Emotional blackmail

“If you really loved me..."


“After everything I’ve done for you..."

“How can you be so selfish…”

“But it’s just a little thing..."

“Did I hear you say you’re doing nothing tonight? I need a sitter…”

“Well, alright, I suppose I’ll have to do it myself (sigh), you know I’m not well / haven’t been out for weeks / I was really looking forward to getting out / was so hurt when Jenny said she had more important things to do, and I know she was only going to……”

Sound familiar? Emotional blackmail is a powerful form of manipulation. It leaves you in a FOG when there is a haze of fear, obligation, and guilt.

Anyone can use emotional blackmail to try and get us to do what he or she wants. 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!

Occasionally you meet a person who calculates exactly what they are doing! To tell whether you have ever been emotionally blackmailed, think about a time when you were asked to do something. You said didn’t want to do it. But you ended up doing it anyway. That’s emotional blackmail.

The process and example

A demand “Will you do x for me today at 6?” Your resistance “I can’t manage that at 6, I have other things on / I hate doing that / ..” Under pressure - ''Oh go on, I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t important” Threats - “How could we ever go on together if you won’t do this for me.” Your compliance - “Oh ok” Repetition - the emotional blackmailer has got what they wanted.

They have reinforced the belief that their way works. They do it again. Threats come in many guises, but there are broadly four main pushes:

  • The Punisher - very direct about their demands, clearly state the consequences
  • The Self-Punisher - uses threats of self-harm to manipulate the resistant one through fear, obligation and guilt.
  • The Sufferer - the martyr, who believes they’ve done everything for others and suffered because of it and don’t hesitate to remind them so they will feel sorry for them
  • The Tantalizer - uses bribery, knowing they have something the other wants
  • A key barometer of whether Emotional blackmail was used is “How Did You End Up Feeling?”

If you ended up confused, bemused, irritated, or angry … any negative feeling, then it’s possible that you have just been emotionally blackmailed.

So what do I do to stop this?

First of all – trust your feelings. If you feel odd or confused about this – it’s probably because something’s going on that’s not in your best interest. Emotional blackmailers are masters at confusing you – where you end up thinking “it's just me being silly”. Secondly - Be committed to your own wellbeing – this does not make you mean or selfish or bad! You count as much as anyone else.

Delay your response, this gives you time to think! E.g. “I don’t have an answer just now, I need some time to think” – don’t be bullied into giving a quick answer – it's not your responsibility if there is “no time”!

Use assertive skills – to know how to respond to all sorts of verbal manipulation it is essential to have the tools of assertiveness. The emotional blackmailer is using aggression (in some form), you, when you give in, are being Passive.

Assertiveness is the middle way, which respects both your rights and the rights of the other equally. If you haven’t been taught this through good models as you grow up you are unlikely to know how to be assertive without some formal training (books or courses)

Bottom Line – “I can do this”

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Crawley, West Sussex, RH10 7EY
Written by Carey West, MBACP (snr Accred)
Crawley, West Sussex, RH10 7EY

I have over 20 years experience and have been senior accredited since 2008I work with individuals and couples and also with groups (counselling, mediation, supervision and bespoke training) I am experienced in remote working, using video, phone and email depending on need and preferences for the cl...


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