8 essential things to know about emotional blackmail, so you can protect yourself

Emotional blackmail is just as ugly and disgusting as financial or sexual blackmail. 

Those who’ve been emotionally blackmailed know just how easily somebody can twist your emotions and good nature to rope you into situations you should never have been in to start with. 

Here’s how to understand emotional blackmail and protect yourself from it. 

1) It is never justified

Emotional blackmail is never justified. 

This is crucial to emphasize, because one of the strongest weapons that an emotional manipulator has in their reach is making you believe you deserve to be pushed around and pressured.

The emotional blackmailer will use his or her emotions or wellbeing as a cudgel. 

They will tell you that you are responsible for how they feel, or will be responsible for how they will feel if you don’t do what they ask. 

The emotional blackmailer is brazen and shameless, often a narcissist

They are often highly skilled at convincing you that you are the one who is out of bounds or being unreasonable, all the while putting increasingly intense and inappropriate demands on you. 

The main tactic of emotional blackmailers is gaslighting, which brings me to the next key piece of info. 

2) It uses gaslighting shamelessly 

Emotional blackmail relies on blackmailing in many cases. 

Gaslighting is making somebody believe that what is happening is only in their imagination, or that it is being caused by them. 

The classic example is a cheating husband convincing his wife that she is the one who is out of line for being so suspicious and unreasonable in her accusations. 

He acts hurt that she would even suspect it, beginning to convince her that she has a problem with jealousy and insecurity that has nothing to do with him. 

If this doesn’t work and the husband is caught fair and square, he will then argue that his wife placed him in the position of feeling he had no choice but to cheat because of her behavior or how she made him feel. 

This is the kind of gaslighting that all emotional manipulators use in some form or another whether it’s at work, at home or in scams and cults: 

“I’m innocent in this situation and my needs and desires are reasonable. Even if I do something wrong it is only because your actions and behavior caused me to do so.”

Bottom line? You are bad and deluded, I am good and acting from pure intentions. 

Result: you get the short end of the stick and are made to feel you are responsible for somebody else’s emotions. 

3) It is sometimes used by those you least expect 

If emotional blackmail just came from angry partners in a relationship or jealous coworkers at work it would be easy to prepare for. 

The key thing to realize is that emotional blackmail often comes from those you least expect. 

Your pastor at church may tell you that you need to start taking part in more group activities and fundraising efforts because God has told him you are losing your way and he is feeling “burdened” by your apathy. 

The salesperson in a store may start telling a sad story about what’s going on with their family, making it clear they need to get a commission from your sale without actually saying so.

These emotional blackmail techniques aren’t exactly sophisticated, but they work. 

They make you feel guilty and more often than not you fall in line and do what you think you “must” do to help somebody feel better or prevent a worse situation for them.

That’s why people do them. 

4) It uses vulnerability as ammunition 

The next of the essential things to know about emotional blackmail, so you can protect yourself is that it uses vulnerability as ammo. 

This is particularly upsetting if you’re in a romantic relationship with an emotional manipulator or they are somebody close to you. 

It’s normal to open up and share our soul with those close to us. 

Having that used against you is truly disturbing and can shatter your faith in humanity. 

For example, say you opened up to a close friend that you were abused as a child and years later they are in a financial crisis and need a loan from you. 

They accuse you of wavering on deciding to loan the money because you’re just a “f*ck up who got abused.”

Emotional blackmail that’s using your past pain to trigger you. 

5) It mixes lies and fiction with truth and honesty 

Next up in terms of the essential things to know about emotional blackmail, so you can protect yourself is that it mixes lies and truth. 

If emotional blackmail was just about trying to pressure you into things you don’t want so you make somebody feel good it would be simple to detect and avoid. 

But it often relies on a partial truth. 

A common example comes from the nightly news, corporate and government-sponsored, which often includes an element of truth to then lie outrageously. 

For example, a truth may be told about the problems of the prison system but then used by a politician to argue that punishing criminals is racist.

Another truth may be told about the economy improving in a certain area and then referenced as the reason taxes should be cut on all wealthy people since they are “helping” the economy grow.

These kinds of manipulations are very common in the political and media realm: they trigger an emotional response about something with elements of truth and then use it to advance a simplistic, absolutist message. 

6) It demands you to ‘prove’ that you care or love somebody

The core part of most emotional blackmail is a demand that you “prove” your love or commitment to somebody. 

Whether that’s a friend, a spouse or a business colleague, the underlying message is the same:

“Do this, say this, be this, feel this, or you don’t really care about me, love me, respect me, believe in me.”

And so on. 

The point of the blackmail is to tie your compliance to your “loyalty” or how much you care for someone. 

This is really sneaky and the worst thing is it often works on the most kindhearted people who can’t bear the idea that somebody would feel they don’t care.

My advice? 

So they let themselves be emotionally blackmailed. 

Don’t be this person. Stand up for yourself against any attempted “prove it” style of emotional manipulation.

7) It sets up ultimatums and harsh ‘either, or’ choices 

The other important thing to know about emotional blackmail is that it usually rests on “either, or” choices. 

Either talk to me about my problem right now or you clearly don’t care about me for real. 

Either loan me the money or I’ll know you don’t truly respect me. 

Either let me crash at your place for a week or you’re not a real friend. 

This kind of emotional blackmail is nasty stuff, but again, people only do this because it works and because they themselves are lost in a narcissistic and insecure state of mind. 

Don’t find yourself as a victim. Resist. 

Anybody who cares about you for real won’t be putting conditions on you or treating your relationship as a transaction.

8) It has an end goal of manipulating or controlling you 

The key thing to understand about emotional blackmail is that it’s all about control. 

It uses emotions to try to get you to do what somebody else says or wants. 

Whether this other person is a political leader, your therapist, your friend or your dad, it’s the same basic playbook. 

You are told that you must comply with something to satisfy another person. 

The key is to never comply in the first place, because once you do you go down a very victimized, disempowered path.

As licensed psychologist Karen Doll says:

“It is a form of psychological abuse, causing damage to the victims. Their demands are often intended to control a victim’s behavior through unhealthy ways.”

No more emotional blackmail! 

If you’re being emotionally blackmailed, you need to put your foot down and leave. 

That is never a situation you should tolerate or accept. 

If you follow the tips above you will be able to also prevent emotional blackmail from being used against you. 

Be safe out there, and remember that those who truly care about you and love you will not emotionally blackmail you. 

The 10 unmistakable signs you’ve found a friend who will be by your side for life

10 things your shopping habits reveal about your personality