Have you ever been manipulated to do something or experienced emotional abuse due to blackmail? It feels in such a way that you are at the edge of a cliff, and you have no other choice but to comply for survival.

What is Emotional Blackmail?

Emotional blackmail is a dysfunctional form of manipulation where the blackmailer uses your feelings to control your behavior or influence you for their self-interest. Emotional blackmailers create feelings of constant fear, obligation, and guilt to get their victims to obey them. 

Emotional blackmail is a common tactic in close or romantic relationships. The emotional blackmailer won’t use your secrets against you; instead, they will control you using your emotions.

Stages of Emotional Blackmail

There are six progressive stages of emotional blackmail that you need to understand:

  1. Demand

The first stage of emotional blackmail is when the blackmailer is demanding something from you. The blackmailer can demand either in an explicit or subtle manner. They can explicitly say: 

“I don’t think that person is right for you.” In a more subtle manner: “I don’t like the way that person looks at you. He could be dangerous.” 

Their subtle demands may seem like they care about you; but, this is only their controlling behavior.

  1. Resistance

If you are emotionally blackmailed and want to resist, frankly, tell the person what you feel. For instance, you don’t want the other person to enter your room even if they want to clean it up for you. You can handle emotional blackmail by saying: “I can do the cleaning on my own. I feel anxious letting someone inside my room.”

Other subtle ways of showing resistance are:

  • Bringing your room keys with you all the time
  • Keeping the broomstick or mop somewhere the person can’t find
  1. Pressure

When a partner starts to show resistance in normal relationships, the other partner finds a solution to the problem. They both work out their problems together. Blackmailers will force their demands on you with several strategies. Some of these strategies include:

  • They state their demand in a way that they seem to care about you
  • They may say that your resistance is making them feel bad about themselves
  • They will tell you that you should do what they ask because it is out of love for each other
  1. Threats

Emotional blackmail can either be direct or indirect threats. Example statements of these types of threats include:

  • Direct threat: “If you hang out with your buddies tonight, I will pack my bags and leave you.”
  • Indirect threat: “I don’t even spend time with my friends because I want to spend more time with you. If you leave, I will look for someone else who will give me more attention.”

Aside from these, the blackmailer can also disguise the implied threats by making a promise by saying: “If you stay with me, we can eat whatever you like. We can even watch the movie you have meant to watch for so long.”

  1. Compliance

Eventually, all the resisting can be tiresome, and you just give in to their demands. Constant emotional manipulation using pressure and threats can be exhausting.

If the blackmailer got what they wanted, they usually become loving and kind to you. This positive behavior could only be for a brief moment. Their toxic behavior is on repeat if you stay in this kind of intimate relationship. 

  1. Repetition

If you give in after a lot of resistance, the blackmailer now knows how easily you can be manipulated. You feel that it is easier if you just give in rather than resist. This will happen over and over until you decide you are through being played at.

Examples of Emotional Blackmail

According to Dr. Susan Forward, an internationally renowned therapist and emotional wellness expert, most blackmailers use different devices to manipulate you. Dr. Forward suggests four main styles or signs of emotional blackmail that can summarize all manipulative strategies:


Punishers say their demands as well as the consequences if you resist. They use direct threats as well as silent treatment to control you. According to relationship expert Kryss Shane, punishers will intentionally punish you by not talking to you to make you feel worried or anxious.

Here is an example: You come home tired from work. Your partner has happily prepared dinner. You ask to skip dinner for the night so you can go to bed early. The punisher cannot accept this. A lot of effort and time has been given to preparing the meal only to be resisted so easily. The punisher is slamming doors and refusing to talk to you.


Self-punishers like to explain the hurtful outcome of your frequent resistance to them. Self-punishers will make you feel guilty that they are hurt. They do this so you would be liable to take responsibility and give in.   

Here is an example: “I am a struggling single mother. I need you to lend me money so I can buy food for your nieces! You should understand what I feel because you have a child of your own!”


Sufferers express their unhappiness towards you by showing signs of pain and discomfort. They would like you to notice their sadness through their frowns, sighs, and tears. Frequently reminding you of their misery, sufferers will give you a narration of what they have sacrificed for your happiness.

Here is an example: Your suffering friend wants to play volleyball with you. But, you resist by saying that you are not a sporty person. After dinner, your friend called saying: “I feel so sad. I didn’t even eat dinner because my mom and I got into a huge fight about my grades. She said that I’m only good at volleyball. I feel so bad that I just want to play a few rounds with you to feel better. Can we go to the sports center tomorrow and play?”


Tantalizers like to give out rewards and praises. They do this so they can get something from you each time. This makes you feel good about yourself, and the possibility of getting a reward motivates you to comply with the wishes of a tantalizer.

Here is an example: Your partner tells you that you are the ideal partner, and he can’t wait to settle down with you. “But, for now, let us take it slow”. You agreed, and you continue to treat the person with so much love and care. Finally, you ask if he plans to settle down soon. He snaps at you, saying: “Did I agree to this relationship? You keep sticking to me like glue. This relationship is pointless!”

When an Emotional Blackmailer Threatens to Harm You

A person who uses emotional blackmail is most likely diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

An emotional blackmailer would resort to physical abuse, so you would give in to them. The worst that you can expect is that they become abusive just to get what they want. No matter how much you love them, you don’t have control over their actions. If it leads to physical violence, it is best to seek help by calling 911.

How to Turn This Into a Healthy Relationship

The first step in escaping an emotionally abused relationship is distinguishing emotional blackmail. Everyone has clear boundaries that need to be respected. If these boundaries are being threatened by pressure and threats with the desire to control you, it is surely emotional blackmail.

The second step is to remain calm despite feeling upset or frightened. This is also a good exercise for focusing on yourself and not losing track by eventually giving in.

The third step is to initiate a conversation. Tell them that you are hurt by what they are saying. Also, allow them to change their behavior.

The fourth step is to identify what triggers you. The blackmailer sure knows a great deal about you and what sets you off. They will use these triggers to control you. You should know what can make you explode or lose control of yourself. This is a great way for you to practice self-control and lessen the risk of manipulation.

The last step is to make a compromise. Both of your feelings should be respected by each other. Start by validating the feelings of the blackmailer and start to plan how to solve the problem together.

It will be a relief if you and your partner settle your issues. To change and make compromises are major life decisions that your partner needs to make. But, it is a risk that is worth taking if you want to have a long-term healthy relationship.

Couples undergoing couple's counseling
Image from 123RF by wavebreakmediamicro

Don’t Let This Trigger Fear Within You

Everyone wants to be in relationships free of mental and emotional abuse. No one wants to live a life that is covered in fear.

Emotional blackmail target fears. It is so easy to give in, and you find it hard to stand up for yourself. Consistently experiencing emotional blackmail can lead to deep-rooted low self-esteem and eventually losing sight of your identity.

Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) provides professional help, support, and counseling for victims of emotional blackmail. If you think you are an emotional blackmailer and willing to be treated, KCC can prepare a therapy plan for you. Help is always available if you seek it.

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