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What Is Emotional Blackmail?

The creation of undeserved guilt is often used by emotional blackmailers to get something they want from another person.
A simple form of emotional blackmail is the individual who rages when he does not get his own way.
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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2014
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Emotional blackmail is a form of psychological manipulation in which one person attempts to coerce another into doing what he wants through the use of emotional threats and the creation of undeserved guilt. People often commit emotional blackmail by threatening to harm themselves, their victim, or someone else if the victim does not provide them with the type of attention that they want. An emotional blackmailer may also simply demonstrate strong, frightening, and inappropriate emotions if their victim makes or considers a decision that the blackmailer does not like. As a result, the victim of emotional blackmail will often give in to the blackmailer in order to avoid being subject to an emotional meltdown or being made to feel responsible for the blackmailer's threatened consequences.

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In the course of most relationships, it is not uncommon for one party to occasionally push the buttons of the other in order to get what he or she wants from that person. Many emotional blackmailers take this all-too-human tendency to an extreme and make it a hallmark of their interactions with others. Instead of recognizing that their needs and desires do not always coincide with those belonging to others and that negotiation and compromise are necessary in healthy human relationships, they practice emotional blackmail in an attempt to get others to do what they want. A simple form of emotional blackmail is the individual who sulks, whines, or rages when she does not get her own way. Her reaction is so unpleasant to her victim that the victim will acquiesce to the blackmailer's demands in order to avoid having to deal with her toxic emotional state.

As the psychological abuse continues, the blackmail can become more blatant, with the threatened consequences of non-submission becoming more severe. For example, an emotional blackmailer may threaten to commit suicide if his victim refuses to stay home or come visit him right away. If the emotional blackmailer has an addiction or a history of criminal behavior, he may threaten resuming substance abuse or other negative behaviors if his victim refuses to take him in or otherwise meet his needs. Some emotional blackmailers are very sophisticated and will threaten their victims with consequences that they know their victims to find extremely painful. An emotional blackmailer may tell his victim that he will start rumors about her or reveal a family secret if she is noncompliant with his demands.

Those caught up in a cycle of emotional blackmail often benefit from counseling and psychotherapy. A goal of this treatment should be training the victim to recognize the warning signs and verbal characteristics of emotional blackmail in order to respond appropriately. Victims need to learn ways to not get caught up in the cycle of emotional blackmail and to set boundaries with those around them.

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Discuss this Article

mrwormy
Post 2

I hate seeing emotional blackmail in relationships. It's one thing for a couple to have a playful argument over their evening plans, but another thing to see full out fights when one person doesn't get his or her way. It's like they will escalate the emotional manipulation by degrees until the other person caves in.

Reminiscence
Post 1

I have an adult relative who is a master at emotional blackmail with her older mother. If she squanders her own money and needs more, she won't hesitate to demand it from her mother. If her mother tries to refuse, she'll burst into tears and ask how a "good mother" could be so cruel. Her own flesh and blood is going to suffer because of a parent's stinginess. It's complete and utter emotional manipulation.

What's bad about emotional blackmail is that other people may be completely aware of it. The people in my office know that the receptionist's husband will get extremely upset if she doesn't come home directly after work. One day we all had to work overtime on a project and she couldn't leave at her usual time. Her husband called the main office line and screamed at me for keeping her out so late. The tone in his voice sounded like he was in real emotional pain.

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