Emotional Blackmail (A Complete Guide)

In this brief article, we will discuss emotional blackmail.

Emotional blackmail is a strategy used by individuals to manipulate people close to them or to hurt them.

It happens when a person uses another person’s vulnerabilities, insecurities and secrets to get what they want. 

Emotional blackmail can be both intentional and unintentional.

A person might not be cognizant of the fact that he is emotionally blackmailing another person.

It happens more than often that the person being emotionally blackmailed is also not aware that he is in a toxic relationship. 

Emotional blackmailing can only be done in a close relationship where another person is aware of the deepest secrets of the victim and can manipulate them.

It is most apparent in romantic relationships.

However, a person can experience emotional blackmail in professional relationships too. 

Emotional Blackmail and Pressure

 All of us use emotional blackmailing in many of our relationships at some point in our lives.

But this does not make an individual a full-scale manipulator.

However, it is important to be aware of the difference between pressure and emotional blackmailing so we can identify when it exists through sign.

It can also help us to understand when emotional blackmailing becomes a problem in romantic as well as in professional relationships.

In any relationship, either romantic or professional, demands are made and an individual needs to fulfill these demands in order to maintain a healthy relationship.

Thus, demands made in relationships are not always a result of emotional blackmail however, it is important to distinguish when demands are result blackmail.

In emotional blackmail, the perpetrator becomes blind to the needs and desires of partner.

He always gets things done his own way and remains consistently ignorant of the things important for his partner.

Strategies used for Emotional Blackmail:

Three strategies are used individually or in combination by the manipulator to get their way.

Being aware of these strategies make an individual recognize who is being emotionally manipulated and identify the toxic relationships they have in their lives. 

The Use of Fear:

 Emotion of fear has survival value for an individual.

The emotion of fear makes us take certain steps that help us in avoiding situations which can be painful to experience.

Unfortunately, manipulators make good use of this emotion of fear to get their way.

They inculcate emotion of fear in a victim which leads them to fulfilling their demand.

Blackmailers inculcate in their victim the fear of missing out, fear of abandonment, fear of physical safety or fear of hurting them.

For example a blackmailer might use the statements that ‘I will leave you if you do not perform households’

The Use of Sense of Obligation:

 Sense of obligation is another tactic used by blackmailers.

Here the perpetrator boasts about the things that they have done for their partner and try to inculcate the sense of obligation in them.

This can be conceptualized by the phenomenon of social reciprocity.

Victims feel obliged to fulfill the demands of perpetrator as victim feels that perpetrators have done enough for them.  


The third strategy used by manipulators is guilt-tripping.

A blackmailer makes the victim feel guilty for not fulfilling their demands or for being selfish.

It is very easy to guilt trip someone.

Blackmailer simply reminds the victim of all the things that he did not do to maintain a relationship.

Types of Emotional Blackmail:

Four different types of emotional blackmail have been proposed by Dr. Forward and Dr. Frazier that individuals use in their relationship to get their way. They are as follow:

1.  The Punisher

In this type of emotional blackmail, blackmailer is aware of the fears victims and relies on them to get things he wants.

He makes explicit statements about the consequences if the victim does not do what he wants him to do.

The consequences might range from mild annoyance to ending of the termination of a relationship.

Blackmailers might also give threats of physical abuse.

In this type of emotional blackmail, individuals play with the fear of victim. 

2.                  The self-Punisher

In this type of emotional blackmail, an individual relies on the guilt and fear of another person.

If the victim does not comply with the blackmailer or does not do what he wants, the blackmailer threatens to punish himself.

This threat inculcates the feeling of fear in the victim that his loved ones might get hurt that ultimately result in his compliance to the blackmailer.

On the other hand, if a blackmailer goes through his threat, this will develop the sense of guilt in the victim and in the future he will be obliged to do whatever the blackmailer wants him to do.

3.                  The sufferer

In this type of emotional blackmail, an individual relies on strategies of fear guilt and obligation to get what he wants.

He portrays his suffering as a result of the victim’s actions.

He makes the victim believe that if he does not do certain things, it will cause him trouble that can be an illness or psychological trouble.

Victim experiences fear that his beloved one will suffer, obligation that he need do certain things to keep their beloved ones from suffering and guilt that they are causing their beloved ones trouble.

They also expect victims to figure out on their own what is wrong with them without actually telling them. 

4.                  The Tantalizer:

This method of emotional blackmail is more of a ‘carrot’ method in which blackmailers promise certain kind of reward in return for some actions.

Rewards can be tangible that is a gift or intangible that is increased affection.

However, the promise of reward is never materialized. The reward can be either tangible or intangible.

Although the reward is promised before the action is performed, it is never materialized and it is never a fair trade with the victim.

This type of blackmailing involves all of the three strategies of fear, obligation and guilt; fear that they will miss out the reward, obligation that the person asked them nicely and guilt that they are saying no.                   

 Blackmailers use any of these 4 types of blackmailing but many of them might use all of them to get what they want and get their way. 

Stages of Emotional Blackmail

Dr. Forward and Dr. Frazier identified six stages of emotional blackmail:

Stage 1: Demand by perpetrator

In the first stage of emotional blackmail, certain demands are made by blackmailer.

The demand can be as simple as to give them a favor or as complex as to do something for them by going out of way such as something that a person does not want to do. 

 Stage 2: Resistance Against Demand

In the second stage of emotional blackmail, demand made by the perpetrator is resisted by the victim.

Victim resists the demand when demand is unreasonable.

Stage 3: Pressure

In this stage of emotional blackmail, blackmailers put pressure on victims to comply with then unconcerned with the fact that how the victim feels about it.

They use any of the above mentioned strategies to emotionally burden them. 

This pressure makes victims rethink about their resistance to demand. 

Stage 4: Threat

The blackmailer in this stage makes explicit threats in front of the victim.

This threat by perpetrator can either be of hurting the victim or himself if demands are not fulfilled.

Stage 5: Compliance by Victim

 At this stage of emotional blackmail, the victim caves in due to the immense feeling of fear, guilt or obligation inculcated in him by blackmailer.

Despite demand being unreasonable, a person would do whatever blackmailer wants him to do. 

Stage 6: Patterned behavior of Perpetrator

 Once the demands made by perpetrator are fulfilled, the precedent behavior of blackmailing is reinforced and the cycle of blackmail continues.

It works on the principle of operant conditioning where precedent behavior is strengthened when followed by reward.

If the blackmailer succeeds and gets his way he will certainly go for it one more time. 

How to stop emotional blackmail

The relationship that is sustained by emotional blackmail becomes toxic for a victim. It brings down their productivity and inhibits their growth.

A person needs to stop the cycle of emotional blackmail to have a healthy relationship.

Following are the steps that can help individual in this regard:

1.  Changing the mindset:

A person needs to approach the relationship with a different mindset realizing that their needs and desires are as important as other person’s demands. 

2.  Healthy relationship:

 If a person knows that he is in a toxic relationship, he should be able to end that relationship or negotiate that toxic relationship with a better healthy one.

3.  Setting boundaries:

 If ending a relationship follows a great deal of pain and a person cannot deal with that, he should at least set boundaries to give this message to the blackmailer that he cannot fulfill his demands anymore.

This cycle is difficult to stop the cycle of emotional abuse but once terminated it results in healthier relationships.

4.  Confronting blackmailer:

 Victim should confront the perpetrator and have open communication with him about all the trouble he is making him go through.

FAQs about Emotional Blackmail

1. What is emotional blackmail?

Emotional blackmail is a tactic when your partner uses your secrets, insecurities and vulnerabilities to get things done in their way.

They make you behave in a way they want by using your fears, your sense of obligation and by guilt tripping you. 

2.                 How can I know that I am being emotionally blackmailed?

If you have ever been in a relationship with emotional blackmailer, you will relate to the following signs:

·         Despite being in denial about your partner being an emotional blackmailer, you somewhere in your gut know that partner is being emotionally manipulative.

·         Emotional manipulators tend to brag about him and have severe lack of modesty. 

·         They are dominating in all aspects of their life and with everyone.

·         They are unable to take criticism and act out severely if you try to give them advice in any way.

·         Emotional manipulators cannot see any other person succeeding in their lives thus they tend to criticize others and minimize other’s success.

·         Their moods are unpredictable. As after experiencing resistance they start throwing temper tantrums and are only happy when they are getting their demands fulfilled by emotionally manipulating others.

3.                 How to handle emotional blackmail?

If you have this feeling that you are being emotionally blackmailed you need to revise your relationship with your partner.

Following steps can be taken to handle emotional abuse:

·         Acceptance of abuse

·         Confrontation with perpetrator

·         Revising the terms of relationship

·         Being empowered and saying ‘no’

4.  Signs of being a victim of emotional blackmail?

Victim of emotional blackmail always experience following signs:

·         Feeling of suffocation in relationship

·         Sense of silent abuse

·         Unable to express feelings

·         Lacks trust

·         Feelings of being ignored

5.  What types of individuals are more inclined to emotionally abuse?

Individuals having following characteristics in their personality are more inclined to emotionally abuse their partner:

·         Passive aggressive

·         Narcissistic

·         Dramatic

·         Judgmental

·         Low self-esteem




Hackspirit.comForward, S., & Frazier, D. (2019). Emotional blackmail: When the people in your life use fear, obligation, and guilt to manipulate you. HarperCollins.

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