“When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.” – Louis C.K.
Emotional blackmail is something that happens between a manipulative or abusive person and a victim. It is often described as threats and punishments that are meant to control another person’s behavior, while not escalating to physical violence. Make no mistake, however – emotional blackmail is just as abusive and manipulative as getting physical, and can cause just as much lasting emotional damage.
Counselor and psychotherapist Carey West says, “Emotional blackmail is a powerful form of manipulation. It leaves you in a FOG when there is haze of Fear, Obligation, and Guilt. Often the Emotional blackmailer is not a deliberate tactic on the others’ part – it’s just the method that gets them what they want! And have found that it works!”
For emotional blackmail to occur, the blackmailer needs to make a demand of a victim which is then followed by a threat if the demand isn’t met. Understanding the signs of emotional blackmail and what to do in the event of such a circumstance will help make sure that you or someone you know doesn’t fall victim to an abusive or manipulative person.
Here Are 4 Signs Of Emotional Blackmail
1. Threats against someone or something close to the victim
Emotional blackmail always involves a threat, but what exactly is being threatened isn’t always the same. For example, one sign of emotional blackmail is the blackmailer threatening to damage something that the victim holds dear. Whether this is a physical object, or something more abstract like a close relationship or their reputation at work or school. 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 the victim
While this is less common, it is still another sign that emotional blackmailing is occurring. The blackmailer may make threats against the victim, threatening physical violence in they don’t comply with their demands.
According to licensed mental health counselor Christine Hammond, “In order for a blackmailer to be successful, they must know what the target fears. This fear is often deep-rooted such as fear of abandonment, loneliness, humiliation, and failure.”
Because the goal is to simply threaten until they get their way, violence may not actually happen. However, the mere threat of violence directly against the victim is mean to manipulate and control them into giving in to the blackmailer’s demand.
3. Threats against themselves
Emotional blackmailers who are close to the victim in an intimate way, like a partner or a parent, may use another tactic and threaten harm against themselves. Psychotherapist Kate Thieda adds, “It may feel like you have no choice but to do exactly what the person says in order to avoid a tragedy, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself and potentially save the other person’s life as well.”
Therefore, threatening self-harm is a way to gain control of the situation and force the victim to comply with their demands under the assumption that the victim doesn’t want any harm to come to the blackmailer. This may be a threat of simply harming themselves, or even the threat of suicide.
4. Using guilt to blackmail and manipulate
Oftentimes, an emotional blackmailer will use threats combined with guilt to make their victim give in to their demands. They may use other people as well to gang up on the victim. Hammond adds, “This type of emotional blackmail is more commonly known as “guilt-tripping.” The threat is designed to make the victim feel guilty for causing some negative outcome to the blackmailer. Many times the guilt is implied and the demand is not overtly stated.”
For example, an emotional blackmailer may justify why they stole money from the victim by saying, “Because you don’t care about what I need”. They may even say things like, “I spoke with [x] and they agreed that you’re being unfair”. Whether or not they spoke to someone who agreed with them doesn’t matter – all that matters, is that they’re able to use the guilt to manipulate the victim.
Here’s How To Deal With Emotional Blackmail And Stop Being The Victim
Knowing what emotional blackmail looks like is the first step to understanding how to deal with it when you or someone you know is caught in this type of situation. There are some main things to remember when dealing with someone who is yielding emotional blackmail as a tool of manipulative.
1. Don’t give into the demands
Even if it’s quite a scary situation, giving into the demands or rewarding the blackmailer will only encourage them and make the situation worse. Be firm and stand your ground and firmly refuse to give in to what the blackmailer wants. Especially refuse if the threat is violence towards yourself or others, and remove yourself from the situation if that occurs.
2. Know that people don’t blackmail the ones that they love
This can help detach you or the victim from the situation and make it easier to refuse to give in to the threat or demand. Recognizing that no one who truly cares for you would make demands while threatening harm on you, themselves or others will make it easier to see the situation for what it is.
3. Remove something from the equation: you, the threat, the demand or the blackmailer
Often times, you won’t be able to control the blackmailer, but you can control yourself. Removing yourself from the situation will make it so that the blackmailer has no one to control, and you’ll be better able to deal with the situation when you’re not doing so under pressure.
Whether you or someone you know has fallen victim to an emotional blackmailer, the most important thing is to know the signs so that the victim can be removed from the situation safely. Threats of violence against the victim or others shouldn’t be taken lightly.
As Dr. Christina Charbonneau rightly pointed out, “We all have choices, and you can choose to help yourself. Stop the vicious cycle of allowing yourself to be emotionally blackmailed by others by questioning what others are saying to you before you simply take it as fact and believe it.”
Knowing how to react and how to safely de-escalate the situation is the most important thing when dealing with someone who uses emotional blackmail to manipulate others.