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Emotional Blackmail in the Desi Culture

Below is an excerpt from a book named – “Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You”

"If you really loved me..."

"After all I've done for you..."

"How can you be so selfish..."

Do any of the above sound familiar? They're all examples of emotional blackmail, a powerful form of manipulation in which people close to us threaten to punish us for not doing what they want. Emotional blackmailers know how much we value our relationships with them. They know our vulnerabilities and our deepest secrets. They are our mothers, our partners, our bosses and coworkers, our friends and our lovers. And no matter how much they care about us; they use this intimate knowledge to give themselves the payoff they want: our compliance.

Emotional Blackmail is bad. I just want say this upfront because some of the things that you might read later might come across as me justifying emotional blackmail. Trust me, I’m not. The idea of this blog is to highlight that emotional blackmail exists in all our lives and we’re not just victims of it but we’re also perpetrators from time to time.

With this groundwork done. Let’s first define Emotional blackmail if it still isn’t clear from the opening paragraph.

Emotional Blackmail is the use of Fear, Obligation and Guilt to control someone, their actions or their feelings. An abbreviation of the tools used is FOG. This is so apt because it literally FOGs our minds.

While Emotional blackmail exists all over the world, Indians seem to have mastered the art. So much so that we even know when we’re being emotionally blackmailed and yet we go ahead with it. You know why we go ahead with it? Because deep down we know we’re going to do the same thing to them when presented with an opportunity.

And the cycle repeats.

We know that the tools of Emotional Blackmail are Fear, Obligation and Guilt. But how exactly are these used against us and more importantly by whom is what I’d like to discuss in this blog.

With this knowledge with us, let’s move on to the next section:

Fogging the mind
Emotional Blackmail

The Perpetrators:


The biggest and the most habitual perpetrators of emotional blackmail are our parents. Why they do that is a whole different blog but for now, let’s just assume that all of this is a vicious circle, and they don’t know any better. They have their own struggles, and this is one way they deal with it. Of course, the repercussions of this method on us children are debatable and there are plenty of people who’ve gone to therapy because of it.

So, how exactly do our parents use Emotional Blackmail on us?

It starts when we are kids. And since we can’t really defend ourselves their weapon of choice at that age is obviously Fear.

  • “Eat your food or no TV”

  • “Do you homework or I’ll tell your Dad that you were playing the entire day”

  • “Do this or you won’t get your pocket money this month”

  • “Baap se zabaan ladayenga?”

  • And the biggest one, “Stop misbehaving or we’ll send you to a boarding school”.

I remember so many of my friends were in perpetual fear of being sent to a boarding school. And of course we all remember Ishan Awasthi from Taare Zameen Par.

But as we grow older and smarter, so does our parents. They know that after a certain age, fear is not their best option.

But how do they learn this?

You start giving them signs. Signs that are too obvious for them to change their tactics. You’re basically no longer afraid of a beating or staying hungry for a night. You’ve basically become so thick skinned that their Fear technique doesn’t work anymore. So, they move to Phase 2.

Obligation & Guilt.

I’m sure all of us have some version of the below lines:

  • “Kya iss din ke liye tujhe paal-poss kar bada kiya tha?”

  • “Tumhare Pitaji Kahi Muh Nahi Dikha Payenge”

  • “Bas ab Yahi Din Dekhna Baaki reh Gaya tha”

  • “Meri Koi sunta hi Kahan hai iss ghar mein”

  • “Apne liye nahi toh mere liye karde”

  • “Meri Aakhri Icha hai ki apne Pote Poti ko dekh lu”

  • “Bas ek baar teri shaadi ho jaaye”

  • “Hum toh bas tumhare bhale ke liye bol rahe hai”

Our parents will use all the arsenal that they have to get their way. When fear doesn’t work, they’ll move to obligation – “Paal Poss Ke bada kiya tujhe”. And when that doesn’t work, they are ready to send us with a one-way ticket on a Guilt Trip, “Tumhari Wajah se kitne sharmindigi jhelni padd rahi hai. Log Kya kya batein bana rahe hai hamare Parivar ke baare mein”

See, the thing is, deep down we know that they’re using emotional blackmail to get their way. And we let them. And that’s the most fascinating thing to me. Why do we let them get away with it?

It’s because, we do the same. Sometimes with our parents, but on most occasions with our friends.

And here comes the next set of perpetrators –

Our Friends, Siblings, Coworkers and Bosses:

The emotional blackmail from our friends and siblings is usually harmless. However, it depends on how you view it. With them, it’s usually a trade-off. You let them get away with it once, because you’re going to use the same tactic on them later on. It’s easier to catch them in this act because their tone suddenly changes. So is the case with our parents, but they still care to make it genuine with all the tears and eye rolling. When it comes to friends and siblings, they don’t even care to put on an act. And even if they do, it’s too overdramatic and we agree if only to stop the horror of their drama displayed through the following lines:

  • “Bas Kya Yaar, Itna nahi karega dost ke liye?”

  • “Ladki Mil Gayi toh dost ko bhool jayega”?

  • “How many times I’ve lied for you to our parents”

  • “I’ll tell Mom that you smoke if you don’t do this”

  • “Maine tere liye kitni baar Teacher se maar khayi thi” and so on.

Like I said earlier, we are equally guilty of using the same on them when the opportunity presents itself and we need to get our way.

The bosses are from a separate league though. They usually use Fear and Obligation to get their way. By holding our promotion, our holidays and so on.

And this brings us to the final set of perpetrators.

Our Lovers, Partners, Husbands / Wives:

  • “I’ll kill myself If you don’t marry me”

  • “I can’t bear the thought of you with anyone else”

  • “Please adjust / compromise. I need to do this for my parents”

  • “I Love you, but I can’t go against my parents”

  • “I left everything for you. You can’t do this much for me?”

This kind can get toxic very soon. They know that you’ll go to any lengths to preserve your relationship. The problem here is that unlike your parents you’ve chosen them (unless of course you were blackmailed into marrying them). And so many years of toxic conditioning has led you to go along with their toxic behavior as well.

And how do we counter this?

The Big Trade-off:

On most occasions, this is the best tool you have to get what you want for the time being, Parents are against your international trip, you agree to look at marriage prospects after you return. Your sibling wants you to get something for her, you agree if they lie to your parents for you. Your friend wants your bike while you’re away, you agree if they agree to lend something of theirs. You choose your battles carefully and when you can’t you agree to a trade-off.

So, what is the result of all this?

We grow up and struggle to be honest about our wants and needs. We feel guilty if we do something for ourselves. We start living for others. Chances are you’ve learnt to self-censor and people please at an early age to avoid being rejected or getting in trouble (parents). This is in full display in desi households where you grow up being encouraged to worry and care about what people think of you.

Like I’ve been saying all along. It’s a vicious circle. Your partner is being emotionally blackmailed by his/her parents and they in turn do that same with you and you do it with them and eventually with your kids.

Because that’s how it is unless someone breaks the chain.

Until then, please share this blog with everyone you know.

Can’t you do just this one thing for us?

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