Emotional blackmail: a powerful form of partner manipulation
Emotional blackmail and manipulation , unfortunately, can be common in relationships, but also among friends and family. The emotional blackmailer acts according to his or her own interests, and blames, makes the victim of the blackmail uncomfortable and causes him or her fear.
According to Susan Forward, author of the book Emotional Blackmail , emotional blackmail is “a powerful weapon of manipulation with which people close to us threaten us, directly or indirectly, to punish us if they don’t get what they want”.
Causes of emotional blackmail
The causes that lead a person to become a blackmailer are many. For example, low self-esteem, which can cause an individual to be constantly looking for confirmation of his partner’s love and provoking demonstrations that the other person will not leave him.
Narcissists and people with Borderline Personality Disorder may also engage in constant emotional blackmail with their family, friends, and partners. This is a way to reaffirm and consolidate their personality.
The fear of abandonment of the victim also encourages the blackmailer to try to take a position of power over the victim in a situation that can closely resemble emotional dependence. On the other hand, people who have been victims of emotional blackmail from an early age, or individuals who have been “spoiled” and “overprotected”, are more likely to adopt a manipulative personality . The latter have a low tolerance to frustration and, in addition, have become accustomed to having everything they want. This can affect their interpersonal relationships.
Strategies of the Sentimental Blackmailer
The sentimental blackmailer can make use of different strategies to achieve his goal . Through the power he knows he has over the other person, the blackmailer “turns the tables” and takes advantage of the victim’s vulnerability.
To do this, he can employ psychological strategies (more or less consciously) such as those presented below:
The blackmailer uses phrases like “if you leave me, it’s not worth staying alive” . In this way he makes the victim feel guilty and permanently obliged not to question the foundations of the relationship.
The blackmailer uses threatening phrases like the following: “if you do that, don’t blame me if I let you” . In this way, she makes the other person feel constantly tied to “correct” behaviour patterns, thus ensuring her freedom and personality.
However, this is one of the least subtle forms of emotional blackmail, and therefore not as dangerous as the others, since it is relatively clear from the beginning what is going on. However, in certain contexts a very abused person may not be aware that these are threats, because of their emotional investment in the relationship.
The emotional blackmailer creates a negative partner environment , because he can show his anger through silence. This makes the victim think that the “bad weather” situation is his or her fault. It is another way of making the victim feel guilty about the blackmail.
Moreover, this form of blackmail is powerful because it uses passivity to make the victim obsessed with what is happening because of his or her confusion and misunderstanding.
Emotional blackmail also includes victimhood . An example could be the following sentence: “if you go away with your friends, I will be lonely and bored” .
More about victimhood in this post: “Chronic victimhood: people who complain about vice”
Blackmailers too are experts at making promises they never keep . For example, “if you give me another chance I will show you that I can change” . This type of behavior can be a warning sign, as it is one of the typical behaviors in cycles of partner violence.
Making the partner feel guilty for his own wrong behaviour is one of the most used strategies. For example: “I am aggressive because you provoke me” or “I have been unfaithful because you don’t give me enough” . This is another sign that can alert us that a situation of psychological abuse may be taking place.
Protecting yourself from an emotional blackmailer
On many occasions it is not easy to recognize that a person is being blackmailed . The emotional price of sentimental blackmail is very high. For example, the loss of someone you love, or feeling ashamed or guilty for allowing yourself to be manipulated.
The blackmailer is a skilled person who knows how to manipulate and may sometimes appear (or say) to be very much in love with his partner or may justify his behaviour in a thousand different ways, but the consequences for the victim’s well-being can be very negative. Moreover, the blackmailer is not necessarily a bad or perverse person , it may be his emotional instability that leads him to act in this way. Therefore, one must be aware that every situation is different and value it calmly and serenely, but also firmly if a decision has to be made.
However, since there are two actors in emotional blackmail, and the blackmailer’s behavior cannot always be changed, the blackmailed person can work on himself to stop being a victim of emotional manipulation. Working on emotional intelligence, self-esteem or practicing mindfulness, are some of the tools that can be useful in this situation and will help the victim to empower himself in front of life.
Serious or potentially serious cases of emotional blackmail
In serious cases of emotional blackmail, the affected person may need psychological help to overcome the situation and recover from the emotional wounds caused. Talking to friends and family, and seeing a psychologist, are important for recovering the emotional well-being of the person who has been emotionally blackmailed for a long time.