Emotional Appeal (Emotional Blackmail)

Emotional blackmail, like traditional blackmail, involves someone attempting to obtain something from you. Instead of using your secrets against you, they use your emotions to manipulate you.

Emotional blackmail is the process by which an individual makes demands and threatens another person in order to manipulate them into giving them what they want. It is a form of psychological abuse that harms the victims. Their demands are frequently designed to control a victim’s behaviour in unhealthy ways.

This type of blackmail is as serious as physical abuse because it leaves the victim feeling less than themselves, with low self-esteem, in a fog of fear, obligation, guilt, and a slew of other emotional and psychological imbalances.

People with borderline personality disorder are more likely to resort to emotional blackmail (as too are destructive narcissists). Their actions, however, may be impulsive and motivated by fear and a desperate sense of hopelessness, rather than the result of any deliberate plan.

Severe emotional abuse can be just as harmful as physical abuse, contributing to depression and low self-esteem. Chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome may be exacerbated by emotional abuse. Emotional abuse occurs when one person uses fear, humiliation, and other isolating tactics to manipulate another. It’s critical to recognise this behaviour early on so you can help yourself or a loved one.

You should ignore your manipulator and refrain from reacting to everything they say. They have researched your triggers and anticipate that you will respond to their bait. If you keep ignoring them, they will eventually come around or leave your life.

Emotional blackmail goes through several stages:


A demand is made in the first stage of emotional blackmail. “I don’t think you should hang out with so-and-so anymore,” the person may say explicitly. They could also make it more subtle. When you see that friend, they pout and sarcastically speak (or not at all). “I don’t like how they look at you,” they say when you ask what’s wrong. They don’t seem to be good for you.” Sure, they disguise their demand as concern for you. However, it is still an attempt to exert control over your choice of friend.


If you refuse to do what they want, they will most likely push back. “You’re not insured, so I’m not comfortable letting you drive my car,” you could say directly. If you’re concerned about how they’ll react to a flat refusal, you could resist more subtly by:

  • I forgot to put gas in the car.
  • Leaving your keys at home.
  • I’m not saying anything and hoping they’ll forget.


In healthy relationships, people still express their needs and desires. When you express resistance in a normal relationship, the other person usually responds by dropping the issue or making an effort

to find a solution together. A blackmailer will put you under pressure to meet their demand in a variety of ways, including:

  • Reiterating their demand in a way that makes them appear good (for example, “I’m only thinking of our future”).
  • List the ways in which your resistance harms them.
  • “If you really loved me, you’d do it,” she says.
  • You are being criticised or degraded.


Threats can be direct or indirect in emotional blackmail:

Direct danger. “I won’t be here when you get back if you go out with your friends tonight.”

Indirect danger. “If you are unable to stay with me tonight when I require you, perhaps someone else will.”

They may also disguise a threat as a positive promise: “If you stay home tonight, we’ll have a much better time than you would if you went out.” This is critical to our relationship.”

While this may not appear to be a serious threat, they are still attempting to manipulate you. While they do not explicitly state the consequences of your refusal, they do imply that continuing to resist will harm your relationship.


Of course, you don’t want them to follow through on their threats, so you give up and surrender. You may be wondering if your opposition to their request was justified. Compliance can be a gradual process as they wear you down with pressure and threats over time. When you give up, chaos gives way to peace. They have what they want, so they may appear especially kind and loving, at least for the time being.


When you demonstrate to the other person that you will eventually concede, they will know exactly how to handle similar situations in the future. The process of emotional blackmail teaches you over time that it is easier to comply than to face constant pressure and threats. You may come to accept that their love is conditional, that they will withhold it until you agree with them. They may even discover that a specific type of threat expedites the job. As a result, this pattern is likely to continue.

Typical examples:

While emotional blackmailers frequently employ a variety of tactics, their actions generally fall into one of four categories:

Punishers. Someone employing punishment tactics will say what they want and then threaten you with what will happen if you do not comply. This frequently involves direct threats, but punishers can also manipulate through aggression, anger, or silence. As an example, as you walk in, your partner approaches you and kisses you. “Today I made a huge sale!” Let us rejoice. “Dinner, dancing, romance,” they tease with a wink. You exclaim, “Congratulations!” “However, I’m exhausted.” I intended to take a long bath and unwind. “How about next week?” Their mood shifts in an instant. They sulk down the corridor, slamming doors in their path. They refuse to respond when you follow them and try to talk to them.

Self-punishers. Threats are also used in this type of emotional blackmail. Self-punishers, on the other hand, explain how your resistance will harm them rather than threaten you:

  • “I’m going to lose my car tomorrow if you don’t lend me money.”
  • “We’ll be homeless if you don’t let us live with you.” Consider your nephews! Who knows what will become of them? “Do you want to put up with that?”

People who use self-punishment tactics may spin the situation to make it appear as if their problems are your fault in order to make you feel more inclined to accept responsibility and assist them.

Sufferers. A sufferer will frequently express their feelings without using words. If they believe you have slighted them or want you to do something for them, they may remain silent and express their dissatisfaction with expressions such as:

  • Sadness or depression, manifested by frowns, sighs, tears, or moping.
  • Discomfort or pain.

They may also give you a detailed account of everything that has contributed to their misery. As an example:

“You mentioned to a friend last week that you were looking for a roommate for your empty bedroom and attached bath.” “Why don’t you let me stay there for free?” suggested your friend. You laughed it off, thinking it was a joke.

They sobbed when they called you today.

“I’m so depressed. “I can hardly get out of bed,” they complain. “First it was that horrible breakup, and now it’s my miserable co-workers, but I can’t quit because I have no savings.” All I want is for something good to happen. I can’t keep going like this. If I could just find somewhere to stay for a while where I wouldn’t have to pay rent, I’m sure I’d feel a lot better.”

Tantalizers. Some forms of emotional blackmail appear to be kind gestures. A tantalizer offers praise and encouragement while holding rewards over your head in order to get something from you. But every time you clear one obstacle, another appears. You are unable to keep up. One day, your boss tells you, “Your work is excellent.” “You have exactly the qualities I seek in an office manager.” They inform you quietly that the position will be available soon. “Can I rely on you until that time?” You’re overjoyed. Your boss keeps asking more of you, so you stay late, skip lunch, and even come in on weekends to keep up. The office manager resigns, but your boss makes no further mention of the promotion. They snap at you when you finally ask about it. “Can’t you see how occupied I am?” Do you believe I have enough time to hire an office manager? “I was expecting more from you,” they say.

Characteristics and patterns-

Addictions. Addicts frequently believe that having control is the key to achieving success and happiness in life. People who follow this rule do so as a survival skill, having learned it as a child. No one can back them into a corner with their feelings as long as they make the rules.

Illness of the mind. People with certain mental illnesses, such as paranoid personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder, are predisposed to controlling behaviour.

People with borderline personality disorder are more likely than destructive narcissists to use emotional blackmail.

Their actions, however, may be impulsive and motivated by fear and a desperate sense of hopelessness, rather than the result of any deliberate plan.

Codependency. Codependency frequently involves putting one’s own needs second while being overly concerned with the needs of others. Codependency can manifest itself in any type of relationship, including family, work, friendship, romantic, peer, or community relationships.

Children and Affluenza. Affluenza is a type of status insecurity caused by obsessively keeping up with the Joneses, a pattern of childhood training in which sufferers were taught to compare themselves to others “As toddlers, they were subjected to emotional blackmail. Their mothers’ love becomes conditional on them demonstrating behaviour that achieves parental objectives.”

Training in assertiveness. Assertiveness training encourages people not to engage in pointless back-and-forth or power struggles with the emotional blackmailer, but rather to repeat a neutral statement, such as “I can see how you feel that way,” or, if pressed to eat, to say “No thank you, I’m not hungry.” They are taught to keep their statements within certain parameters so that they do not succumb to coercive nagging, emotional blackmail, or bullying.

How to react to it.

If you believe you are the victim of emotional blackmail, there are a few things you can do to respond productively. Some people learn blackmail techniques (such as guilt trips) from their parents, siblings, or former partners. These behaviours become a reliable method of meeting needs. Others may use emotional blackmail on purpose. If you don’t feel comfortable confronting the person, you might want to skip these steps (more on what to do in this scenario later).

To begin, identify what isn’t emotional blackmail.

You may want to resist when a loved one’s needs or boundaries cause you frustration or discomfort. Everyone, however, has the right to express and restate boundaries as needed. When pressure, threats, and attempts to control you are used, it is only emotional blackmail. Projecting feelings and memories from the past can make a current situation appear to be blackmail.

When we respond to someone out of fear or insecurity, believing that saying no or setting boundaries will result in rejection, we are engaging in emotional blackmail. However, that could be an inaccurate prediction of what would occur.

Maintain your cool and stall.

Someone attempting to manipulate you may press you to respond immediately. When you’re upset and afraid, you may succumb before fully considering other options. This is one of the reasons why blackmail works. Instead, remain as calm as possible and inform them that you require additional time. Try something like, “I can’t decide right now.” I’ll think about it and get back to you later.” They may continue to press you to make a decision right away, but don’t give in (or rise to threats). Repeat calmly that you require time.

Begin a conversation. The time you buy yourself can aid in the development of a strategy. Your approach may be influenced by the circumstances, such as the behaviour and the demand.

First, consider your personal safety. You can engage in a conversation if you feel emotionally and physically safe doing so. Many blackmailers are well aware of what they are doing. They simply want their needs met, regardless of the cost to you. Others simply see their behaviour as a strategy for achieving their goals and are unaware of how it affects you. A conversation can help raise their awareness in this situation. Describe how their words or actions make you feel. Give them the chance to change their ways.

Determine your triggers. Someone attempting to manipulate you is likely to know exactly how to push your buttons. If you dislike arguing in public, for example, they may threaten to cause a commotion. Understanding the fears or beliefs that give the blackmailer power can provide an opportunity to reclaim that power. This makes it much more difficult for the other person to use them against you. In this same example, it could mean recognising that public debates irritate you and devising a standard response to this threat.

Involve them in the compromise. When you offer the other person the opportunity to assist you in finding an alternative solution, your refusal may appear less harsh. Begin with a statement that validates their feelings, and then invite them to collaborate on problem-solving. “I’m hearing you’re upset because I’m away with my friends this weekend.” “Could you explain why you’re so frustrated?” This demonstrates to the other person that you care about how they feel and that you are willing to work with them.

Finally, the bottom line.

Sarcasm, relationship tests, unjustified blame, implied threats, and the fear, obligation, and guilt they instil in you are all characteristics of emotional blackmail. Giving in may appear to be the best way to keep the peace, but doing so frequently leads to further manipulation.

You may be able to reason with the person in some cases, but in others, it may be best to end the relationship or seek help from a trained therapist.

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