I thought the term FOG was originated by Beverly Engel in her book "Emotional Blackmail." I used it in Stop Walking on Eggshells. When I see people use it, I like them to know that.
Here is what I write about FOG in my new book, the Essential Family Guide to BPD." This i s from my files, so there is extra stuff you can ignore. Sorry, the formatting isn't all that great, either.
Steering Clear of the FOG
In chapter 8, Uncover What Keeps You Feeling Stuck, we discussed FOG (fear, obligation, and guilt) in the context of the relationship. FOG also comes up like little wisps of smoke during limit-setting conversations. If you donât prepare for it, it can blur your vision and make it hard to see and remember what you want and need. The next few pages will show you how to prevent FOG from sabotaging your convictions about the limits you must set to make this relationship work (or make your living situation bearable).
Fear of Losing the Relationship
There are many different kinds of fears. Most of them can be approached using the Carnegie problem-solving methods described in chapter 7, page XX. The fear we will deal with here is fear of losing the relationship.
Members of Welcome to Oz say that underneath the disorder, their loved one is a great person. Common adjectives members use to describe their BP include bright, funny, compassionate, loving, and beautiful. Itâs very hard to accept that their loved oneâs borderline behaviors arenât isolated anomalies, but a central part of who he is.
To keep themselves safe from their loved oneâs erratic and often abusive behaviors, family members give in on issues they actually feel strongly about. The BPâs emotional blow-up acts as a punishment; the non-BP giving in to prevent the punishment acts as a powerful reward. Over time, non-BPs have let their limits slide so far they can no longer be seen with the naked eye.
Psychotherapist Beverly Engel, a recognized expert in the field of relationships, explains how limits disappear. She says:
Most of us begin a relationship thinking we have certain limits as to what we will and will not tolerate from a partner. But as the relationship progresses, we tend to move our boundaries back, tolerating more and more intrusion or going along with things we are really opposed to. . . . [Individuals] begin tolerating unacceptable and even abusive behavior, and then convince themselves that these behaviors are normal, acceptable, [and deserved].
Maura, like many non-BPs, is boxed in. She knows just what will happen if she makes any demands on her boyfriend, Fred. When she says she needs time alone or time with her friends, he says heâll leave her. Not only leave her, but make her life miserable by spreading rumors and lies about her to their friends. Her family and friends tell her the relationship isnât healthy and that Fred has problems. But she is terribly afraid of losing Fred and wishes that others could see what a wonderful person he is underneath it all. If she can just settle Fred down, get him not to make waves, things will be fine.
Signs of abuse include dictating how others should live; isolating them from family and friends; controlling money or other resources; blaming those they mistreat for the mistreatment; being overly jealous and possessive; or pushing, grabbing, hitting, kicking, punching, or throwing objects.
If this describes your family member, you may think that by remaining silent, you are âhelpingâ this person or âsavingâ the relationship. This is untrue. Both of you need help immediately from experienced mental health professionals. Call someone who cares about you or a domestic violence hotline. Men and parents can be abused too. If you donât seek help, the consequences could be tragic.
Obligation and Guilt
Yeardley just knows that her borderline sister is going to ruin her wedding. âYou have to ask your sister to be your maid of honor,â their mother insisted. Yeardley had wanted her best friend in that role, but she gave in to her motherâs wishes. Itâs been like this her whole lifeâshe always receives love and praise from her parents when she âdoes her dutyâ by her sister.
Author Suzanne Robert writes about boundaries and families on her Web site about aging parents: suzanneroberts.net. She points out that we rarely consider setting boundaries with our families for two reasons: self-induced guilt (âHeâs my family. I canât say that.â) and the external fear of what people will think. Roberts believes that we have not only the right but also the responsibility to âallow our family members to be subject to the same criteria as anyone else on this planet,â even if we appear selfish. It is not selfish, she says, to take care of yourself. A person with no boundaries, who functions with knee-jerk reactions to every demand, is too tired, angry, and resentful to be kind and loving, she points out.
Feelings of guilt and obligation are common when they set limits, say members of WTO. Here are some examples:
â˘ âShe said my limits about having my own money meant I didnât love her or take our marriage seriously.â
â˘ âShe said, âHow can you do this to your own mother? What kind of a son are you?ââ
â˘ âShe accused me of being like her terrible ex-husbands.â
Fear, obligation, and guiltâor FOG, a term coined by Susan Forward in her excellent book Emotional Blackmail âis âpenetrating, disorienting, and obscures everything but the pounding discomfort it produces.â Forward says pressure is so uncomfortable, we give in as quickly and as automatically as we would put our hands over our ears when a siren shrieks past.
Once the FOG button works, BPs will press it again and again. One WTO member summed up this dynamic beautifully: âWhen I try to set limits, my BP keeps at me until I give up, even if it takes hours. It is much easier to give in within the first thirty seconds.â
Forward says that one of the most powerful techniques people can use to cut through the FOG is to say, âI CAN STAND ITâ [caps in the original] repeatedly. This puts a new message into the conscious and unconscious mind. When thinking about taking steps to end the blackmail, breathe deeply and say, âI can stand itâ at least ten times. The rewards are worth enduring someone getting upset. At a minimum, the rewards are increased self-confidence and a sense of mastery over life.
FOG, however, is just one aspect of what keeps people stuck in relationships. There are other reasons. In the book, I talk about these other reasons:
â˘ unhealthy bonds forged by emotional abuse (Stockholm Syndrome)
â˘ feelings of fear
â˘ obligation, roles, and duty
â˘ guilt mingled with shame
â˘ low self-esteem
â˘ the need to ârescueâ