Emotional blackmail: How to recognize that someone is manipulating you

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Emotional blackmail: How to recognize that someone is manipulating you

Emotional blackmail can occur in any interpersonal relationship. In couple relationships, however, this type of behavior has a particularly devastating effect. By deliberately instilling feelings of guilt in one party, the blackmailer tries to get his way. It is self-explanatory that this is not a healthy basis for a happy partnership.

The difficulty is that emotional blackmail is not always obvious. Sometimes it happens subtly. That's why it's important that you know the signals and develop methods to protect yourself.

What is emotional blackmail?

The U.S. scientist and psychologist Dr. Susan Forward, who wrote the first book on the subject, describes emotional blackmail as a strategy to manipulate other people emotionally. Feelings of fear, guilt and obligation are stirred up in order to persuade other people to take a certain action.

The only difference to the classic form of blackmail is that here the personal feelings of the parties toward each other are not in the foreground. Nevertheless, the principle is similar: in order to avoid a negative consequence, the victim gives in to the blackmailer's demands.

As mentioned at the beginning, emotional blackmail can also be subtle in nature. In this case, the demands are made subliminally or only become clear through the partner's behavior. Sometimes neither the perpetrator nor the victim want to admit to the emotional blackmail or are actually unaware of it.

How does emotional blackmail manifest itself?

Emotional blackmail can manifest itself in various ways. Open if-then threats and accusations are not uncommon:

  • "How could you?"
  • "If you love me, then you (don't) do XY."
  • "If that's how you act, I'm disappointed in you."

But non-verbal signals such as silence, rolling of the eyes or sighing can - at the right moment - also be effective instruments of emotional blackmail.

Emotional blackmail follows the following pattern, according to Dr. Susan:

  1. Demand: e.g., "Please don't go out with your friends without me anymore."
  2. Resistance: You consider the demand unjustified and are not willing to implement it.
  3. Pressure: The blackmailer exerts pressure, e.g. by making the demand grueling, repeating it often, or by punishing you with ignorance.
  4. Threat: The blackmailer makes overt threats, "If you still keep going out, I'll leave you."
  5. Give in: To avoid the negative consequences, you eventually give in to the demand.
  6. Repetition: Once the extortionist has been successful, the scheme is repeated in other areas.
emotional blackmail relationship

How does an emotional manipulator behave?

An emotional manipulator does not always act with malicious intent. Often they are people with a very low Self-confidencewho are plagued by doubts and fears of loss. Although this, of course, does not justify the emotional blackmail, it is important to understand this aspect.

A distinction is made between four types of extortionists:

1. the punisher

An emotional blackmailer of the punisher type will teach you a lesson if you do not comply with his demands. Often, this behavior is preceded by open threats:

  • "If you leave without telling me one more time, I'm moving to a hotel."
  • "If you lie to me, I'll tell your secrets."

Generally, emotional blackmail in this type is expressed through anger and aggression. In extreme cases, it can even come to fisticuffs. The goal is to punish you. The fear of this punishment should drive you to comply with the wishes of the blackmailer.

2. the masochist

The masochist inflicts suffering on himself in order to get you to act on his behalf. The extreme example would be inflicting physical injury. Much more often, however, the action is of a more subtle nature. For example, the person eats particularly unhealthy food in your presence, smokes, drinks, or does something else that harms him.

There can be different intentions behind this. Maybe your partner wants to force you to spend more time with him:

  • "If you're not there, I can't manage to give up alcohol."
  • "You always have to cook for us so I eat healthy."

3. the sufferer

The suffering blackmailer type extensively flaunts how badly they are doing. Some lament their suffering verbally, while others act dejected and sad in your presence. The intention behind this is as follows: You should do something or change something so that the other person feels better again. The behavior and the expressions of the sufferer consciously arouse Guilt:

  • "Just because you have to be so stubborn again, I'm getting a migraine attack."
  • "My heart can't take this excitement."

4. the lure

The luring person disguises emotional blackmail most skillfully of all blackmailer types. The demand is often disguised as well-intentioned advice or a concession:

  • "If you help me, I'll do you a favor, too."
  • "If you take my shift today, you get the weekend off."

The tricky thing is that the blackmailer will always find new reasons to delay the fulfillment of the promised reward. Instead of keeping his word, he will keep making new demands.

emotional blackmail examples

10 signs of emotional blackmail you should watch out for

Recognizing emotional blackmail is not always easy. Even the blackmailer himself is not always aware of his actions. It's also important to know that not every need expressed by your partner that you don't like can be considered emotional blackmail. This makes it all the more important to know the ten most common signs of emotional blackmail.

That's how you know you're being emotionally blackmailed:

  1. You feel massive pressure from your partner's comments.
  2. Your personal freedom is determined by your Relationship (or friendship) restricted.
  3. Your partner often makes you feel guilty.
  4. You weigh each of your actions according to whether it might upset your partner.
  5. You feel a growing insecurity and are afraid of making wrong decisions.
  6. You feel like you can't live up to your partner's expectations.

That's how you know you're emotionally blackmailing someone else:

7. you suffer from great fear of loss and would resort to any means necessary to make your partner stay with you.

8. you feel that your efforts are not valued enough.

9. over and over again, you believe that you are giving your partner indifferent and you deserved someone better.

10. you constantly feel unfairly treated.

How can you deal with emotional blackmail in your life?

First of all, there is nothing to be ashamed of if you have become a victim of emotional blackmail. Instead, it is necessary to explore the causes: What beliefs and inner blocks made you susceptible to the manipulation attempts in the first place?

There are several ways to get to the bottom of the causes. One helpful method is the Meditate. By finding inner peace, you will be able to explore and process your feelings about the situation at hand.

Furthermore, it is helpful to work through the issue within the framework of coaching and to negative beliefs Resolve. Unprocessed experiences can make you vulnerable to emotional blackmail: Perhaps someone made you feel as early as your childhood that your opinion didn't count. Who was it? How did you react then, and what destructive beliefs have you carried over into adulthood?

5 tips to free yourself from emotional blackmail

Emotional blackmail is grueling in the long run and can even make you sick in the worst case. To prevent this from happening in the first place, you should try to free yourself from this unhealthy spiral. The following five tips can help you do just that:

1. strengthen your self-confidence

Self-confident people are not easily manipulated. They are able to stand up for their own Needs and convictions. With the help of a professional Coachings you can succeed in dissolving negative beliefs and strengthen yourself internally.

2. set clear boundaries

"This far and no further!" You should never be silent when someone crosses your personal boundaries. Communicate clearly what behaviors and comments you will not tolerate.

3. talk to your partner about his behavior

As discussed earlier, emotional blackmail does not always happen consciously. So talk openly with your partner and point out how you perceive his behavior. Ideally, this will lead to a change in thinking.

4. couple therapy

Provided you have the Do not end relationship If you want to change your partner's behavior, couples therapy can be helpful. However, this only makes sense if your partner recognizes his misbehavior and wants to change something about it.

5. draw a line

Your mental health has top priority. If the above-mentioned measures have been unsuccessful, in most cases you will unfortunately only be left with the Separation left

Conclusion: Emotional blackmail is a serious issue

Emotional blackmail can have serious consequences for both parties. The blackmailer sometimes unintentionally drives away a person he loves. The blackmailed person, on the other hand, suffers from psychological pressure, which can make him ill in the long run.

If you feel that you are being emotionally blackmailed, act quickly. Point out your partner's misbehavior and communicate clear boundaries. Therapy or, alternatively, professional Coaching can also support you in freeing yourself from the vicious circle of emotional blackmail.


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Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

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