FOG - Fear, Obligation & Guilt


FOG - Fear, Obligation & Guilt - The acronym FOG, for Fear, Obligation and Guilt, was first coined by Susan Forward & Donna Frazier in Emotional Blackmail and describes feelings that a person often has when in a relationship with someone who suffers from a personality disorder. Our website, Out of the FOG, is named after this acronym.


Fear is a mental process that that triggers a physical response in humans when confronted by a threat. Fear produces adrenaline that prepares us for the classic "fight or flight" response to threatening situations. When we fear, we anticipate the possibility that something bad might happen soon. Our bodies shut down all long or non-critical functions as we prepare for immediate physical action. Our digestive systems shut down and expel unnecessary waste. Our immune systems and growth systems are put on a lower priority as we prepare to deal with sudden, immediate threats. Our heart beat and breathing quickens to provide increased oxygen to our muscles. Our senses heighten and our peripheral long range thoughts are relegated. Fear is a survival instinct that preserved some of our ancestors in moments of extreme danger. So fear can be a good thing. However, prolonged fear - also known as stress or anxiety, is not so good for us and can lead to increased risk of long term health problems.

Obligation comes from an innate sense of community responsibility. We are born with an instinctive sense of obligation to those around us. Historically, humans who isolated themselves from a community are in much greater danger of perishing. Only those who contributed to the community were accepted by the community. As a result, our communities have evolved in such a way that those who have a strong sense of community responsibility are more likely to be accepted by others and ultimately to produce children. Obligation has served our ancestors well in forming communities. However, when a ruthless person takes advantage of our instinctive sense of obligation, they can manipulate our gut reactions to do things which do not always help us thrive and prosper.

Guilt comes from the same root as obligation. Most of us feel guilt when we do something that we think hurts others or disappoints of others. Our societies have evolved in such a way that it is not socially acceptable to deliberately hurt another person and those who do are often incarcerated, ostracized and condemned by others. However, our instinctive gut reactions of guilt can also be activated when we refuse to help another person. This is where most Non-PD's experience guilt because often in the process of setting boundaries, Non-PD's will have to make a choice of whether or not to give another person, who suffers from a personality disorder, something which they want, which comes at a great personal cost to the Non-PD if they say "no".

Examples of FOG - Fear, Obligation & Guilt

  • A man tells his wife - "I will kill myself if you ever leave me"
  • A mother tells her adult children "You can't possibly care about me if you won't come to Christmas Dinner"
  • A teenager tells his parents "I hate you - you've ruined my life!" when they refuse to grant a request.
  • A young girl overdoses on pain killers after her boyfriend ends the relationship
  • An office employee falsely states "everyone in the office agrees with me" after a disagreement with a co-worker.

What it Feels Like

FOG can produce a sense of dread and hopelessness and make you do and say things that you are uncomfortable with. People have stayed in abusive homes and marriages, lived in squalid conditions, suffered physical pain without medical care, sacrificed their entire wealth and some have sacrificed their lives because of FOG.

If you have been living for a long time with a person who suffers from a personality disorder, chances are you have been living with FOG and her 3 dreadful companions - hopelessness, helplessness and powerlessness. Like a defeated animal backed into a corner it is quite common to have the instinct to just lie down and take it. This can lead to a form of Learned Helplessness.

What NOT to do

If you are living in FOG - Fear, Obligation & Guilt:

  • Don't forget that it's harder to see everything clearly in fog - so everything you see isn't everything that is there.
  • Don't rely purely on your gut instincts or your feelings to guide you, because your feelings are mostly negative.
  • Don't allow yourself to be isolated and for the person with the personality disorder to be the only person you talk to on a regular basis on the subject.
  • Don't stop doing things that are good for you, healthy behaviors, friends, work, recreation etc.
  • Don't sustain any situation or relationship where you do not have the option to say "no" where it is reasonable to do so. Nobody who is a true friend will demand "yes" 100% of the time. Healthy relationships are two-way streets - not one-way streets and anyone who is a true friend or who truly loves you will give as much as they receive.
  • Don't sacrifice taking care of yourself in order to help another person. That just makes both people poor.

What TO do

  • Learn all you can about personality disorders.
  • Get yourself a support network where you can discuss things that concern you without feeling judged.
  • Work on setting Boundaries that will help you escape the feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and powerlessness.
  • Try to add logical rational thought to every emotional thought of Fear, Obligation & Guilt.
  • Try to substitute "what really works" for "what feels right" when you are making decisions.
  • Promptly remove yourself and any innocent children from any emotionally abusive situations.