Emotional blackmail is the process in which an individual makes demands and threats to manipulative another person to get what they want. It is a form of psychological abuse, causing damage to the victims. Their demands are often intended to control a victim’s behaviour through unhealthy ways.
Emotional blackmail is a way of being manipulated by your partner. However, in these situations, it can be difficult to gauge and clearly point to whether the victim is being manipulated.
Emotional blackmail occurs in close relationships. The manipulator leverages knowledge gained about the victim’s fears. Blackmailers will use the information they learn about what the victim fears to manipulate them.
One of the most painful elements of emotional blackmail is that they use personal information about the victim’s vulnerabilities against them. Another trigger blackmailer will use is putting the victim’s sense of obligation to the test. They will commonly create undeserved guilt and blame to attribute their problems to the victim.
Because the tactics can be covert, emotional blackmail may be difficult to spot, especially for those who may experience more vulnerabilities to it.
Susan Forward and Donna Frazier recognize four types of blackmailing, each with varying manipulation tactics:
Punishers – Punishers operate with a need to get their way, regardless of the feelings or needs of the other person. Their motto is “my way or the highway.” Punishers will insist upon pushing for control and getting what they want with threats to inflict damage or harm ( Eat the food I cooked for you or I'll hurt you )
Self-punishers – Individuals can make threats of self-harm if the partner does not comply with what they want ( Eat the food I cooked for you or I'll hurt myself )
Sufferers – this is the voice of a victim conveying guilt on the partner if they do not do what is demanded. If they do not comply, there is a suggestion that their suffering will be the others’ fault.(“After all that I’ve done for you, you are going to let me suffer…? Or Eat the food I cooked for you. I was saving it for myself. I wonder what will happen now )
Tantalizers – This can be the most subtle and confusing form of manipulation. There is a promise of what will be better if they comply. It sparks hope yet is still connecting a threat to the demand ( Eat the food I cooked for you and you just may get a really yummy dessert )
Why do people use emotional blackmail?
Most people use some form of minor emotional blackmail occasionally. We have all been guilty of getting frustrated when someone hasn’t done something that we would like them to have done.
For example, you might complain that your boyfriend did not pick up any chocolate on the way home, even though he knew you were sick. While it can become a problem if it is frequent, it is not something to be too concerned about on its own. People who use serious emotional blackmail are abusers attempting to control another person’s thoughts and feelings. Emotional blackmailers are particularly good at making their victims feel powerless and confused.
They can often manage to make their victim feel as if they are being completely reasonable, and that it is the victim who is being unreasonable. Emotional blackmail victims often find themselves trying to anticipate their blackmailer’s moods and will apologize profusely for things that were not their fault.
Examples of emotional blackmail statements:
While this list may not cover all, this will help you identify what is and what is not an emotional blackmail statement:
- If I ever see another man look at you, I will kill him.
- If you ever stop loving me, I will kill myself/kill you.
- I’ve already discussed this with our pastor/therapist/friends/family, and they agree that you
are being unreasonable.
- I am taking this vacation – with or without you.
- How can you say you love me and still be friends with them?
- You have ruined my life and now you are trying to stop me from spending money to take
care of myself.
- It was your fault that I was late for work.
- If you would not cook in an unhealthy way, I wouldn’t be overweight.
- I would have gotten ahead in my career if you had done more at home.
- If you do not take care of me, I’ll wind up in the hospital/on the street/unable to work.
- You will never see your kids again.
- I will make you suffer.
- You will destroy this family.
- You are not my child anymore.
- You will be sorry.
- I am cutting you out of my will.
- I will get sick.
- I cannot make it without you.
- If you will not have sex with me, I will get it from someone else.
- If you cannot buy me a new phone, you are a worthless sister/mom/dad/brother/lover.
What NOT to do
- Do not give in to or reward emotional blackmail demands or attempts.
- Do not stay in a situation where there is a threat or an action of violence towards yourself
- Do not allow yourself to be blamed for somebody else’s bad behaviours or poor personal
What TO do
- Recognize the characteristic of emotional blackmail and understand that to give in to the
demands of a blackmailer will only make the situation worse.
- Recognize that no-one who genuinely loves you will threaten you with harm or expect you
to act against your own best interests.
- Recognize that the emotional blackmailer is not like you and is unlikely to respond well to
reason, arguments or attempts at counter-manipulation.
- Work on your own personal boundaries and be willing to defend them.
- Remove one of the four components of emotional blackmail - the blackmailer, the victim
(you) the threat or the demand. Since you cannot control the other person that usually
means you have to detach yourself enough to protect yourself, your children and the
resources and relationships that are precious to you. Then allow the blackmailer back in
only to the extent that they cannot threaten or destroy what matters to you most.
- Call the authorities if there are any threats or actions of violence.
Blackmail Law UK. Blackmail can be a very serious offence which has strict rules in the UK. Section 21 of the Theft Act 1968. The act explains UK blackmail law, in legal terms, to be when one makes unwarranted demands with menaces in order to attain personal gain or project loss on another.
(1) A person is guilty of blackmail if, with a view to gain for himself or another or with intent to cause loss to another, he makes any unwarranted demand with menaces; and for this purpose a demand with menaces is unwarranted unless the person making it does so in the belief—
(a) that he has reasonable grounds for making the demand; and
(b) that the use of the menaces is a proper means of reinforcing the demand.
(2) The nature of the act or omission demanded is immaterial, and it is also immaterial whether the menaces relate to action to be taken by the person making the demand.
(3) A person guilty of blackmail shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.