot of my exes have been “neat freaks”, to an extreme degree. One ex wouldn’t let me vacuum the carpet because I did not perfectly match up the lines that were made in the carpet the way she did (they had to be parallel, you see.) That was a red flag, because I do like things clean and orderly but I’m not a “neat freak” – I can kick off my shoes in the middle of the floor and leave them there for two days and be fine with it. By not allowing me to clean because I didn’t do it “right” it was setting a tone for the rest of our relationship. I respected her enough to attempt to keep our home in the manner in which she needed but she was not able to appreciate that effort unless it was done perfectly to her very specific guidelines. The adverse is also true, had I been unwilling to be more neat and orderly than my norm, simply because chaos made her uncomfortable, that would have/should have been a red flag to her. A normal amount of change and compromise is natural in a relationship. Someone who is unwilling to make a simple change or is inflexible is someone that it is going to be difficult to have a relationship with.

I didn’t expect to give red flags so much thought when I first blogged about them! Obviously there’s a lot more to them than it seems on the surface. Red flags and how we deal with them may very well be the first sign that we are in the wrong (or right!) relationship.

red flag

Relationship red flags: why we ignore them and how to stop

At the end of a relationship, we often reflect and try to understand what went wrong in the hopes of not making the same mistakes again. I have heard people say time and time again, “I ignored the red flags.” In hindsight, actions, statements, and situations can take on meaning that we did not pick up on at the time. However, once we have become more experienced in relationships, we begin to ignore potential problems, the red flags, because the possible payoff of a relationship that lasts can be too great to pass up. Then, when the relationship is over we ask ourselves “why didn’t I pay more attention to that?” That part at least is simple. The vast majority of us want love, companionship, affection, regular sex, all of which we hope to find in a lasting relationship. It can be as simple as wanting to ease loneliness that may have lasted for far too long. We long for acceptance, to be “known” by another person. Relationships fill a great many needs in us.

However, if you find (as I so often have) that time and time again relationships that have ended seem clearly doomed from the start in hindsight, you may be meeting needs that you are not actually aware of.

I have an ex who I had briefly met a couple times prior to our first true interaction. She came home one afternoon to find me crying on her front steps. I had been dating her roommate and that relationship had ended with drama that blindsided me; I had retreated out to the front steps so that the people involved in the demise of that relationship did not see me cry. It was January, and I did not have a coat on. I will never know what was going through her head at the moment she approached me, took off her coat, placed it around my shoulders and sat next to me on the steps. I was virtually a stranger to her, but she wanted to comfort me. By choosing to date me, not long after that day on the steps, she was ignoring a great many red flags – that I had been involved with the woman she shared a house with; that I was getting out of a relationship that had ended in a way that clearly traumatized me; that my prior relationship had ended only minutes before our first interaction beyond a friendly “hello”; any one of these is a big enough red flag to not pursue an emotional entanglement at that time – but this ex has a need that she has only recently acknowledged. She has “white knight syndrome” she loves “rescuing” a damsel in distress. She’s attracted to women in crisis, who need help in some way. Unfortunately, women in crisis who need help in some way are not usually going to be people that you can forge a lasting partnership with, at least not at that moment in their lives.

However, this need more than any other need prompted her attraction to a woman, which made relationships difficult and short. What we say we want, and what we actually want can be totally different and it may not even be clear to us, if we have not taken the opportunity to truly examine why we may not be getting what we want out of relationships.

When I started dating the alcoholic, I would’ve told you that what I was looking for was a stable, long-term relationship with a person who lived fairly close to me (less than one hour by car), who had a job and a pretty good idea of who they were, what they wanted out of life and how they were getting there. Instead, I started dating an active alcoholic who did not have a checking account, who had no car or license because it was was suspended for DUI, who was lying to her probation officer about attending AA meetings and thought getting away with this was indicative of her charm and intellectual superiority to others. She was a lapsed college student who bounced from apartment to apartment barely holding down a job as a server and lived over 1,000 miles away from me, 16 hours by car – pretty much the antithesis of everything I said that I wanted. There were needs that the relationship met for me that I was not aware of, one being that I too am often attracted to people in crisis, wanting to somehow heal them with my love.

How we stop ignoring red flags is a little bit more complicated than simply beginning to uncover needs that we are unaware of. That is an important piece of it, but part of it also comes from accepting life alone. It becomes very difficult to end a relationship that is unhealthy for us if we are not ok with being alone. Even people who are strong and independent, who do not feel they need a relationship to “complete” them succumb to loneliness. Often, dating someone that we know it cannot last with who might make us unhappy is preferable to the loneliness that comes from being single. It is perfectly natural to not want to be lonely, we are made to need other human beings. Being in a bad relationship, even for perfectly valid reasons like not wanting to be lonely, being afraid of being alone while completely normal (check out this Huffpo article “Divorce study shows couples are unhappy but too scared to split) is not healthy and will keep you from meeting someone who you could actually have a happy relationship with. You deserve more, we all do.

So how do you know what a red flag is? Some are universal, but most are as personal as why we are attracted to someone in the first place. Some universal red flags are:

  • Long history of relationship-hopping/serial monogamy. I.e. going from one serious relationship to the next with little to no time in between. (This is every lesbian you’ve ever met, still doesn’t make it healthy!)
  • When he/she talks about exes it is never positive; often blames break-up on them, says all problems were the other person’s.
  • Long history of job-hopping and he/she is over the age of 25. Yes, we live in a difficult economy with underemployment, but if this person quits a lot of jobs, usually because of an unfair boss that hates them or is out to get them, that is not a good sign.
  • Lives with parent(s). This may or may not be one these days, since so many people are losing jobs and having to move in with family or roommates but pay attention to the reasons why they’re back at home. Is it the economy or is it them?
  • Makes it abundantly clear he/she hates “drama”. You know who hates drama and wants nothing to do with it? People with a lot of drama in their lives. People who aren’t constantly surrounded by chaos, turmoil and emotional disturbance don’t have to tell you they dislike it. My Ok Cupid profile doesn’t let people know I’m not a heroin addict, I don’t need to let them know that because it’s assumed I’m not. Beware those who make sure you know they hate and will not tolerate drama, because they are always involved in drama.

I could go on and on. One of mine is the answer to the question “Do you think that you are fundamentally bad or evil?” Sounds like a weird question to ask a person doesn’t it? I learned the hard way that when someone answers that question with “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or “yes” that bodes very very badly for the relationship. I learned to ask it after a volatile relationship where the person once told me they felt that way, and in all the three instances that someone has been unsure as to whether they are fundamentally bad or evil it has been a very unhealthy relationship for me. The bottom line is this, we might not always see the read flags, but when we do it’s up to us to take a step back and assess. Does that mean end the relationship? After red flag one, maybe not; after red flag 18, maybe so. Red flags eventually become issues, no matter how much we desperately want to, and try to, ignore them.

What are some of the red flags you have ignored in relationships? Comment below to share, if you’d like to discuss.

red flag

Inspirational quotes that shouldn’t inspire

I’m a big fan of the inspirational quotes on pretty graphics that seem to make up about 20% of all my friends & liked pages facebook posts. It’s nice when having a rough day to see a quote from Depak Chopra or something from Rumi to put things in perspective. Maybe even a song lyric or Audrey Hepburn insight to brighten a dreary day. If it’s on a pretty background, hey all the better!

I realized something the other day though. You have to be really careful what you deem “inspirational” because you can paste just about anything on a sunset or graphic of a jumping silhouette and make it seem positive if no one reads it closely enough. Such is the graphic that I spotted posted on a friend’s facebook page the other week:

hopeless romantics

Now, at first glance this seems like your typical, albeit not super pretty, inspirational graphic. However, most of what is on this isn’t inspirational at all. Yes, the part about falling and still getting up is indeed, a good plan and should be celebrated, but the rest of this is really dysfunctional crap. If you love someone that doesn’t love you, don’t keep daydreaming. You’re not going to get the happy ending you dream about by loving someone that doesn’t love you back. In fact, you’re not going to get a happy ending by dreaming – period. There’s nothing wrong with being a hopeless romantic, most days I consider myself one, but don’t be a brainless romantic.

If someone doesn’t love you, pining for them doesn’t make you a hopeless romantic, it makes you a person who is clinging to a hope that is unrealistic. We don’t win people over when it comes to love, you shouldn’t have to convince someone that they want to be with you. Sometimes we look at things like these quotes, or songs, or books, or other people’s blogs to give us an excuse for inaction – “other people have felt this way, so therefore it must be ok for me” we say. Yes, it’s ok to feel what you feel but don’t pretend that refusing to let go gives you some sort of courage or nobleness. Refusing to grieve the hurt of not being loved in return is a decision to stay mired in pain, loneliness, and imagination. Daydream, but don’t daydream that she is going to turn to you one day, out of the blue and say “It’s you, it’s always been you. My God, why didn’t I see it before?” after you’ve waited for years and years for her to “see” it. She’s going to turn to you and say “Do you mind if my new girlfriend comes to the movie with us?” and you will be crushed, yet again.

No, refusal to move on is not being a hopeless romantic. A hopeless romantic cries for her broken heart and still believes that even though she thought that this one was the one that would stick, that someone is still out there. One that will love her back and meet her needs and not make her feel like a failure or too fat or not pretty enough or like she should’ve been “better” in order to “deserve” their love. We have no control over the emotions of others, or their actions. We want to believe that we do, so we tell ourselves if we were _________ they’d love us back and want to be with us. Even if that were the case, if you changed everything about yourself so she would love you, she wouldn’t be loving YOU.

So ignore the crap that reinforces your negative habits. Half the inspirational crap about love and relationships is codependent. “If I had to choose between loving you and breathing, I’d say I love you with my last breath” is pretty, but it’s also pretty fucked up. I choose breathing, I will find love again. (yes, that is a real saying that has been turned into a graphic!)

Try this one on instead:
worth it