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Standing Up For YOU With An Emotional Hostage Taker

1405557_80469989In our first post on how other’s feelings can control you, we discussed two reasons why someone ends up a hostage to another’s (negative) emotions.

The first is the other person—he or she needs to project their negative feelings onto you.

The second is the sponge-factor, that is, the lack of strong and healthy boundaries of the victim.

Here are some tips:

1. Try Therapy. If you frequently take on other’s people’s emotional states, consider therapy. If in therapy already, ask your therapist to help you address your boundaries. Although we (surprisingly to many) do not think therapy is always the answer, we find it is proven to be extremely helpful in the face of chronic people-pleasing and spongey boundaries. Your therapist can help you understand why you end up in these situations as well as give you concrete tools for making positive change.

2. Affirmations. Yes. They actually work. Some suggested ones are:

A. I am (your name). I am not (fill in the name of the hostage taker).

B. I am responsible for my own feelings.

C. I am not responsible for how other’s feel. (This is to a certain extent, assuming you aren’t insulting, ignoring, or abusing others.)

D. I do not have to spend time with people who drain me.

E. I am strong and able to cope with my own life and feelings.

F. I do not expect perfection from myself or others, but I will not play the blame-game.

3. Verbalize limits. It will come as a shock to the other person, and maybe even you, but you are allowed to set limits for what you will tolerate as acceptable behavior. You can reach deep inside yourself for strength and tell someone, even someone you love: This conversation is over unless we change the topic. I am not your emotional punching bag. Your negative feelings are yours, not mine.

4. Semi-finally, Learn the difference.  This is VITAL: Understand the difference between  hostage taking vs. a legitimate complaint. People might have a legitimate reason to ask you to take responsibility for an action you’ve done.

If someone is trying to “hook you in” as being responsible for an outlandish feeling they have, affirm (silently to yourself) and verbalize limits. Do not allow yourself to be manipulated. It’s not okay.

On the other hand, if someone who is not generally a hostage taker is complaining about behavior of yours that most would reasonably agree could be viewed as hurtful or offensive, stay open and positive, listen to their complaint, and address it. Set your ego aside and apologize and try to correct things. You, too can err.

Don’t make the mistake of allowing the pendulum to swing to far in the other direction. Balance is key.

5. The old cliché is true: You can’t love another until you love yourself. Loving yourself doesn’t mean necessarily gratifying your every wish, nor does it mean giving in to unhealthy or harmful desires just because you feel like it. Loving yourself means taking care of yourself emotionally (and physically) as you work towards personal growth and maturity.

True love is mature love, a love that sets limits and appreciates healthy boundaries. If you don’t have healthy boundaries with your own emotions, how can you have healthy boundaries with others’?

We disagree with those who say: Your feelings rule. Do what you feel.

We say: Know your feelings, acknowledge them, and take them into account when making choices. But listen to your intellect first. Allow it to help guide your feelings, bringing you to a state where you are able to focus and keep a clear head. Your feelings can serve your intellect or your intellect can serve your feelings.








Standing Up For YOU With An Emotional Hostage Taker

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2013). Standing Up For YOU With An Emotional Hostage Taker. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Sep 2013
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