Compliments of elycefeliz via Flickr

Compliments of elycefeliz via Flickr

Emotional terrorists are those who believe people are responsible for their cerebral baggage (Zwolinski & Zwolinski, n.d.). They try to infuse recipients with their irrationality by first (1) setting a conflagration, then (2) blaming targets for it. Zwolinski and Zwolinski state: “…at some point she’ll be sure to follow up her outburst with a non-apology.” This character disordered personality strikes with a one-two punch of emotional vomit followed by victim blame.

Emotional terrorists are chronic regarding their one-way style, in which they appear “the winner.” Their brutish tactics are reserved for non-combative types – those on whom they can get the most toehold. They can be cunning and devious, reeling others in with overly friendly, too readily familiar overtures. When they’ve gained someone’s trust they dump anger in doormat style fashion.

If challenged they assume one of two positions: hangdog if targets appear angry, bellicose if they seem submissive. Histrionic types steamroll people in a twisted attempt at self-preservation – annihilating people who get in their way, those who are easy prey in terms of making themselves look tough. Their approach to human relationship is adversarial: on the offense for pushovers, in cringe mode for persons considered more “worthy” opponents.

Emotional terrorism consists of gossip, or gas-lighting behind others’ backs with innuendo, false stories, unnecessary personal details, and flat out lies in an attempt to even the score and make others look bad by comparison. Munching on a delicious morsel out of target earshot builds camaraderie on a shifting ground, one that may disintegrate if “buddies” find themselves on the receiving end of these shenanigans. Emotional hostage takers use a heartstrings blackmail approach – if you don’t do X I will explode, if you do Y I will leave, if you do Z, I will move. All in an attempt to keep you buttoned up and hunkered down, complicit, compliant, nervously awaiting the next fire storm. Power-holders of this type communicate in vagaries – “I’ll let you know,” “We’ll have to see,” “Let me get back to you.” They make promises they don’t keep, withhold praise loved ones need, backhand children when they present an achievement. They start brush fires for no other apparent reason than to be the center of attention and create misery for those around them.

Like Ebenezer Scrooge they drag corpses of things past kept alive by reliving and complaining. Vengeance is the order of the day – retribution, payback, and torment all wrapped up in one explosive little package; grenades that keep the Hatfield and McCoy conflict ever stirred. In the extreme they are sufferers of anti-social personality disorder, reckless not only with their driving but with all life aspects – including employment, finances, planning, and personal relationships. Every encounter presents the possibility of Custer’s last stand. Pride consumes them, lack of empathy fuels them. Foremost on their mind is the following: How can I make things difficult for those around me? How can I manipulate them, put them down, pull the rug out, at the same time getting a psychic jolt? Emotional terrorists love to degrade and correct “loved ones” in front of other people. They do things for the purpose of getting a rise.

If you encounter one of these people, try the following:

  • Minimize/avoid contact. They can’t pour gasoline on something that’s absent. If they live in your house try staggering hours so you’re not in striking range.
  • Don’t take it personally (this is a toughie, because this is most certainly how it’s meant). Guttural roar is projection of a flawed, often times wounded persona. Consider the source.
  • Surround yourself with positive people who give you lots of strokes – they will lessen the smear of mental abuse, at the same time uplifting your spirit. Spend copious amounts of time with kindred souls.
  • Do nice things for yourself (we’re many times masters of going the extra mile for other people). Treat yourself as you would a best friend.
  • If you’re a boss, stop the abuser in his or her tracks. State in no uncertain terms that degrading peers is an unacceptable form of “entertainment.”


Related link: Negotiating with an emotional terrorist







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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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