Are You Being Held Hostage?

Emotional hostage takers can be your partner, your child, your parents or any person in your life. They can be hard to spot and even harder to cope with. Here are the warning signs to help you identify if you are in an emotionally unhealthy friendship or relationship:

  • The person seems like they are your friend but the relationship is very draining on you. They conjure up situations that play off your sense of duty to the relationship. If the emotional hostage taker is afraid you are pulling away, or they don’t want you to do something with other friends, they will become ill, injured, or have a crisis.
  • They may be a generally nice person but you have to watch what you say and do. Hostage takers can be easily upset which leaves you with a sense that you are walking on eggshells.
  • They seem to have a lot of emergencies. They expect you to drop everything you are doing when they are having one of their countless crises. They may come across as helpless and in desperate need of your help but the situation doesn’t seem as bad as they are reacting.
  • They have a way of making you question your perception of what’s going on around you. While the rest of the world seems to trust your judgment, this person tries to make you think you are crazy.
  • Your feelings are trivialized but their feelings are positioned much higher in significance.
  • Emotional hostage takers have a way of obligating you to the friendship. They may be very sincere sounding and appreciative of your time, devotion and energy but this kindness turns sour if you don’t comply with their plans for you.
  • If you let them down, they will be angry and hurt with you. You might not have done anything wrong but they have twisted it somehow and now you must profusely apologize. You might not be clear as to why you are apologizing but you know you had better apologize because the situation is escalating. Emotional hostage takers are masters at laying on the guilt trips. They will increase the amount of guilt until you apologize enough for their liking.
  • Hostage takers may hold you captive with charm, praise and attention. They will tell you things like you are the only person who truly understands them. This sounds nice but it will feel like a shackle.
  • They can flip on you in an instant and make you feel like you are ungrateful and unappreciative of all their love and their understanding.
  • These people usually have a deep seated insecurity and low self-esteem that is masked with a good appearance of confidence.
  • If you feel isolated from your family and friends, you may be an emotional hostage. Their need for your friendship keeps you from being available to the other people in your life.
  • The hostage takers’ needs and crises have a way of preventing you from going to social events where you can interact with others. It is easier to stay in their company than to have to deal with their negative reactions.
  • If you do go to a social event without them, you feel like you have to omit or alter exactly what you’ve done so as not to upset them. They want to know exactly what you do and with whom. If they have disapproval, you will either feel their guilt or the sting of their anger.
  • They may even entrust you by placing their well-being in your hands. The emotional hostage taker may threaten self-harm if you try to end the relationship. If they can get you to fall into this trap, this will become their go-to method of holding you captive in the future. It is crucial that you get immediate intervention through therapy for yourself and for them. If the person makes a suicide threat, then call 911. Let the experts handle this.


Points To Consider If You Are Thinking About Ending A Relationship With An Emotional Hostage Taker:

1) You feel worse about yourself when you’re with this person. 2) The friendship doesn’t feel like a friendship. Friendships should have mutual trust and respect. They shouldn’t feel negative and draining.

3) Something is wrong if you live in fear of their reactions.

4) You’ve made a mistake or done something wrong; and have done your best to make amends for your error but the other person is still punishing you for “ruining” their life.

5) Friendships/relationships shouldn’t involve patterns of intimidation, humiliation or ridicule.

6) Your friends and family have tried to convince you to leave. They see the problem but you still feel compelled to continue your involvement with this negative person.

7) You have noticed a decline in your school or work performance because of this friendship.

8) Getting out of this kind of interaction usually requires therapy. Get professional help. If someone you love is trapped in this psychological challenge, go with them to therapy. Be supportive instead of confrontational.


Mark Webb is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice at South Georgia Psychiatric and Counseling Center in Valdosta. He is the author of How To Be A Great Partner.  Mark  has been in the field of helping individuals and couples since 1986. He has a vast amount of experience and he can have a very positive impact on your life and your relationship. If you are looking for individual or marriage counseling, please call his office in Valdosta, Georgia and his staff will help you set up an appointment.

South Georgia Psychiatric and Counseling Center
2704 N. Oak St. Blg B-3
Valdosta, Georgia  31602
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