The Business of Practice: Resisting Emotional Blackmail 

Emotional blackmail can be common in equine practice. In this episode, Dr. Jen Brandt provided strategies for responding to it.
emotional blackmail in the equine veterinary industry
Emotional blackmail can take the form of guilt-tripping, threats, ultimatums, or the silent treatment. | Getty Images

In this episode of The Business of Practice podcast, we talked to Jen Brandt, PhD, AVMA Director of Member Wellbeing and Inclusion Initiatives, about emotional blackmail in equine practice and how to respond to it.  

Brandt started the conversation by defining emotional blackmail as “a form of manipulation that a person uses to manage intense emotions, meet unmet needs, and maintain control over a situation.” In essence, she said, “It’s a strategy to get what they want, when what they want is being refused.” It happens in families, in friendships, and in the workplace, she explained. 

Emotional blackmail can take the form of the silent treatment, guilt-tripping, threats, or ultimatums. If someone is skilled in emotional blackmail, they become adept at identifying and homing in on someone’s weak spots. When you try to resist, they escalate the behavior. 

When asked why people engage in emotional blackmail, Brandt explained, “Because it works! If it didn’t, the behavior would be extinguished.” It’s effective because fear, obligation, and guilt are generally the hooks that grab people and make them give in. Reflecting on why you give in to demands you know you should refuse will help you in these situations.   

In closing, Brandt offered steps to help you resist emotional blackmail, which include pausing to get some distance, controlling your reactivity, remembering you have agency over your own choices, asking for time to decide, and giving your answer in a short sentence without a lot of reasons that invite continued dialogue.  

More information is available in the book “Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You” by Susan Forward and Donna Frazier. You can also check out this AVMA Axon course, which is free for AVMA members.  

About Dr. Jen Brandt 

Jen Brandt, PhD, is a sociologist, suicidologist, and social worker specialized in the field of veterinary medicine. She currently serves as AVMA’s first Director of Member Wellbeing and Inclusion Initiatives, where she spearheads the identification, development, implementation, and coordination of education and outreach efforts at the intersection of DEI and well-being in the workplace. 
Brandt received her PhD in social work and her Master of Social Work (MSW) from The Ohio State University. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in social work and sociology with a minor in Spanish from the University of Indianapolis. 
Prior to joining the AVMA, Brandt served in several roles at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, including Director of Individual and Organizational Development, Director of Health and Wellness, and Director of Student Services. She was also the founder and coordinator of the Honoring the Bond Client Support Services Program, one of the first university-based interdisciplinary efforts aimed at supporting all members of the veterinary health care team through a culturally informed, strength-based approach. 

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