Suicide as Emotional Abuse: When Threats of Suicide are Used to Control

By Jenn Rockefeller

Abusers know no bounds when they emotionally abuse their targets. They reach into their arsenal of tactics to keep us bound to their abusive ways. One such tactic is the use of threats.

And not just any threat. Abusers know just what will make us react. Many abusers use the manipulation tool of threatening suicide or self-harm to keep us tethered to them. Why does this work and what can we do to keep ourselves emotionally and physically safe?

Why this tactic works
Abusers manipulate those around them at every turn. They do so for the sole purpose of getting what they want. When they manipulate, intimidate and threaten us, they are using the FOG technique. First coined by Susan Forward in her book, Emotional Blackmail, the FOG technique describes how manipulative individuals use fear, obligation, and guilt to trigger someone into reacting.

When abusers threaten suicide or self-harm, they are causing the fear to rise within us so that we don’t leave. In this way, threats of suicide are being used as a method of control. They may go so far as to claim that we don’t care enough about them and that they have lost the will to live. They may sit crumpled up on the floor and cry their fake tears just to make us fear for their safety. Or, they may even loop an extension cord around their neck while making the same threat of suicide or self-harm. This is all so that they can trap us into staying with them.

Their goal is to cause us to feel guilty if something were to happen to them. They are playing on our emotions of love for them and they know that. They may even say, “Well if you really loved me, you wouldn’t let me kill myself.”

Be wary though that if emergency services are called, they will work their manipulation magic on emergency services personnel to convince them that nothing is wrong and that they are okay.

You aren’t responsible for them
It is often said that we aren’t responsible for another person’s actions. This is especially true when it comes to abusers. We are not responsible for what they say and do to us. We are not responsible for their mental health status, either. We are also not responsible for what they do when we leave them.

They want us to think we are, though. They want us to believe that we determine their happiness. They want us to think we are doing something wrong if they make these threats. They may say we aren’t trying hard enough or that we don’t love them enough. They may even say if we worked hard on ourselves to “get better” then things would be okay and you’d be one big happy family.

But, if there is one thing to take away from this article, it’s this: You are not responsible for them. You are not responsible for whether they decide to commit this action. What we are responsible for is ourselves and our emotions and actions. We get to decide what we do with our lives. We decide what to feel. We are not responsible for them, and likewise, they are not responsible for us.

Safety plan
There are avenues you can take to make a safety plan when leaving an abuser who threatens suicide. When you make the decision to leave, the question becomes, “How do I keep myself and my children emotionally and physically safe?” This question must be asked when you’re still with the abuser when you’re planning to leave, and even after you’ve left. Below are just some ideas on how to keep yourself and your children emotionally and physically safe.

  • Be there for your children. They may ask questions about what’s happening. They may express sadness or fear. Answer them on an age-appropriate level.
  • Talk with a trusted friend or relative. You may also need someone to talk to and confide in while all this is going on. Don’t forget to take care of your own emotional well-being.
  • Get a restraining order, if possible. Keeping yourself and your children physically safe after you’ve left the abuser is paramount. Studies have shown there is an increased risk of homicide in abusive situations when the abuser is suicidal.
  • Get into therapy. Abusers can shame us for attending therapy, but it is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it shows a sign of strength when we seek help for our emotional well-being.

When abusers threaten to kill or harm themselves, they are intending to back us into a corner when they say and do these things. They want us to feel like we have no other choice but to give in to them. They want us to stay stuck in hopelessness and fear. But we don’t have to stay stuck. We have the power to make a positive change for ourselves and our children.

If your partner is truly suicidal and has a plan and the intention to follow through, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can talk to a Break the Silence helpline advocate at 855-287-1777.

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