What is emotional blackmail? Read emotional blackmail definition

Emotional blackmail describes a method of manipulation wherever somebody uses your feelings as a way to manage your behavior or persuade you to ascertain things their way.

Dr. Susan Forward, a therapist who pioneered the term in her 1997 book, breaks down the thought of emotional blackmail to assist people to perceive and overcome this sort of manipulation.

Emotional blackmail generally involves 2 people that have established personal or intimate relationships (parent and child, siblings, spouses, or close friends). Children also can use special pleading and emotional blackmail to push their own interests and self-development inside the family system.

Emotional blackmailers use fear, obligation, and guilt in their relationships, making certain that others feel afraid to cross them.  Fear, obligation, or guilt is commonly referred to as “FOG”. Knowing that somebody near to them needs love, approval, or confirmation of identity, blackmailers could threaten to withhold them or take them away altogether, making the other one feel they must earn them.

Signs of emotional blackmail in a relationship

Emotional blackmail is described as threats and punishments meant to control another person’s behavior, which can cause lasting emotional damage.

It is a powerful form of manipulation that helps an emotional blackmailer get what they want. Understanding the signs of this manipulation will help make sure that you or someone you know doesn’t fall victim to an abuser.

4 Signs of emotional blackmail

1. Threats against something valuable

Threats can vary but they always remain an integral part of emotional blackmail. It can be a threat to damage something dear to a victim. This involves both physical objects and something more abstract, lide relationship or reputation. So in order to avoid having something important destroyed, the victim feels as if they have to comply with the abuser.

The victim is meant to feel as if they have to comply with the blackmailer in order to avoid having something that they care about tampered with or destroyed.

2. Threats against a victim

This kind of threat is not necessarily present in emotional blackmailing. This sign is less common, but it may sometimes occur. If it happens, the abuser may threaten physical violence if the victim doesn’t comply with their demands. To succeed in threatening, a blackmailer must know the target fears of the victim. They are typically deep-rooted and may involve the fear of abandonment, loneliness, humiliation, and failure.

3. Threatening self-harm

Another tactic of emotional blackmailers who are close to the victim in an intimate way is to threaten harm against themselves. In this case, it may be like you have no choice but to do exactly what the abuser says in order to avoid a tragedy. Threatening against themselves is another way for a blackmailer to gain control of the situation and force a person to comply with their demands.

4. Using guilt

Threats are oftentimes combined with guilt to make a person  give in to the demands. This kind of emotional blackmail is known as “guilt-tripping.” In this case, a victim feels guilty for causing some negative outcomes to the blackmailer.

How to deal with emotional blackmail?

1. Never give into the demands

Even if you face a quite scary situation, giving into the demands will only encourage a blackmailer and make the situation much worse. Be firm and refuse to give in to what the blackmailer wants from you. Especially refuse if the threat is violence towards yourself or other people around you.

2. Remember that people don’t blackmail the ones they love

To detach yourself from the situation and make it easier to refuse, realize that no one who really cares for you wouldn’t threaten to make harm on you.

3. Take a break

If you cannot control the situation, get out of it. Consider taking a long pause and think of how you are feeling about the demand. 

How to deal with emotional blackmail from parents?

Emotional blackmail from parents occurs because they know very well how to influence their children emotionally. They use this technique to get control and make children behave in a desired way. No matter how hard parents try to influence you, it’s only up to you whether to participate in emotional blackmail or not. You can improve the situation by demonstrating to your parents that you have a great level of control over your life and your actions are always predictable. Discuss your decisions with them, share your point of view, make and keep promises. These actions will prove your parents that you are a responsible person so there is no need to control your life. 

If this strategy doesn’t work with your parents, the only possible solution is to stop responding to emotional blackmail. Learn how to be emotionally less affected by their manipulation and keep calm. Try to understand why exactly you are affected by, how it makes you feel and think.

If you realize how your emotional and cognitive reactions occur, the psychological impact on you will be lessened. Instead of just blaming your parents, don’t get  involved in emotional blackmail and act in your own interest. 

Anton Kurapov

Anton Kurapov

PhD, a professor assistant at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. Fascinated by the role of psychology in lives of people and simply astonished by the complexity of the brain and its functions.

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