The toxic cycle of emotional blackmail and 7 ways to stop it

stop emotional blackmail

“I will kill myself if you leave me.”

“I’ve done everything to make you happy. Why can’t you do just this simple thing for me?”

“If you will not do this, I will tell everyone your secret.”

“I thought you loved me.”

“If you really loved me, you’ll do this for me.”

It’s quite hard to go down the memory lane, but I’ve heard a few of these before. Been there, done that.

If you’re familiar with this too, then you’ve been emotionally blackmailed. According to Susan Forward, emotional blackmail is about manipulation.

It happens when someone close to us uses our weaknesses, secrets, and vulnerabilities against us to get exactly what they want from us.

And personally, I couldn’t agree more. Good thing I grew my spine and took back the life that’s mine.

Well, maybe it’s my zodiac sign (I’m a Libra) which is represented by the scales to show our need for justice, balance, and harmony or maybe it’s some higher power that told me something’s wrong. But what I knew was that I don’t want to live a life feeling worthless.

So, from a previous victim to a present-day victor, let me give you an overview of emotional blackmail.

What is emotional blackmail relationship?

emotional blackmail relationship

According to the book, Emotional Blackmail:

“Emotional blackmail is a powerful form of manipulation in which people close to us threaten to punish us for not doing what they want. Emotional blackmailers know how much we value our relationships with them. They know our vulnerabilities and our deepest secrets. They can be our parents or partners, bosses or coworkers, friends or lovers. And no matter how much they care about us, they use this intimate knowledge to win the pay-off they want: our compliance.”

Needless to say, it is a tactic used by the people closest to us to hurt and manipulate us, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Strategies and signs of emotional blackmail

There are three strategies that manipulators use to blackmail their victims. They can use just one or a combination of three until you submit to them.

The strategies involve everything that makes you tick. Being aware of these tactics will help you identify the behaviors you might not have otherwise recognized as manipulative.

These strategies create a FOG in their relationships, which is an acronym that stands for fear, obligation, guilt. The following is a detailed discussion about the three techniques used:

They use your fears (F)

According to this study, fear is an emotion that protects us from danger. The fear we feel when we anticipate that something bad will happen and the fear of losing our loved ones are one and the same.

Sad to say, some people use our fears to make us comply with their demands. To hold a person hostage emotionally, manipulators use different kinds of fears such as:

  1. Fear of the unknown
  2. Fear of abandonment
  3. Fear of upsetting someone
  4. Fear of confrontation
  5. Fear of tricky situations
  6. Fear for your own physical safety

They use your sense of obligation (O)

Manipulators make us feel obligated to give them their way. With that, they use different techniques to press our buttons to the point that we see ourselves in a very bad light if we don’t do our obligations.

For example, a manipulator parent will remind the child about all the sacrifices made or nag about ungratefulness when the child does not do what the parent wants.

Another thing is when your partner claims that they would do whatever it is they have asked you to do so you should do what he/she tells you.

Whatever it is they use, it will definitely make us feel duty bound to do what they want, even when we don’t like it.

They use guilt-tripping (G)

What comes after being obligated to do something is the guilt of not doing it. Manipulators make it seem like we deserve to be punished for not doing our obligations.

If you’ve been guilt-tripped for just being happy when your partner or friend is feeling down, then you’re emotionally blackmailed.

What are the types of emotional blackmail roles?

emotional blackmail roles

According to Sharie Stines:

“Manipulation is an emotionally unhealthy psychological strategy used by people who are incapable of asking for what they want and need in a direct way. People who are trying to manipulate others are trying to control others.”

For emotional blackmail to occur, the manipulator needs to make a demand followed by a threat if the victim refuses to comply.

And if you don’t know it yet, manipulators adopt one or more roles using one or more of the strategies discussed above to emotionally blackmail you. Here are the four types of roles used to get you to do what they want:

1. Punisher role

This role uses the fear strategy where they threaten to punish you if demands are not met. They tell you what the consequences are if you will not do a particular thing.

The punishments include but is not limited to withholding affection, ending the relationship, restricting you from seeing friends and family, financial penalties, and physical punishment.

2. Self-punisher role

Self-punishers threaten to harm themselves just to get what they want. It’s a way to trigger fear and guilt so that you’ll be compelled to do what is being asked.

My personal experience involved my then boyfriend cutting himself with a blade in front of me to get what he wanted. However, it can also be someone close to you threatening to take their own life or harm themselves if you do not do what they ask you to do.

3. Sufferer role

Sufferers use fear, obligation, and guilt tactics to manipulate people. They use and hold their misery over their partner’s head to get what they want.

For example, they will claim that the state they’re in, whether physical, mental, or emotional, is the fault of the other person. Other manipulations include telling you that they will suffer if you refuse to do what they want you to do.

4. Tantalizer role

Tantalizers promise a reward, which will never materialize. It’s like leading you on and asking you to do something in return for something else, but it’s usually not a fair trade.

An example is when your partner, friend or family member makes lavish promises that are contingent on your behavior and then rarely keep them.

Examples of emotional blackmail statements

emotional blackmail statements

While this list may not cover all, this will help you identify what is and what is not an emotional blackmail statement:

  1. If I ever see another man look at you I will kill him.
  2. If you ever stop loving me I will kill myself/kill you.
  3. I’ve already discussed this with our pastor/therapist/friends/family and they agree that you are being unreasonable.
  4. I’m taking this vacation – with or without you.
  5. How can you say you love me and still be friends with them?
  6. You’ve ruined my life and now you are trying to stop me from spending money to take care of myself.
  7. It was your fault that I was late for work.
  8. If you wouldn’t cook in an unhealthy way, I wouldn’t be overweight.
  9. I would have gotten ahead in my career if you had done more at home.
  10. If you don’t take care of me, I’ll wind up in the hospital/on the street/unable to work.
  11. You’ll never see your kids again.
  12. I’ll make you suffer.
  13. You’ll destroy this family.
  14. You’re not my child anymore.
  15. You’ll be sorry.
  16. I’m cutting you out of my will.
  17. I’ll get sick.
  18. I can’t make it without you.
  19. If you’ll not have sex with me, I will get it from someone else.
  20. If you can’t buy me a new phone, you’re a worthless sister/mom/dad/brother/lover.

How to STOP emotional blackmail

emotional blackmail how to stop

1. Change your mindset

“Change is the scariest word in the English language. No one likes it, almost everyone is terrified of it, and most people, including me, will become exquisitely creative to avoid it. Our actions may be making us miserable, but the idea of doing anything differently is worse. Yet if there’s one thing I know with absolute certainty, both personally and professionally, it is this: Nothing will change in our lives until we change our own behavior.” – Susan Forward

You deserve respect. Period.

You need to change your mindset and approach the situation in a different way. Change is scary but it’s the only thing that will help you. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a ruined life.

2. Choose a healthy relationship

“Yet if there’s one thing I know with absolute certainty, both personally and professionally, it is this: Nothing will change in our lives until we change our own behavior. Insight won’t do it. Understanding why we do the self-defeating things we do won’t make us stop doing them. Nagging and pleading with the other person to change won’t do it. We have to act. We have to take the first step down a new road.” – Susan Forward

We all have choices about how to engage in a relationship: As a human being, you have the right to negotiate for a healthier relationship or end the relationship.

Remember that no relationship is worth your emotional and mental health. If it is becoming too toxic, you always have the choice to do what’s good for you.

3. Set boundaries

Sharie Stines, a California-based therapist who specializes in abuse and toxic relationships said:

“People who manipulate have lousy boundaries. You have your own volitional experience as a human being and you need to know where you end and the other person begins. Manipulators often have either boundaries that are too rigid or enmeshed boundaries.”

When you set boundaries, it tells the manipulator that you’re done being manipulated. It may be scary at first but when you successfully break this toxic behavior pattern, it means you have started to love yourself.

So, learn to say “no” and “stop” when needed.

4. Confront the blackmailer

You cannot set the boundaries unless you try and confront the manipulator. If you want to save the relationship, you can try these examples:

  1. You are pushing our relationship to the edge and I feel uncomfortable.
  2. You are not taking me seriously when I tell you how unhappy I am with your actions.
  3. We need to find ways to deal with conflicts that do not leave me feeling emotionally abused and worthless.
  4. I always comply with your demands and I feel depleted. I am not willing to live like that anymore.
  5. I need to be treated with respect because I deserve it.
  6. Let’s talk about it, don’t threaten and punish me.
  7. I’m not going to tolerate those manipulative behaviors anymore.

5. Get psychological help for the manipulator

Rarely, emotional blackmailers own up to their mistakes. If you want to save the relationship, you can request that he or she get psychological help where positive negotiation and communication skills will be taught.

If they are truly taking responsibility for their actions, they will be open to creating a safer environment in the relationship and that is through eliminating emotional blackmails. Manipulators who take accountability show hope for learning and change.

6. Love is without blackmail

“Some people earn love. Some people blackmail others into it.” – Rebekah Crane, The Upside of Falling Down

Know that true love has no blackmail attached to it. When a person truly loves you, there is no threat involved.

See the situation as it is. Safety is the primary element of defining a healthy or not healthy relationship. When you’re being threatened, it’s no longer safe for you.

7. Remove yourself or the manipulator in the equation

Oftentimes, you cannot make a manipulator take responsibility for his actions. However, you can control yourself and act on it.

When you remove yourself from the situation (break up or move away), you will no longer be subject to threats, thus stopping the cycle. Dr. Christina Charbonneau said:

“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.”

A Take Home Message

emotional blackmail

Emotional blackmail is a vicious cycle that strips away your self-worth and fills you with fear and doubt.

Being in that situation years ago, I’ve realized how lucky I am to come out scratch-free. And it was because I took a stand, no matter how suicidal and verbally abusive the manipulator became.

But not all are as lucky as me.

If you’re emotionally blackmailed, you don’t have to endure it. Yes, you can still take back your life.

It all starts by knowing your worth.

And let me tell you this.

You deserve to be loved and respected.




Are you mentally tough?

Resilience and mental toughness are key attributes to living your best life. They determine how high we rise above what threatens to wear us down, from battling an illness, to dealing with challenging emotions, to carrying on after a relationship has ended.

In The Art of Resilience: A Practical Guide to Developing Mental Toughness, we outline exactly what it means to be mentally tough and equip you with 10 resilience-building tools that you can start using today.

Check it out here.

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Jude Paler

Written by Jude Paler

I am a poet with a positive outlook in life and a writer with a purpose in mind. I write to express my thoughts so that others will be inspired.

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