Ask The Therapist: “I was in a toxic relationship, and now I am engaged to someone I really like…but I am being blackmailed by my ex…”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained therapist. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

‘I don’t know what to do. I have been in a toxic relationship and now my parents got me engaged to someone else who is a nice guy and I’m quite happy with him. But the guy I was in a relationship with blackmails me all the time. I can’t tell my parents as I have a conservative family, plus I’m worried that if my fiancé gets to know he’ll leave me which I don’t want. What should I do? I feel tormented about this all the time.’

Shahrukh’s Response:

Dear Anon,

That’s absolutely awful – I’m so sorry you’re going through that. I can only imagine the kind of torment and anxiety that you must be feeling right now. I know that a toxic, blackmailing ex-boyfriend and a conservative family can feel like they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Let’s talk about this a little more and explore how you can approach a situation like this.

The Blackmail Storm In Pakistan

Sadly Anon, this is one issue in Pakistan that comes up every so often, and it’s heartbreaking and it’s extremely difficult when you’re caught in that storm. Women have often faced the issue of exes threatening to tell their families about their relationships, or even expose them by sending screenshots and photographs that are a little more intimate in nature. Now, I am mindful of the fact that this happens in nearly every part of the world, but living in a conservative society such as ours, there is a lot more at play in terms of social consequences: families are involved, and because we are taught to live in a collectivist society, where we function as units rather than individuals, it’s difficult to separate ourselves from our families, the actions of one affect the others. Couple all of this with the religious beliefs and there you have it: a combination that makes a blackmailing ex a Pakistani girl’s worst fear and nightmare. It’s unfair and cruel on levels and I wish more than anything it could be as simple as ignoring these threats and moving on. This scenario can require a little bit of strategy, so let’s discuss this more. 

Knowing The Extent Of The Threat

There’s a number of ways an ex could choose to blackmail you, the question is how and what does he want? By now, he must’ve reached out a few times and you would be the best judge in terms of whether or not his threats are real, or if they are just cries for attention, and simply a way for them to be in control. If it’s the latter, you could just choose to ignore his attempts, and block him off from all platforms. If it’s the former, you may need to take a different approach to the situation.

What Can Be Done?

Reach out for support (if you feel comfortable): whether it’s a trusted friend, family member or just anyone you can trust, ask them for support because really, this can be a difficult situation, especially if you’re handling it on your own. Find ways to support yourself!

Try to Neutralise the threats of the blackmailer: alright – this might be a little challenging, but sometimes it’s best to neutralise the threats altogether. If he is threatening to reveal anything to your parents or your fiancé, it would be better for them to hear it from you, and in that case, if he continues with his threats, they will be ineffective since you have already told them. I know it can be an extremely scary thought to come clean to your parents. If it’s easier, you could even recruit the help of a sibling or someone close to the family, anyone you trust, who might be able to support you in having that conversation. As for the fiancé, try to ease into the conversation and talk about exes in general, and perhaps slowly steer the conversation into talking about your past. He might be more understanding than you think, but of course, you would know best in this case. 

Counselling: in a situation such as this one, it might help to get some support from a therapist or counsellor, who can hold space for you and help you come up with further solutions, and provide you with the support that you need. 

Anon, again, I know what a difficult situation this is, and as scary as it can be to come clean to the people involved, it might also be an enormous burden that would be lifted off your shoulders. So even if he were to tell your parents or fiancé, they would already know. I hope that whatever happens, I pray that you stay safe, and that you are able to walk out of this situation unscathed and unharmed. 

I wish you all the best! Best of luck and stay in your power! 

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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