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Emotional Blackmail

January 14th, 2019


Blackmail vs. Emotional Blackmail

When one thinks of blackmail what immediately comes to mind? Maybe it is a tv show where an attorney tried to blackmail a judge, or an employee attempted to blackmail their boss – in other words, a lot of criminal justice references or scenarios may play out in your mind. Blackmail is often commonly associated with criminal activity or coercing someone into giving something (usually a sum of money, a service, or a favor) for not exposing or revealing information that is injurious, harmful, or compromising about that person. While people may understand this idea of blackmail, the concept of emotional blackmail is often missed by many individuals. Defining and understanding emotional blackmail is essential as a means to grasping its importance and relevance in both interpersonal relationships and within society.

Defining Emotional Blackmail

So, what is emotional blackmail? Emotional blackmail is:

  • When one individual (the perpetrator) uses another person’s (the victim) feelings in an attempt to control the victim’s behavior
  • The use of the victim’s feelings are often used against them so that the perpetrator can have their way or the outcome they are seeking

Examples of Emotional Blackmail

There are a number of instances in which emotional blackmail may take place including:

  • When a partner (the perpetrator) is caught cheating they may try to spin the circumstances and make their partner who caught them (the victim) feel guilty and inadequate
    • This may be done in an attempt to get the blame off of themselves and onto their partner (the victim)
    • The victim here may take on the feelings of guilt and inferiority and actually assume responsibility for the perpetrators’ mistake
  • Career comparisons
    • When one partner (the victim) starts climbing the corporate ladder of success higher than the other partner (the perpetrator)
      • The offender may attempt to emotionally blackmail their partner by making them feel guilty for achieving so much and pitying the perpetrator
      • This robs the victim of their joy, pride, and sometimes their self-esteem
  • Health
    • Couples may emotionally blackmail one another for health-related reasons
      • For example, one partner (the perpetrator) may be upset with their partner (the victim) who has been on a recent diet, seeing progress, and losing weight as a result
        • The offender, in this case, may try to make their partner feel guilty for having such success without them
        • Or, may try to sabotage their progress by making them feel down and negative and emotionally eat
      • Another health-related example is exercise
        • One individual in the relationship may make a conscious effort to improve their health and start regularly attending a gym throughout the week
        • The other individual in the relationship (the offender) may try to emotionally blackmail the victim in the relationship by trying to make them feel guilty for going to the gym and not spending time with them

Are you Experiencing Emotional Blackmail?

Perhaps you are reading this, and you are concerned that you are experiencing emotional blackmail in your relationship. If this is the case, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does my partner do or say things to make me feel guilty for actions that aren’t inherently wrong or troubling?
  2. Does my partner enjoy my successes, or do they point out negative things?
  3. When I am in a good mood, does my partner do things to find a way to bring my mood down?
  4. Does my partner frequently cause me to feel fear, obligation, or guilt?
  5. Do I feel that my partner is often trying to bring me down?
  6. Do I believe that any of my partner’s behaviors are manipulative?
Are you Experiencing Emotional Blackmail?

If you answered yes to these questions, then you may be experiencing emotional blackmail in your relationship. This can be very troubling, not only for your relationship but for your overall health and well-being in general. Emotional blackmail over time can lead to many psychological and physical complications. Experiencing emotional blackmail can be extremely stressful and taxing on both the mind and body. It is important to note that although in this blog post, emotional blackmail was referred to as occurring in romantic partnerships, it may occur in other contexts as well, such as:

  • Boss-employee dynamic
  • Parent-child dynamic
  • Co-worker dynamic
What To Do If You Are Experiencing Emotional Blackmail

What To Do If You Are Experiencing Emotional Blackmail

There are a number of things you can do if you are experiencing emotional blackmail:

  • Talk with a trusted friend or family member
  • If you feel comfortable and safe, confront the perpetrator
  • Seek help! – talk with a professional, get therapy or seek couples counseling

Whatever you do, do NOT tolerate emotional blackmail, and do NOT hide it! Talking with others can help you work out solutions to the problem and give you ideas on how to stop the emotional blackmail from occurring. If the problem seems severe, seeking professional assistance (through therapy) may be the best route.


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