18 Ways to Handle Emotional Blackmail (+ Examples & Quotes)

Ways to handle emotional blackmailEmotional blackmail is a dysfunctional form of manipulation that people use to place demands and threaten victims to get what they want.

The undertone of emotional blackmail is if you don’t do what I want when I want it, you will suffer.

The term was introduced by Susan Forward, Ph.D., in her book Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You (Forward & Frazier, 1998).

She describes how emotional blackmail tactics are used by abusers to threaten in order to get what they want. In placing demands and threats, they create feelings of fear, guilt, and anger to solicit compliance from their victims. In doing so, they divert blame and responsibility to the victim for their own negative actions. Typically, this dysfunctional type of manipulation occurs in close relationships.

Emotional blackmail is a concept recently developed and one receiving increased attention. The #MeToo movement is bringing education and awareness around the dynamics of emotional abuse and its powerful negative impact. In this article, we explore the meaning behind emotional blackmail, examples of this manipulation, the damage that occurs from this emotional abuse, and ways to handle it.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Relationships Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients build healthy, life-enriching relationships.

The Meaning of Emotional Blackmail

Emotional blackmail is the process in which an individual makes demands and threats to manipulative another person to get what they want. 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.

Emotional blackmail is a way of being manipulated by your partner. However, in these situations, it can be difficult to gauge and clearly point to whether the victim is being manipulated.

Leaders in the field, Susan Forward and Donna Frazier identify the power dynamic that occurs in such manipulation. They suggest that emotional blackmailers employ a fear – emotion – guilt tactic to get what they want.

FOG is a term named by Forward, suggesting that fear, obligation, and guilt are the dynamics in emotional blackmail between the manipulator and the victim. The acronym FOG also accurately describes the confusion and lack of clarity and thinking that can occur in these interpersonal dynamics. Emotional blackmail can create a fog and contribute to feelings of fear, obligation, guilt, and anxiety.

According to Forward, emotional blackmail occurs in close relationships. The manipulator leverages knowledge gained about the victim’s fears. Blackmailers will use the information they learn about what the victim fears to manipulate them.

Forward suggests that one of the most painful elements of emotional blackmail is that they use personal information about the victim’s vulnerabilities against them. Another trigger blackmailers will use is putting the victim’s sense of obligation to the test. They will commonly create undeserved guilt and blame to attribute their problems to the victim.

They make threats related to the victim’s emotional triggers to force compliance. For example, “If you don’t do what I want I will…leave you, tell your secrets, not love you…” They can also take advantage of the victim’s sense of responsibility and obligation. “All I do is work for this family, the least you could do is…” Blackmailers exploit the victim’s sense of guilt to create confusion and get the victim to give in to their demand.

Because the tactics can be covert, emotional blackmail may be difficult to spot, especially for those who may experience more vulnerabilities to it. According to Forward,

“Blackmailers make it nearly impossible to see how they’re manipulating us, because they lay down a thick fog that obscures their actions. All the while, if we attempt to fight back, they ensure that we literally can’t see what is happening to us.”

They can use covert techniques that create confusion by:

  • Making their demands seem reasonable
  • Make the victim feel selfish
  • Pathologizing or making the victim seem as though they are crazy
  • Ally with someone of influence to intimidate the victim

There are warning signs of emotional blackmail in a relationship:

  • If one person frequently apologizes for things that are not their doing, such as the manipulator’s outburst, bad day, or negative behaviors.
  • If one person insists on only their way or nothing, even if it is at the expense of the partner.
  • It seems to be a one-way street of sacrifice and compliance.
  • One person feels intimidated or threatened to obey or comply.

When in a dysfunctional cycle of emotional blackmail, the victim may be inclined to: apologize, plead, change plans to meet the others’ needs, cry, use logic, give in, or challenge. Typically, they will find it difficult to stand up for themselves, directly address the issue, set boundaries, and communicate with the blackmailer that the behavior is inappropriate.

They do not consistently set clear boundaries indicating what is acceptable for them.

Forward and Frazier recognize four types of blackmailing, each with varying manipulation tactics.

  1. Punishers – Punishers operate with a need to get their way, regardless of the feelings or needs of the other person. Their motto is “my way or the highway.” Punishers will insist upon pushing for control and getting what they want with threats to inflict damage or harm.
  2. Self-punishers – Individuals can make threats of self-harm if the partner does not comply with what they want.
  3. Sufferers – this is the voice of a victim conveying guilt on the partner if they do not do what is demanded. If they don’t comply, there is a suggestion that their suffering will be the others’ fault. “After all that I’ve done for you, you are going to let me suffer…?”
  4. Tantalizers – This can be the most subtle and confusing form of manipulation. There is a promise of what will be better if they comply. It sparks hope yet is still connecting a threat to the demand.

Common in any abuse cycles, it is important to understand the progression of emotional blackmail. It usually starts as subtle or implicit comments and behaviors. The progression can be insidious, so one does not realize its impact until it has gotten severe.

A metaphor would be of the frog in boiling water. If you place a frog immediately into boiling water, its instincts will cause it to jump out because of the instant pain. However, if you place a frog in lukewarm water and slowly increase the heat, it does not recognize the pain as a danger signal at the same level of heat. The frog becomes desensitized as the water is heating up slowly.

The behaviors and impact of emotional blackmail can be similar.

There are six progressive steps identified in emotional blackmail:

  1. A demand made from the manipulator. The manipulator will make a clear demand of what they want, tied with a threat. You need to pay my rent or I’ll leave you. You need to let me move in or I’ll tell your sister what you said about her.
  2. Resistance from the victim. After the demand is identified, the victim may resist or feel the need to avoid the person because they are unsure how to handle the demand. The concerning part of this process is it is often an unsavory, unfavorable, or unreasonable demand placed on the victim.
  3. Pressure from the manipulator. Manipulators of emotional blackmail are not concerned about pushing too hard. They will persist to get what they want no matter what it takes. They disregard hurt feelings or fear being created. Creating fear can even be the driving force behind the demand made. The manipulator may put pressure suggesting that the victim is being irrational, silly, or unreasonable themselves. This part of the process can cause the victim to begin to question their sense of reality and if they are wrong in feeling concerned about the demand being placed upon them. They begin to lose their healthy sense of perspective and what their gut is telling them. The manipulator may even turn the situation around to blame the victim or question their motives if they do not initially agree to the placed demand. Confusion is a big part of this process.
  4. Threatening the victim. This is the part of the process where the manipulator is threatening to do or not do something to cause unhappiness, discomfort, or pain for the victim. If you don’t do this…then I will do this… They create a situation where the victim can be responsible for the promised negative outcome if they do not comply.
  5. Victim compliance. The victim gives in, either quickly, or slow through a process of increasing self-doubt. They comply with the demand of the manipulator, often causing feelings of anxiety, guilt, fear, anger, or resentment.
  6. The manipulator gets their way and subsides temporarily until the next demand of what they want comes up. The frequency of these behaviors and tendencies vary in all relationships involving emotional blackmail. Regardless of the consistency of these behaviors, it has a negative and toxic effect on the relationship and on the victim. Now the cycle is in place and the foundation is set for this pattern to continue.

In some situations, there may seem to be a fine line between indirect communication and manipulation. Emotional blackmail and indirect communication can both have passive aggressive undertones. The communication becomes manipulation and blackmail when it is used consistently to control another individual or coerce them into doing what the requestor demands.

The victim will typically feel resistance to comply, yet does it even at the cost of their own well-being.

There is also a distinction between setting healthy boundaries and emotional blackmail. In setting boundaries, the individual is asserting themselves and communicating what their needs are. Emotional blackmail involves conveying threats that will result in a punishment of the victim does not meet the request.

Someone engaging in emotional blackmail will demonstrate any or all of the following:

  • Telling you that you are crazy for questioning them
  • Controlling what you do
  • Ignoring your concerns and pushback
  • Avoiding taking accountability
  • Constantly placing blame on others for their behaviors
  • Providing empty apologies
  • Using fear, obligation, threats, and guilt to get their way
  • Unwilling to compromise
  • Seemingly unconcerned about your needs
  • Rationalizing their unreasonable behaviors and requests
  • Intimidate you until you do what they want
  • Blame you for something that you didn’t do so that you feel you have to earn their affection
  • Accuse you of doing something you didn’t do
  • Threaten to harm either you or themselves

The Victim

Victims of emotional blackmail typically feel insecure, unvalued, and unworthy. They often struggle with low self-esteem and doubt their own needs. Victims can demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • Approval seeking, people pleasing
  • Extreme compassion and empathy
  • Tendency to take blame
  • Tendency to feel pity for others
  • Try to avoid conflict
  • Peacekeeping habits
  • Strong sense of responsibility and doing the “right thing”
  • Fears of abandonment
  • Sensitivity, inclination to personalize things
  • Fear of anger
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem

The Impact

The stress of being in a relationship involving emotional blackmail can take a toll emotionally and physically on the victim. It compromises the victim’s sense of integrity and self-esteem. It causes victims to question their own sense of reality. It leads to negative and distorted thinking about themselves and their relationship. Victims of emotional blackmail often end up being isolated, experiencing extreme loneliness.

It impacts an overall sense of well-being and contributes to anxiety and depression.

The Blackmailer

Forward notes in the book that an important takeaway for the victim is that the behavior of an emotional blackmailer feels like it is about you but for the most part it is not. It often comes from deep insecurities inside of the blackmailer. Fear and anxiety can come out as rage and blame toward the victim. These tendencies often have to do with what has happened in the past rather than the reality of the current situation.

There is no exact prototype of emotional blackmailers, yet they can demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • Narcissistic tendencies
  • Self-centered
  • Intense anger
  • Deep panic, fear, depression, or rage
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Emotionally immature
  • Not in touch with feelings
  • Lack of accountability
  • Hate to lose

Some of these traits may be close to the surface and observable, such as anger. However, much of the insecurities, emotional pain and fears lie deep within the psychological makeup of the blackmailer.

The scientific research on emotional blackmail, in particular, is limited. In one public health study, researchers explored personality correlates of emotional blackmail in relationships (Mazur et. al).

They utilized the five-factor personality model to assess risk factors for potential victims and individuals at risk for engaging in emotional blackmail. They discovered that neuroticism and agreeableness were risk factors for taking on the role of the victim. The factors protecting against the use of emotional blackmail in close relationships were agreeableness and conscientiousness.

Neuroticism is a key risk factor for taking on the perpetrator of emotional blackmail. Social adaptation and assertiveness can act as protective factors against being a victim of emotional blackmail. Data was gathered to inform preventive programs developed to support people in building healthy relationships. There is room for additional research to be gathered and leveraged to help with prevention of emotional abuse and blackmail.

15+ Examples of Emotional Blackmail

The emotional blackmailer typically does not have any other coping or go-to methods for how to communicate and interact in a healthy manner. They fall back to stonewalling, slamming doors, threatening, and engaging in other damaging behaviors to get what they want. They typically do not have the tools available to understand how to convey their needs.

Many examples of emotional blackmail occur in romantic relationships. Any gender can engage in emotional blackmail. However, a male-female partnership is a prototypical example.

One scenario is if a man in a committed relationship is caught cheating on his partner. Rather than taking ownership and apologizing for his actions, he may twist the story. He may blame his partner for not meeting his needs or being there when he needed her, therefore, seemingly rationalizing or justifying his behavior. This can be confusing for the victim, as she may be inclined to question herself or start believing his claims.

She may wonder if she is good enough or if she could have done more in the relationship.

Other examples of demands and threats in emotional blackmail:

  • If I ever see another man look at you I will kill him.
  • If you ever stop loving me I will kill myself.
  • I’ve already discussed this with our pastor/therapist/friends/family and they agree that you are being unreasonable.
  • I’m taking this vacation – with or without you.
  • How can you say you love me and still be friends with them?
  • You’ve ruined my life and now you are trying to stop me from spending money to take care of myself.

Emotional blackmailers commonly attempt to make the victim feel responsible for their (negative) actions.

  • It was your fault that I was late for work.
  • If you wouldn’t cook in an unhealthy way, I wouldn’t be overweight.
  • I would have gotten ahead in my career if you had done more at home.

Emotional blackmail may also occur in situations where one person is an addict. They may threaten to take the car if the victim does not pick them up from the bar.

Emotional blackmail can take place in family relationships as well. A needy mother may attempt to give her child a guilt trip for not spending enough time with her. She may make comments referencing what “good daughters” do.

Emotional blackmail can occur in friendships. A friend may ask for money and threaten to end the friendship if they do not comply.

A punishing type of blackmail can occur. For example, if a couple is going through a difficult divorce, the emotional blackmailer may threaten that if their partner files for divorce, they will keep the money or never let them see the kids. Such behavior can leave the victim feeling rage at the attempt of being controlled and not knowing how to properly respond.

Another type of emotional blackmail that is even more insidious is when we use fear, obligation, and guilt to hold ourselves hostage. We can inflict our own FOG which can control our behavior, even if it is not coming from external sources. “If I were a good son, I would visit my mother more frequently.”

There can be different levels of emotional blackmail, ranging from threats with little consequence to threats that can impact major life decisions or can be dangerous.

Here are some additional brief and damaging examples of threats associated with emotional blackmail:

  • If you don’t take care of me, I’ll wind up in the hospital/on the street/unable to work.
  • You’ll never see your kids again.
  • I’ll make you suffer.
  • You’ll destroy this family.
  • You’re not my child anymore.
  • You’ll be sorry.
  • I’m cutting you out of my will.
  • I’ll get sick.
  • I can’t make it without you.

How to Best Handle Emotional Blackmail

If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional blackmail in a relationship, it is difficult to know where to start. In her book, Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship, Lisa Aronson Fontes provides a “Controlling Relationship Assessment.”

Taking an assessment may be a useful way to start reflecting and identifying the abusive behaviors that are occurring. Her book also provides ways to help:

  • Recognize the controlling behaviors of all kinds.
  • Understand why this destructive pattern occurs.
  • Determine whether you are in danger and if your partner can change.
  • Protect yourself and your kids.
  • Find the support and resources you need.
  • Take action to improve or end your relationship.
  • Regain your freedom and independence.

In Forward’s book, there is a chapter called “It Takes Two.” She encourages the victims of emotional blackmail to take responsibility for their behavior and their previous compliance with the blackmail process.

The blackmail process does not work effectively without both parties actively participating. Forward offers this perspective not as a way for victims to beat themselves up or to place blame. Rather, she provides this point of view as an empowering approach for victims to recognize what they can change and can control. In the introduction, she states:

“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.”

In order to best handle emotional blackmail, the victim must bring a new mindset and approach the situation in a different way. This will require gaining insight into what is going on in the blackmail dynamics and learning to detach from their intense emotions.

It can be useful for victims to explore what demands are making them feel uncomfortable. In doing so, they can recognize what boundaries need to be put in place. They must decide what is ok and not ok with them in a relationship. Understanding the abusive impact of emotional blackmail is also important.

Appreciating how emotional abuse wears victims down can validate their experience of feeling hopeless and lacking in confidence.

Change is scary, but doing something different is the only way to get a different result. Otherwise, victims are at risk of letting their fears run and potentially ruin their lives. Awareness, insight, and educating ourselves is important, but change only comes from taking a course of different actions over a prolonged period of time. Susan Forward asserts that we all have choices about how to engage in a relationship:

  • We can accept things as they are.
  • We can negotiate for a healthier relationship.
  • Or, we can end the relationship.

No relationship is worth the cost of emotional and mental wellbeing.

Victims can learn to set boundaries and may become surprised what can happen when new limits are set. The messaging needs to become that the behavior is no longer acceptable. While victims do not feel courageous or confident after having been emotionally abused, they can take a different action. Victims must take action to change the course, rather than waiting for the other person to change.

Victims can self assess throughout the process. When you do not back down and comply with demands attached with threats, how do you feel? Strong, empowered, confident, hopeful, proud, excited, courageous, assertive, effective, capable? Breaking any behavioral pattern is challenging. Develop a clear vision of what you hope to achieve. Any change will require work, effort, and discomfort, yet this is where growth occurs.

The only way to know if the limit and boundary setting will work is to try it. Forward suggests confronting the manipulator about the behaviors. What could that sound like?

  • You are pushing our relationship to the edge.
  • You are not taking me seriously when I tell you how unhappy I am.
  • We need to find ways to deal with conflicts that do not leave me feeling emotionally abused, worn out, and depleted.
  • I always comply – not willing to live like that anymore.
  • I need to be treated with respect.
  • Let’s talk about it, don’t threaten and punish me.
  • I’m not going to tolerate those behaviors anymore.

In her book, Forward suggests three exercises: a contract, a power statement, and a set of self-affirming phrases.


A contract lists a number of promises you would make to yourself. The contract identifies the basic ground rules for you to follow. Take time every day to read the contract out loud.

Example of a Contract with Myself:

I, ____________, recognize myself as an adult with options and choices, and I commit myself to the process of actively getting emotional blackmail out of my relationships and out of my life. In order to reach that goal, I make the following promises:

  • I promise myself that I am no longer willing to let fear, obligation, and guilt control my decisions.
  • I promise myself that I will learn the strategies in this book and that I will put them into practice in my life.
  • I promise myself that if I regress, fail, or fall into old patterns, I will not use slips as an excuse to stop trying. I recognize that failure is not failure if you use it as a way to learn.
  • I promise to take good care of myself during this process.
  • I promise that I will acknowledge myself for taking positive steps, no matter how small they are.

____________________ Signature

____________________ Date

Power Statement

Another way to deal with emotional blackmail is to create your own power statement. Repeating a power statement can ground you when the pressure is turned up by the manipulator. For example, “I’m not doing this.” “I won’t do this.” This power statement is succinct and impactful. It works because it directly counters the belief that moves us into compliance – that we can’t stand the pressure.

Short, impactful sentences like this are intended to challenge doubts and limiting beliefs.

If you begin to think “I can’t stand it”…that you can’t stand to hurt his feelings, hurt him, deal with your guilt or anxiety, etc. Change the mantra from “I can’t stand it” to “it’s hard but I can do it.” This involves a subtle shift to getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Changing to “I can stand it” will build your emotional strength so that you do not need to immediately back down.

Self-affirming Phrases

By backing down and giving in, you may feel: guilt, hurt, shameful, embarrassed, anxious, angry, weak, resentful, powerless, helpless, fearful, scared, trapped, disappointed, stuck. In order to change these emotions, it is important to start with changing your thoughts. Develop some self-affirming thought patterns to retrieve and repeat, especially when your negative thinking kicks in.

Consider asking yourself if a demand is making you uncomfortable. Why? What part of the demand is ok and what is not? Is the other person threatening me? Is the other person considering my feelings? If I comply, what is in it for me?

There are several levels of demands:

  1. Not a big deal, minimal impact
  2. Important issues including your integrity is at stake
  3. A major issue involving important life decisions and/or could be damaging

Request that the blackmailer get psychological help to learn new strategies. Blackmailers can learn skills to learn how to negotiate, communicate, and own their own behavior. First, they must take responsibility for their action for any change to occur. An unwillingness to own and put it on the other person is a sign of immaturity and lack of wellbeing and health.

Once blackmailers own the behavior, they can take the next steps to learn the techniques.

If they are truly taking responsibility, they will demonstrate the courage to sit down with the victim and have a conversation about it. In doing so, this will create a safer environment in the relationship. Safety is the primary element of defining a healthy or not healthy relationship. Manipulators who take accountability and are willing to be vulnerable show hope for learning and change.

What can that sound like in the blackmailer?

  • Can you help me?
  • Tell me how I can express this to you in a way that doesn’t make you feel bad.
  • I am willing to get help.
  • I don’t want my behaviors to make you feel so bad
  • What is another way I can say this to you?
  • What can I do that will help you feel safe?
  • Where can I learn to better deal with conflict?
  • I want to improve how I communicate with you.

How to Stop Emotional Blackmail in Relationships

In a healthy functioning relationship, while tension and disagreements occur, people learn to work toward a resolution. Emotional blackmailers are generally not interested in negotiating. They tend to be black and white about their demands and unwilling to compromise.

Typically, they do not consider alternatives or other viewpoints. They want what they demand and nothing else. Most people who have been in a relationship with an emotional blackmailer appreciate that there is no reasoning when someone is in this state. The behaviors are irrational and the demands unreasonable.

How to stop emotional blackmail in relationships may start with the victim fostering the belief that they do not deserve such treatment. Victims have as many rights as they do. As mentioned previously, gaining insight into their own patterns of behaviors, pleasing, and approval seeking tendencies can help understand where to make changes.

The victim may have developed these tendencies early in life to self-sacrifice, overcompensate for others, and put themselves last.

Practical suggestions on what actions to take during an exchange with a blackmailer can be useful.

  • Consider taking a long pause before you comply with the request.
  • Take a break and think about how you are feeling about the demand.
  • Create some distance from the emotion so you can make a healthy decision based on logic, rather than the emotional default.
  • Put it on your timetable. It will create off balance and it can be scary. There will be pressure to get back into the old patterns, so there is likely to be discomfort.
  • Forward suggests tips such as repeating a neutral statement to the demand placed, such as “no thank you.” This stops the back and forth and capitulation of the emotional exchange.

Don’t need to wait until you feel strong to show strength. Do it, then the feelings will catch up. People often wait until they feel the courage, and that time doesn’t come. Do it, then you will feel better. You can’t wait until you feel better.

Forward suggests additional techniques to help stop emotional blackmail.

Establish an SOS before responding to a demand:

  • STOP – I need time to think about it.
  • OBSERVE – one’s own reactions, thoughts, emotions, triggers.
  • STRATEGIZE- analyze the demands and the potential impact of complying. Consider what you need and explore alternative options.

Develop “powerful non-defensive communication.” Sharon Ellison (2002) provides helpful guidance on non-defensive communication. Suggestions are to not take the bait from the blackmailer, yet stay on point with what your key message is. Do not allow yourself to be derailed by their comments, demands, and behaviors. Stick with “This is who I am and what I want.”

Blackmailers are highly defensive and their comments often escalate conflicts. Attempt to stay away from escalating statements and stick with non-defensive communication such as:

  • I can see that you are upset.
  • I understand you are frustrated.
  • I’m sorry you’re angry.
  • I can understand how you might see it that way.
  • Let’s talk about it when you feel calmer.

It is essential to reinforce that victims cannot change their partner only their reaction. The emotional blackmailer has a foundation in deep layers of their insecurities. The victim’s job is to put their welfare and health first. Their energy is best utilized to change themselves and their approach. In addition to changing the behavior patterns during these exchanges, victims can do their own psychological healing outside the relationship.

For example, developing skills to self-regulate, build confidence, and increase assertiveness can be beneficial. Victims can explore the following ideas:

Learn to become a detached observer. Healthy detachment is a good coping mechanism when dealing with conflict or highly charged emotional situations. It involves taking a step back and becoming an observer of what is going on the current situation, without being taken away by the emotions at hand. This will allow some self-refraction and questioning in order to make sensible connections between your beliefs, behaviors, and actions.

Creating some space between you and the situation can allow you to make healthier decisions.

Forward identifies the need to let go of pleasing behaviors. People who have a tendency to comply, may give in because they do not want the other person to be mad at them. They need to rid themselves of the undeserved guilt, which is what occurs in emotional blackmail.

Expand strategies to deal with your own emotional discomfort. Find ways to deal with your fear, guilt, and sense of obligation. Embrace the discomfort of the guilt, fear, or anxiety that can come with saying no or establishing a new boundary.

Continue to develop the thought stopping techniques in order to disconnect from fear and obligation. Challenge your assumptions of what obligations and expectations are real and what proof is provided for these claims.

Review what part you play in the dysfunctional cycle of emotional blackmail. In order to be fully empowered and able to make a change, it is important to look at your own responsibility in the situation. This is not suggesting that you are to blame for the behavior of the other person; rather, to find areas and behaviors that you can control to help yourself navigate through such circumstances.

Take inventory. Self-reflect on how you may justify your compliance. Here are some examples of negative self-talk that can reinforce the pattern of giving in.

  • It’s not worth it to deal with his/her anger
  • His/her needs matter more than mine
  • It’s no big deal to give in
  • What I want isn’t important enough
  • I’ll just do it to get him/her to calm down
  • I would rather give in than hurt his/her feelings
  • I’m afraid if I say no

Practice pausing before giving into demands in lower stakes situations. Practice saying no even when the threats are not evident. Be firm and stand your ground on limits set. Do not immediately give in to what the blackmailer wants, especially if you are being threatened.

Seek professional help through counseling, therapy, coaching, or a support group to help navigate through recovery from emotional abuse. In the end, it is critical for victims to remember that abuse is not their fault. All people deserve to be treated with respect.

EB After a Break-Up

A break-up or relationship separation can fuel the fire for emotional blackmailers. The potential for them to act out, even more, rises during crisis situations, especially involving a break-up. During this time, victims could be at risk or in danger, as blackmailers can escalate their behaviors. Since they are focused on what they want when they want it, they show limited concern or empathy for the pain of others.

They can become so absorbed in their own rage, that they could show signs of panic in their desperation.

If emotional blackmail was used during the relationship and there is a break-up, there is no longer a direct method for such manipulation tactics. This can cause an emotionally unstable person to act out even more if their means for control are taken away. Manipulator’s behaviors may increase in intensity and in a frequency. More severe threats of self-harm and inducing guilt would be common in a breakup situation.

They also may resort to stalking or other types of unwanted behaviors in pursuit in an attempt to reconnect the relationship. While uncommon, taken to an extreme, the ex may show obsessive tendencies and could be at risk for bringing the violence to another level.

It is important for the victim to remember that they are not responsible for their ex’s needs and feelings. It is important to seek protection if the victim is feeling unsafe. This may require getting professional help to understand how to establish these healthy boundaries. It may involve setting clear physical boundaries to ensure there is no contact with the ex-partner.

Finding a support system can be helpful for individuals who have been in relationships involving emotional blackmail and abuse. The focus post-break-up is best placed on victims learning how to engage in self-care and identify their own personal needs.

Is It a Crime?

Is emotional blackmail a crime

In the legal system, domestic violence has been identified as an incident or series of incidents involving physical violence conducted by a partner or ex-partner.

However, the laws addressing emotional abuse are less clear and less consistent. In the legal system, the term used to describe emotional abuse and blackmail is “coercive control.”

The term ‘coercive control’ was developed by Evan Stark to help understand the impact and damage that occurs from emotional abuse. He identifies coercive control as a pattern of behavior which seeks to take away the victim’s liberty or freedom, to strip away their sense of self and is a violation of human rights. Emotional blackmail is a type of coercive control used most often in intimate relationships.

Laws about coercive control (i.e. emotional blackmail) and abuse vary around the world. Currently, the United States does not have clear criminal laws in place to protect victims from emotional or psychological abuse by a partner. There are criminal statutes that only protect partners from physical violence. Some states have attempted to house emotional abuse under statutes prohibiting domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse.

There are several countries who are addressing psychological abuse in the court systems. The first country to ban “psychological violence within marriage” was France in 2010.

Coercive control has been recognized as a crime in the UK since 2015. The Serious Crime Act 2015 recognizes that “controlling or coercive” behavior towards another person in an intimate or family relationship is punishable for a prison term. Since the law has been in place, an estimated 100 men have been convicted and sentenced for such crimes.

The UK law states:

Coercive control is defined by a pattern of behavior that gradually is purposeful in exerting power and control over another intimate partner. The law sees the perpetrator as the one who carries out these coercive behaviors as solely responsible. Coercive behaviors can include:

  • Making a person dependent by isolating them
  • Exploiting their strengths and resources
  • Humiliating and putting them down
  • Using intimidation, or abuses that cause harm, are punitive and intended to frighten

The British law defines controlling behavior as “making a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance, and escape, and regulating their everyday lives.”

The law requires charges to be based on a pattern of behaviors rather than one occurence. Irish legislation have also created the Domestic Violence Bill 2017, which includes “coercive control” as an offense. In these countries mentioned, establishing criminal laws addressing psychological abuse sends a strong cultural message that it will not be tolerated. It conveys a level of support and safety for victims of such abuse.

Domestic violence victims often state that the physical abuse was not the worst part of their abuse. The control, intimidation, and emotional blackmail often caused the most suffering; yet the impact is more challenging to measure. Author of Coercive Control: How Men Trap Women in Personal Life, Evan Stark discusses the damage of emotional abuse and coercive control on victims.

He states, “Not only is coercive control the most common context in which [women] are abused, it is also the most dangerous.

Identifying physical abuse is more straightforward, so the topic of how to prove coercive control or emotional abuse has been a topic of discussion. Those opposed to criminalizing coercive control suggest the area is ambiguous and difficult to prove. Opposers claim that separating jealousy, control, and emotional abuse is complex to sort out and difficult to prove by jury or judge.

Attention had not been drawn to the issue until the impact of the abuser’s behavior on the mental and physical health on the victims was studied and evaluated more seriously. More awareness is contributing to more support and movement in the criminal courts. For example, Monckton-Smith has developed a diagnostic tool (Domestic Abuse Reference Tool) to help identify and clarify if victims are in danger.

Laws addressing domestic violence in the US were initially created for a different reason. They were initially put in place to deal with single violent assaults conducted by strangers. However, much of physical and emotional abuse occurs in intimate relationships. Therefore, this law does not sufficiently address the cycle and pattern of abuse that happens with spouses.

Critics show concern for the lack of support the US legal system is showing for victims of such abuse. Without laws in place criminalizing emotional and coercive patterns of abuse, the culture may be reinforcing it. In his book, Stark suggests that despite its progress, the domestic revolution is stalled.

He discusses how the narrow focus on physical violence against women, distracts from the more insidious form of psychological abuse which more closely resembles kidnapping or slavery than assault.

Stark considers the lack of laws addressing coercive control represents a human rights violation and a “liberty crime” against the victim.

The Center for Disease Control conducted a study in 2010, reporting that nearly half of all women in the U.S. (48.4 percent) have experienced at least one form of psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lives. They experienced coercive control, verbal aggression and angry gestures in their partners that were degrading, insulting, dangerous, or humiliating.

There are organizations and groups advocating for policy change in the US. Their objectives are for the US legal system to recognize the damage of coercive control and put criminal controls in place to address it.

There are alternative paths to take in the legal system beyond criminal statutes. In some cases of emotional abuse, civil lawsuits can be filed. Victims or families of victims can file these emotional abuse claims based on an intentional infliction of emotional distress.

According to the legal system, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress involves the following:

Intentional infliction of emotional distress is an intentional tort based on conduct so awful that it causes the victim extreme emotional trauma. Emotional distress claims are difficult to prove and win, and don’t apply to simple rudeness or generally offensive behavior. Instead, these cases arise when conduct is so reprehensible that the emotional effects are real, lasting, and damaging.

In order to have a successful claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, a person must prove three elements:

  1. Extreme or Outrageous Conduct: Again, this is behavior that is more than merely malicious, harmful, or offensive — the conduct must exceed all possible bounds of decency;
  2. The Conduct Was Intentional or Reckless: Careless or negligent behavior won’t suffice — the actor must intend to cause emotional distress or know that emotional distress is likely to occur; and
  3. The Conduct Caused Severe Emotional Distress: This can be the hardest to prove, but severe and lasting emotional effects like persistent anxiety and paranoia, or possible bodily harm like ulcers or headaches could show a person suffered extreme emotional distress as a result of the conduct.

More information can be found on this site.

Advice for Parents

Emotional blackmail can also be used in families, even with children or teens blackmailing their parents. However, it would be easy to assume that all temper tantrums by children sound like emotional blackmail.

In his article Emotional Blackmail: Fear, Obligation, and Guilt (FOG), Skip Johnson differentiates the difference between immature actions taken by children to manipulate their parents and emotional blackmail. He highlights how the use of the term “blackmail” brings such a negative connotation. He clarifies that in using such a term, it is implied that there is forethought or premeditation involved.

A child having a crying fit at the grocery store because they want candy is clearly a different dynamic than emotional blackmail used in an adult relationship. Children may naively demonstrate such behaviors, without the understanding of the manipulation element. That being said, a teenager making a demand for parents to give them the car or they will hurt themselves does qualify as emotional blackmail.

All parents are invested in wanting their kids to be happy. This potentially makes them more vulnerable to being emotionally blackmailed by their children and adolescents. Mental health experts claim that this type of manipulation tactics can be very difficult to identify and address. If they give in to such manipulation tactics, parents can often end up feeling hijacked by their own family.

Kids and teens can exploit your wish of wanting them to be happy in order to get what they want. This hijack can be addressed if parents are clear and understanding that the primary role is not to make sure their kids are happy, but to keep them safe and teach them about the world.

Parents that are dealing with a child who engages in emotional blackmail can feel as though they are being held hostage. Addressing these behaviors as a parent is complicated and challenging. There is a range of severity in terms of the level of emotional blackmail kids can use with their parents. A common example may be a tantrum in the grocery store, where the parent, in an effort to avoid a scene and to escape the store will give in.

Once parents give in to this behavior, the cycle becomes reinforced. The child then learns what buttons to push in order to get what they want. They now know what to do in order to get the parent to give in. As kids get older, the behavior may shift into disrespectful attitudes and remarks as a teenager to try and control the parents.

Adolescents can learn techniques to manipulate their parents by expressing strong emotions. In his book Declare Yourself, John Narciso identifies these behavior patterns as “get my way techniques.” Adolescents, like adults, can identify triggers for their parents and use this knowledge to get what they want. An example of a button to push, is if the parent is sensitive to rejection.

Teenagers can pick up on that and act in ways that spark fear in the parent that the teen does not like them. This can create guilt and fear in the parent, who then ends up complying to the adolescents’ demands.

Another example is if a parent is sensitive to inadequacy, the adolescent can criticize the parent by attacking their competence. A parent sensitive to this may give in because of the discomfort they experience feeling judged. If parents are sensitive to guilt, teens can highlight their emotional suffering to get what they want.

To re-direct emotional blackmail, parents need to stand firm and consistent with their boundaries, regardless of the emotional outbursts or threats from the teen. It is important to clarify that acting upset or aggressively will not change the parents’ mind. The key is to not be sensitive to these behaviors to the point that it changes your parental decisions.

Some families, especially those dealing with mental illness in the family, will experience more severe forms of emotional blackmail. It creates a conundrum, because for children who engage in extreme emotional blackmail, common forms of influence, discipline, punishment, or reinforcements are not effective in changing the behaviors. A severe form of manipulation may involve children threatening their parents that if they do not get what they want, they will tell people that they are being abused.

Here are some additional examples of children blackmailing parents. They can blame their parents for behaviors such as stealing, suggesting that it was not their fault that they had to take the money. The may say that if the parents gave them a bigger allowance, they would not have needed to steal the money for what they wanted at the time.

Another example is that they make threats to physically harm another sibling if the parents do not let them go out or do what they want. They may threaten to run away if they do not get their way. Making a threat to harm themselves is another severe example of emotional blackmail. In these situations, parents need psychological support and guidance on how to best navigate in a way that will keep everyone safe.

Where to Purchase Susan Forward’s Book (+ eBook)

As you would have noticed by reading this far, Susan’s book is referenced throughout this article. Below are links on where to purchase a copy.

9 Quotes on the Topic

“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

“Emotional blackmail is a powerful form of manipulation. It leaves you in a FOG when there is haze of Fear, Obligation, and Guilt. Often the emotional blackmailer is not a deliberate tactic on the others’ part – it’s just the method that gets them what they want! And have found that it works!”

Counselor and psychotherapist Carey West

“The emotional blackmailer may go out of their way to do things for you, even if it goes against their self-interest…they’ll bring it up over-and-over again, frequently reminding you what they’ve sacrificed to make you happy.”

Relationship expert Amica Graber

“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.”

Susan Forward

“In order for a blackmailer to be successful, they must know what the target fears. This fear is often deep-rooted such as fear of abandonment, loneliness, humiliation, and failure.”

Licensed Mental Health Counselor Christine Hammond

“If after an argument, your partner goes out for hours without telling you where they are, this indicates that they are punishing you for the disagreement by intentionally causing you to worry or feel anxious”

Relationship expert, Kryss Shane, MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW

“Emotional blackmail is the use of fear, obligation, and guilt to control another person.”

Susan Forward

“Emotional blackmail is one of the primary ways that one partner controls another partner. It’s done in such a way that the controlling partner manipulates the other person‘s emotions in an attempt to get their way.”

Dr. Connie Omari, clinician and owner of Tech Talk Therapy

“It should be taken very seriously and you should immediately tell the person how you feel if that is safe to do and/or to get others involved if you feel a sense of danger.”

Kelsey M. Latimer, Ph.D., founder of Hello Goodlife

“Although they may do this in ways which seem harmless, it’s a common tactic to trigger fear and doubt.”

Samantha Morrison, wellness expert

A Take-Home Message

We hope you have found this article to be informative and insight-provoking. Emotional blackmail is a painful and dysfunctional pattern of abuse in which the manipulator is attempting to control the victim. We hope that continued education and awareness on this topic will help people understand, prevent, and address emotional blackmail in relationships.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Relationships Exercises for free.


  • Burkett & Narciso, J. (1975). Declare Yourself: Discovering the Me in Relationships. MacMillon Publishing.
  • Ellis, S. Taking the War out of our Words. Deadwood, Oregon: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing.
  • Ellison, S. (2002). Taking the War Out of Our Words: The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication. Berkeley, CA: Bay Tree Publishing.
  • Fontes, L.A. (2015). Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Forward, S. & Frazier, D. (1998). Emotional Blackmail When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You. New York: Harper Collins.
  • Johnson, R. Skip. (2015). Emotional Blackmail: Fear, Obligation and Guilt (FOG). Borderline Personality Disorder, BPDFamily.
  • Mazur, A., Saran, T., Krzysztof Turowski, K., & Elżbieta Bartoń, E. Personality correlates of emotional blackmail in close relationships. Public Health as a Wellness Standard Chapter VII 1. Department of General and Neurorehabilitation.
  • Stark, E. (2007). Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Zwolinski , Richard. (2013) “Are Other People’s Feelings Holding You Hostage?” PsychCentral.com, Psych Central, 15. blogs.psychcentral.com/therapy-soup/2013/09/are-other-peoples-feelings-holding-you-hostage/. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
  • Zwolinski, Richard. (2013). “Standing Up For YOU With An Emotional Hostage Taker.” PsychCentral.com, PsychCentral, 15. blogs.psychcentral.com/therapy-soup/2013/09/standing-up-for-you-with-an-emotional-hostage-taker/. Retrieved February 18, 2019.


What our readers think

  1. Bella

    Hi my name is bella and am going through an emotional blackmail currently my ex has a sex video of me and was threatening to upload it buh then I told everyone myself about it,now he’s threatening to end my life and such and to be honest am really feeling suicidal

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Bella,

      If you are in immediate danger or fearful for your safety, call the emergency number in your respective country immediately. They will be able to provide support.

      Further, if you are struggling with severe symptoms of depression or suicidal thoughts, please call the following number in your respective country:

      USA: National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255;
      UK: Samaritans hotline at 116 123;
      The Netherlands: Netherlands Suicide Hotline at 09000767;
      France: Suicide écoute at 01 45 39 40 00;
      Australia: Lifeline at 13 11 14
      Germany: Telefonseelsorge at 0800 111 0 111 for Protestants, 0800 111 0 222 for Catholics, and 0800 111 0 333 for children and youth.

      For a list of other suicide prevention websites, phone numbers, and resources, see this website.

      Please know that there are people out there who care and that there are treatments that can help.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  2. pip

    trying to find answers myself at present. my 32 year old son, who is a drug addict, got heavily into crack, mixing with the traveller community. came to my home with a gun and a knife and informed me if i did not find him a substantial ammount of money which was supposedly his debt to the travellers, that i wold get my house burnt down. in panic i gave him the money and once he had left i informed the police who subsequently arrested him and he is now on remand pending trial in the new year. my problem is at present my emotional state, as i have to give evidence against him which i am really struggling with due to my deep emotional connection, knowing that if i cannot find the strength to testify he will be freed in the new year, i dread the thought. i am at present recieving letters from him trying to justify what he has done and in fact have him saying that no way was he blackmailing me, i know i need to find the strength to testify its just that i cannot seperate my love for him as a mum to the ones of doing what needs to be done and i am really struggling emotionallly and feel so alone. the problem i have is my feeling guilty that it will be down to my testifying that will put him away for a long period of time even though i tell myself he did the crime and should do the time im so anxious i cannot even think straight do you have any advice please

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Pip,

      I’m sorry to hear that you’re struggling and my thoughts go out to you and your son.

      I think the best thing you can do would be to find someone to help you work through this difficult time emotionally, such as a therapist. Psychology Today has a great directory you can use to find therapists in your local area. Usually, the therapists provide a summary in their profile with their areas of expertise and types of issues they are used to working with.

      I hope this helps and I wish you the best of luck.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  3. God

    What a depressing article! By no means I am denying such diabolical activity doesn’t exist but really? Devoting a frikkin 40 page thesis on this topic? No doubt some of you deserve this kind of people in your life as you are FIXATED on this topic. Jezuss…. get out. Get some fresh air. Go to a park. Get some sea breeze instead of focusing on the nefarious tome Volume XXII of human evil. Sheesh. Sure knowledge is weapon but you don’t have to be inundated with it. And you call this website “positive psychology”. Smeesh.

    Also newsflash. ALL of us possess these type of behavior to an extent except narcs are the extreme example. Tell me.. name me.. name ONE single person in your life with whom you can spend 45 years and STILL not complaint about him or her.

    Exactly. What you see in others… and four finger analogy or what not.

    Came here for empowerment, left with bitter taste of doom and gloom. No doubt modern day psychiatry contributes to so much modern day misery!

  4. melissa starr

    My son is married to a woman who meets all the criteria outlined in your article. She has isolated him from his family and forced him to go no contact with me (his mother) and everyone in my family when she became physically abusive at 7 months pregnant. HE filed a police report at that time. She goes to extremes to ensure that no one in his family can even see a picture of the baby. Her identical twin is bi-polar as is her mother and grandmother. She is well educated and manipulative. I’ve now not spoken to my son for 2.5 years and a second child is born. I’m very concerned that he feels trapped in an abusive relationship. Her mother abused her dad and now lives 3 doors down from them. He told me before the cut-off that they move as a unit have no other friends and they are too strong for him to go against. Do I continue to keep my distance, send nice cards and emails here and there or is it time for me to try and have a face-to-face with my son and try and discern if he is really ok? I don’t want to fuss at him, I just want to be in their lives and be sure that he is ok. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Melissa,

      I’m sorry to read about your concerns for your son — that sounds like an awful situation. If it is safe to do so, I think it would be good to gently reach out to check in (ideally face-to-face) to let him know that you care and want to help. You’ll find some good advice on how to have this conversation here. Likewise, you might suggest that he have a chat with a counselor or therapist to get some advice, or you might want to ensure your son is aware of the domestic abuse hotlines available in your country. All of these are ways you can help convey that you and others care and that there are people who can help him safely leave the abusive situation.

      I wish the best of luck for you and your son.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  5. robert

    hi, i have relationship with my ex girlfriend but she been married 6years ago and have 2 kid. she’s not divorced. she was asking me to stay with long when she want. if i wont she threat me to complaint on police for abusing, misbehaving, blackmailing for her to sex. she threaten me to insult you in front of public parent and everyone. she was threaten me to sex with her for their wish at everyone. if i say, i won’t she again blackmail me to she commit suicide with mention my name. i was afraid to tell anyone. i was cut my hand and operate with 8 stitches. now she was asking me to suicide yourself or stay with me. she was arrange some killer to threaten me. i was counting everyday. now i was feeling to commit suicide.

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Robert,

      If you are struggling with severe symptoms of depression or suicidal thoughts, please call the following number in your respective country:

      USA: National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255;
      UK: Samaritans hotline at 116 123;
      The Netherlands: Netherlands Suicide Hotline at 09000767;
      France: Suicide écoute at 01 45 39 40 00;
      Australia: Lifeline at 13 11 14
      Germany: Telefonseelsorge at 0800 111 0 111 for Protestants, 0800 111 0 222 for Catholics, and 0800 111 0 333 for children and youth.

      For a list of other suicide prevention websites, phone numbers, and resources, see this website.

      Likewise, I’d strongly recommend seeking professional support for domestic abuse in this situation. You can view a list of international hotlines here.

      Please prioritize your safety, and know that there are people out there who care and that there are treatments/support services that can help.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  6. Karla

    Thank you for sharing this information and giving me some sense to what is happening to me now. I broke up with a guy after a short relationship. I admit my mistakes that led to the break-up but as we were negotiating and discussing, I saw signs how he insinuated that I had mental problems when I do not comply to what he wants. After a month from the break-up, I asked him to return my things and the worst of his behaviors showed. It started when he threatened to complain me to the police for harassment. He said he had friends at the police and has filed a restraining order against me. According to him, all my texts and messages were forms of harassment. He said that if I do not comply, he will file an official complaint that will risk my visa and will expel me from the country. I am an expatriate and he is a local. After that he sent me a fake “lawyer letter” outlining his demands for me to distance myself from him and not “harass” him further. I had the letter checked by my lawyer and it was confirmed that the letter is fake as it does not comply with French law and professional rules, the legal language is incorrect (including several spelling mistakes), and the address of the law firm is fake. As a foreigner living just by myself, I was shaken and was concerned for my safety and my livelihood. In this COVID confinement situation, it is tough to find support who would be here with me physically. My lawyer advised not to engage further as there was no violence involved but the psychological strain of being threatened, being called names like “destroyed,” and being in the weaker situation especially since I am a foreigner is draining. It was hard to accept that it is not worth it to counter his allegations, true or false but the best action for me is not engage further. I reached out to the France’s Women For Women support group and they have given useful instructions. Likewise, the French domestic violence hotline provided empathetic support and the service allows non-native French speakers to seek help in abusive situations. I hope each person who is here and have experienced emotional blackmail will have the support each of us need to extract ourselves from this situation.

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Karla,

      I’m so sorry to read about your experience with your ex. What you are describing shows the hallmarks of abuse. And in situations when an abuser holds citizenship status and the person they are abusing does not, making threats regarding that status is often another way to try and exert control.

      To anyone else reading, you’ll find a useful list of the different and similar ways that abusers may try to exert control in this sort of situation here.

      Good on you, Karla, for reaching out to local services and getting out of the situation. And thank you as well for sharing your story — I’m sure it will provide comfort and hope to others reading who are in a similar situation.

      All the best.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  7. Constance

    After much subtle emotional abuse, I had an angry moment, yelled, and cursed at my SIL. She did not take this kindly, we stopped speaking. After a year and in efforts to keep peace in the family, I suggested we move forward without rehashing the past since I feel this will be very unproductive. Her response is that she has done nothing wrong and the only way she will move forward is if I explicitly apologize to her and her family. While I did acknowledge that I might have hurt her with my outburst, I feel no obligation to apologize unless she were to recognize her role it the family dynamics, which she does not and will not acknowledge. I see her attempts at getting me to apologize as an attempt as a power play to win. I am comfortable maintaining my distance and no having anything further to do with her. However, I wonder if I should also respond to her demand for an apology by with “nice try, let me know when you are ready to move forward” Just so she know she has no power over me.

  8. Daughter1

    Thank you for your eye-opening article. I never thought of my relationship with my mother in these terms, but I realize after reading this that she is a singularly subtle emotional blackmailer. She doesn’t overtly threaten me; she actually thinks that we have an excellent relationship. But I had to move across the country to find a measure of independence and freedom, because she wanted all of my loyalty and time. Now she says “I cannot face Christmas without you” despite the risks I will face in travelling home during a pandemic.

    And any resistance is responded to with aggression and confrontation. She knows I don’t find it easy to criticize so pushes me to back down and validate her emotions. If I voice even the gentlest hint of criticism she will keep returning to the subject until I recant, even if it takes months or even years. I love her, and don’t want to hurt her – she has had a very difficult life, including the loss of a child to suicide. But of course, that is why her blackmail succeeds most of the time.

    The geographical distance has helped a lot; it has also given me more emotional distance from the problem. Things aren’t perfect, but I feel that for the first time in years I can have my own life without always taking her feelings into account first. Kind of a relief, really. The guilt isn’t gone, but I am often able to step back from it and ask myself “what is the worst that can happen?” Usually just more passive aggressive conversations and texts. I can live with that.

  9. Mark

    Thanks for the article. the reason I went looking for reading on this is that I’m in the process of leaving an emotional blackmailer/ narcissist. Its hard for men to accept that we can be victims. If you saw me and knew my life you would never think I could be the victim of a 5’2 woman’s wrath.
    People who only know one side would never believe she would use emotional blackmail, threats, humiliation and eventually physical violence to name but few of her techniques.
    For everyone. You do not have to accept it. I did for years. Stop telling yourself it will get better, she/he will chill out. They don’t. They can’t. I even think she gets pleasure from it, watching me destroyed, lifeless and mentally drained. Then switches to being nice whilst firing in a set of requests of things she wants hoping I would accept to keep the hurt away for another few weeks until there was something else comes along that would set her on another cycle.
    Strange…everything that was wrong in her life when we met was her ex husbands fault. Now everything in her life, that is currently wrong, is all my fault.

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Mark,

      Thank you for sharing your experience. Indeed, anyone, irrespective of gender, can perpetuate or be a victim of abuse. Well done on recognizing that enough is enough and taking steps to leave the relationship.

      Keep safe, seek support if you need it, and I hope you find a brighter future ahead.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

    • Chris

      Mark. You describe my experience exactly. Chris

  10. Daughter

    I wish I had read this decades ago. I just got a an email from my dad asking his five adult children to please, for his birthday, to watch some videos about a vitamin supplement so we will join him in trying to get our mother to take it. Miracle supplements are a common focus of his forbears and years now. Our mother had quin-bypasses two years ago. She’s diabetic, too, and is now losing her memory. She doesn’t want to take his fixes. She has a hard enough time managing the drugs she does take. It’s cruel to keep nagging her, IMO. But the part where he tries to employ us just crossed so many lines. It’s not the first time- heck no. He is generally thought of as a good guy- Mr Clean, hard worker, good provider, great dad. And yet, he’s bullied me, humiliated me, threatened me. He’s interfered in my other relationships- like the last years of my maternal grandmother’s life. Once I thought he was my knight in shining armor, but mostly now I can’t really say what I feel for him.

  11. Dee

    This is what I’m going through right now. We’ve been in an LDR for 10 yrs. Then I noticed some drastic changes late last year. He’s always out and drunk which is new to me bcause he wasn’t that type. That fuels our arguments. I was trying to get answers from him about the reasons of sudden change. But I got nothing. He told me I’m just being crazy. He used to live with his family abroad ever since we met but when I confronted him and shared with his mother my concern thinking it might help because I’m thousand miles away he got mad and did not come home for 3 weeks. I tried reaching him hoping we can solve our problem then temporarily he started texting me again and came back home but refused to talk where he stayed. It really changed our relationship. We used to videocall everyday but since it happened for months he never called. I didn’t give up I still send him msgs how much I miss him and how unhappy I am of our situation. He answered some of my texts,mostly days, after I send them. He even send me pictures of him eating, sleeping in their house so all along I thought he’s home until I found out that he’s been living with somebody (no idea if it’s a guy or girl) for 6 months now. He just visit the family once in a while. I felt deceived. I tried to seek help from his family because I feel so helpless but they chose to stay out of this. No matter how many times I tried talking to him,asking him where he is he really wouldn’t tell me. He always say he doesn’t care what I think/believe and that he’s doing it his way. I feel that I am mentally tortured and emotionally abused. I don’t know where to get help.

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Dee,
      I am terribly sorry to read about the trouble you are having with your partner. Long distance relationships are challenging enough without a breakdown in communication such as you describe. A rule of thumb — if a partner calls you ‘crazy’ for expressing a concern, be wary, as that’s a common sign of gaslighting behavior (you can read about that here). If your partner is no longer willing to communicate openly with you about boundaries, living arrangements, etc., and is operating with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude, I would recommend either seeking professional help from a psychologist who specialises in LDRs, and, particularly if your partner is resistant to working on the relationship, thinking carefully about whether it is worth continuing to try and make it work.
      I hope these links and this advice helps, and I wish you the best of luck.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

  12. Cartier

    This is incredibly powerful reading.
    I moved to another country with my ex, who one year after breaking up is still living with me and still uses some of the techniques outlined in here to guilt/scare me (scare through talk of them becoming homeless or having to commit suicide to avoid that scenario) in to doing what they want. It never comes across as being premeditated, indeed it seems like they believe what they say.
    I thought that I had finally found a resolution by accepting a move to another country that they will not be able to get a Visa for, but now they are insisting that we both need to visit our home country so that they can find a new home.
    What makes everything doubly difficult is that they have an underlying medical condition, and it’s hard to tell if this condition does make it difficult for them to do things on their own or if it’s a convent catch all that can be used to justify every individual piece of behavior.

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Cartier,
      I’m glad that this article resonated with you, but also very sorry to read that you are experiencing emotional blackmail. The examples you give involving guilt and scare tactics speak very clearly.
      I would encourage you to get hold of Lisa Aronson Fontes’ book mentioned in the article and have a go at working through the the steps she recommends for finding support and taking action in your relationship. It sounds like you have made many sacrifices to support your ex. I hope that you can find support, happiness, and hopefully freedom from the situation you are in.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      • Cartier

        Thank you for your kind words Nicole. I will try to find this book.
        Unfortunately, my ex has a strong interest in psychology, and seems to be able to instantly recognise attempts to be neutral or to politely say no, and will usually try to engage in more detailed dialogue and conversation about her life and her future, which is not possible to exit in a simple way, and if I try to withdraw from the conversation it will quickly escalate in to questions like “why are you being like this when I am so ill?”, “you know how much I suffer with my illness, why are treating me like this?” or “I may have an illness, but I am human too, why does me being ill mean I should be treated like a sub-human?” – it is a verbal trap that is so hard to get out of.
        The threats of self harm / suicide are also vague enough that it is difficult to respond with the usual recommended things about calling the police, because it’s not an instant threat, it’s a “this will be the situation that you will put me in if you accept this offer to move abroad, and the only way out for me if that situation happens will be to not exist anymore”.

  13. Debbie Mitchell

    Im sick in my heart right now after reading this. Sick but relieved? Ive been married 47 years and have been through more than anyone will ever be able to imagine. I feel this article was written for me or about me in many ways. 50 years of my life, gone. I was able to leave for almost a year 20 years ago. But he made so many promises and was in counseling and just exactly did the things this article talked about. In reading it, ive realized it started with my mom and her living with my alcoholic father. My sister is also manipulative and buys gifts for her im sorrys. Im afraid of them almost as much as my husband. He cant talk to me at all! It always ends in rage and violent behavior and very violent words. I cant talk to him for about 2 days, but he doesnt even care anymore. He got what he was trying to accomplish. Im in a very sick way of living. Im going to buy this book and take some steps to at least draw some lines. Im 65. I could live another 30 years this way. I dont want to. Our 3 grown adult sons have all had drug and alcoholic abuse. I understand why. They were so robbed of their little spirits at a very young age. We all were all so afraid of his rage. Now they rage back. Its so sad. Thank you for helping me understand what i have never been able to explain to anyone what hes line or what im going thru after all these years.. I struggle very much with my weight. Im so afraid of everything. Ive been called a empath because i have way overboard empathy for everyone! Anyone all around the world. I understand why now. Thank you♥

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Debbie,
      I am very sorry to hear about your struggle as a victim of abuse (and the ripple effect it has had on your children). As I reread your comment, I fear you may still be in a volatile and dangerous situation. I would encourage you to take every precaution to ensue your safety, particularly as you mention violence. You can find a list of global hotlines you can reach out to for support at this link.
      I am glad you were able to find some comfort in our article. Please keep safe and I hope you find a brighter future ahead.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

  14. Binibi

    This is insightful and thought provoking. I am currently going through this. The manipulator is employing different tactics predominantly fears obligations and guilt. This article reinforced my resolution to not give in to the demands – I chose to ignore all aspersions casted upon me and heed to my gut feelings.
    Another tactic that a manipulator utilizes is indirect. When he/she makes a demand that you decline, few weeks or days later they tell you that they are leaving you(or something they believe you don’t want to hear). The period it took for them to make that declaration is vital so that you won’t directly link it to your earlier refusal of their demands. It is quite obvious anyway. One thing for sure is that an emotional blackmailer hides behind just anything for disguise. Always remember that. No relationship is worth your mental and emotional well-being.

    • Nicole Celestine

      Thanks for sharing, Binibi.
      You make a good point that those who engage in emotional blackmail may be intentional about how they time their manipulative behavior (based on how/when you have been asserting your boundaries). As you note, it it important not to fall for it and always protect yourself.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

  15. Den

    I have been in a relationship for four years. During this period, my girlfriend has cheated on me at least 3 times and blames the fact that she’s not attracted to me and have no erotic feelings for me. I didn’t know I was being manipulated, each time she does this I would end up begging for the relationship to continue. This cycle has continued until just this week I had to open up to a friend who is a psychologist. She recommended this article and I must say it’s really helpful. So far I’ve decided to take a break of at least 7 days without communication. I really hope she does a self reflection and be ready to change. But then if she doesn’t, I’d abide by the contract since I have options. I would really appreciate further helpful tools and articles from you. Thank you very much.

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Den,

      I’m sorry to hear about your challenges with your partner. An important question to ask your partner is whether she is committed to working on the relationship and ending the infidelity. This is important, as a relationship requires two people’s commitment if it is to thrive. Maintaining attraction and eroticism takes intention and work, so it is important that you are both committed.

      If she is committed to working on the relationship, I would suggest looking into resources for couple’s therapy and taking a look at the following books (book 1, book 2) for resources on moving forward.

      I hope this helps.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  16. tina

    Thank you very much Priest manuka. i never thought any thing could make my husband come back to me as his wife again, after he broke up with me and left to settle down with another woman who never Knew how we both suffered and share feelings together, thank God today i was lucky to see this great spell caster on a site after seeing a lots of testimony and good work he have done in the lives of people helping them to get their ex husbands and wives renewing their relationship i was convinced and i contacted him and just in 7 days after the spell was caste my beloved husband came looking for me and right now we are together again and he is taking care of me and the little kids as his responsibilities and family. Once again thank you here are his contact to reach him. lovesolutiontemple1@ gmail. com or priestmanuka@ yahoo. com

    • Kvng

      Do you stilll have that contact information . Is it still the same

  17. Dreet Kishore

    Its a very pragmatic article, people really don’t understand why such a situation arises, like a mother blackmailing her son after marriage.
    Best way is to totally ignore the culprit if you want to be safe and away from mental torture.
    17, Sparrow Drive Princeton junction Princeton NJ

  18. Berkeley.Stanford

    No matter how many times you fail, you must face life and be full of hope

  19. Sue

    Thank you for the article. I’m in the process of breaking up with my boyfriend of four years and we live together. He has called me overly sensitive, not perfect and has dark moods whenever he is overwhelmed or anxious. I had to finally set a boundary with a consequence as just telling him “Don’t do “X” again because it makes me highly uncomfortable,” which wasn’t enough. So I said, “if you do it again it will be the end of our relationship.” Three months later, his compulsion couldn’t be resisted and now I’m sticking to my statement. Its the end of our relationship and I will go to counseling, or whatever is needed to make our separation happen like adults. Last night he said if I didn’t tell him there was hope for us to be together again in counseling, it wasn’t worth doing, and that if there was no hope he would rather not live. He has a method and said he would do it sometime when I wasn’t around. That was probably not the first time I was emotionally blackmailed, but it is the time that stuck with me and I realized this is not right. I called out for help and was told I am not responsible for what he chooses to do. This is really, really hard.

    • Sarah Blakebrough

      Hi Sue
      I’m in a really similar situation, but with children involved as well. I really empathise with what you’re going through and hope things get better for you soon. Happy to swap email addresses or something similar if you need someone to talk to.

  20. Jackie

    Thank you so much for posting this article. After reading this I feel empowered. For 29 years I have thought I was the issue with the relationship I have with my mother in law. I can honestly say that every paragraph relates to her behaviour. When I was reading your article I could not believe it, she gloats in making my brother in law cry; saying “as old as you are I can still make you cry” the result is that he runs out and buys her flowers! My sister in law (her daughter) who sadly is following in her footsteps was hurled abuse by her in the local supermarket with the outcry “you’re no daughter of mine” which followed by the usual tears that everyone immediately runs after her apologising, amazingly the crocodile tears stop immediately. Since reading this article I have followed your advise and encourage my husband (her son) to do the same. “I’ll talk to you when you are less angry”, It really does work, she doesn’t like it. You can see her thinking that she has not come up against this response before. I could write an assignment here about her behaviour and attitude. If you met this woman you would honestly think that I had made everything up as she comes across as a ‘sweet’ old lady, however, after you have formed a relationship with her you can see the web she is spinning to snare the next person, almost like a Venus fly catcher plant. It is not long until the relationship fails and the so called ‘new’ friend is never seen again. Strangely, it is never anything she has done….her comment is usually “they are jealous of everything I’ve got”. Thank you, thank you once again for sharing this. If I saw you I would give you a massive hug.

  21. Signs Of A Strong Woman In A Relationship

    hi there I really like the blog you have set up here. Thanks and keep up the great work!

  22. D. C.

    Thanks for the article.
    Every other line I had tears in my eyes, as so many phrases pointed to my own situation. My father is subsequently pushing me into a PhD. Firstly, it begun with little statements and comment like you should do that. But increased the pressure over time and already set up meetings with potential university staff to speak to me. Lately, he screamed at me why I am so resistant and crazy not to take this chance and throw away all my good grades. I am really scared of him, although I am a adult woman working in a job I love. But for me it feels like I do not even have the chance to put a break into his abusive relationship as he already put pressure on my mother as well. He does not talk to her for days if I don’t answer and comply to his requests, so that she calls me under tears why I can’t give him what he wants.
    This is such a terryfing situation.

    • Melanie

      I’m so sorry to read about your situation. Having come from a highly emotionally manipulative childhood, I can relate (although not the exact situation), to what you’re going through. I feel like your dad is needy and needs you to comply with his wishes to raise his self worth. The problem is that you end up with the one with low self worth because you are constantly having to pander to his needs. Find a good therapist, learn boundary setting communication and stand up for yourself. I won’t sugar coat it; it gets ugly and there is usually a lot of push back, but once your over ‘the other side’, it’s the most incredibly liberating experience ever. Have the courage to follow your heart. I believe in you and wish you the best of luck. x

  23. Lirim Seferi

    It’s was nice to read an article that one can relate to in some form. As a former psychology student from Sweden universities, I noticed this type of ‘blackmail’ in numerous situations not only in relationships . For the moment I live in north Macedonia and have noticed that some people around me complain from the pressure they receive from lenders of whom they have lent money from, with this said I saw a direct link to what your article explores namely emotional blackmail. Thus I can confidently say that emotional blackmail can also be explained through a case study involving the lender and the one who is lending as in most cases people don’t have the money to pay on time and the lender then uses this lateness and charges higher interest accompanied with treats (blackmail). There are many of these cases here and it would be interesting to make a case study …


    My sister is single, divorced twice, she constantly tries to emotionally blackmail me. Always says you will not understand what I want, you are happily married, have two children.
    She now has pick up fight with my daughter in law and son, who have just stopped talking to her. I was always a victim , always felling sorry for her, as she is single.
    She will fight, be angry and after making life hell for me, will be normal after a few hours.
    I feel sorry for her. She is very good at heart, but when she gets angry, she just does not know what she is saying. I will be permanently staying with her and my husband after a few months. I am scared, to be with her 24/7.I love her , she is mine own sister. But I am scared of her behavior.

  25. TC

    Thank you so much for this article.

    • rose

      I’m so sorry to bug you with a text, it’s just I’m delighted to write you and I also want to say you have a lovely profile picture… I would love to be friend with you but I feel it’s not right to send you a request without your permission, kindly add me up if you don’t mind ☺️


    I have a 34 year old son who does this to me. He is also bipolar and has PTSD. If I am actually afraid of him at times. If we are out and I don’t do as he says he will tell me to get out and walk home. I am handicapped, it’s a constant battle of I don’t have a vehicle I don’t have money to get one I’m in the process of getting a divorce my husband is an alcoholic and a narcissist but anyways I don’t have a vehicle so he takes me to the store and because he takes me to the store to maybe three times a week I am to pay for all of his gas for all of the vehicle repairs I am to pay for everything because I owe it to him because I need him to take me to the store or two doctors appointments if I don’t then the threat start and I either get threatened or he threatens to destroy things that are mine to the point of he says he will destroy my home which isn’t much

  27. Wayne s

    Wow very informational i didnt know what they called a narcissist that does all this to a victem. And now that I know thank you. Im a victem of a whole family and then some. Which is alot of other people involved. My family has been really sheisty as all of the above that you’ve mentioned. The more of a shadyness that is involved is the local police and C.I.A. The police never listen or write down my side of a story ever also ignores me. Not to mention when my so called dad told me to feed his chickens and i didnt so he beat my ass. So I called the police for child abuse cuz I was 13 and i never fought back and had scratch marks and blood showing. And i go to juvihall. Framed and so on throughout my life nothing but ignored by my whole family my whole life. When i go to talk in a convo with any of them they all would pretend to listen and when i go to ask what ive said they will only bring up a word or 2 of the first thing ive said. Not the last.like ive asked. They want me to listen to them but cant listen to me. But for the last 11years they all been getting really bad as in having their friends hack our home wifi just to hack my devices to steal my beats. As through them years ive heard all my beats on the radio and new unknown and we’ll known rap artist or singers. Now i see why my brother and mom got a fake document diagnosis of me. as my brother spreading around lies gaslighting people into believing his lies about me.Also family breaking into my room and stealing hard drives loaded with thousands of my beats and swapping pc’s, laptops, and many other things. Ive also noticed that my family would send me to a store so they can swap or steal a hard drive that i was in the process of backing up. And that she would hurry and hide somethin as ive walked out of my room to hers everytime and then she acts funny trying to cover up her watching me on a pin whole camera. As thats how she knew where exactly i put hard drives or storage devices and whatever they wanted. When i went outside or sent to a store to come back with them gone.Just as i quit making beats and ive noticed that when we didnt have wifi. And That their was a 100% wifi network and blutooth signal in my room that nobody will admit to. But couldn’t find anything in my room so i got a bug detector and it goes nuts at the wall of my so called moms closet. Which she denies but I know she’s lying. Ive noticed a change the last 4 years as each year got worse. As they drugged, poisined, me through the last year. My so called brother poked me with a needle as my arm swelled up for a week and hurt to where i can barely move it. He wouldnt show me what he poked me with as ive asked many times and more i asked more demanding, and he still wouldnt show me. But quickly left to his friends to where they did some kind of ritual with my blood. And later that night hell broke loose as ive started experiencing weird things that i didnt believe. And still dont as ive know ive was drugged with an hallucigens of some sort but wasnt actually sure. As some days ive experienced wanna be spirits and some didnt. After six months ive came to the conclusion after finding more hard drives and things gone with waking up with frequencies in my ear that i was drugged and now implanted. So ive called them out and said give back all my stuff and that i know you guys been drugging me. I said if you don’t give back all my stuff im gonna call the cops and tell them everything. And they threatened with a fake diagnosis document. I told them to go ahead alls your going to do is make more charges for yourself and that fraudulant document would be a felony. So that got them panicking but not enough to have them give all my stuff back. But to go to the main plotters that put them up to this all the next day. And when theyve came back they had so much confidant not to worry anymore. Until the next things theyve stolen from me. Which I told them the last time if they break into my room and stole from me again that ill call the cops. That didnt stop them. But they did it again. And as ive said give everything or im gonna call the cops. They all had the same thing to say back as they all said when i approached each individually.i will tell them your crazy or mental and that it takes 3 signatures to put you in a looney bin. Thats there plan to get by with stealing mine and my kids financial security without a punishment. not to mention i was gonna put my kids in college with it. i already seen half of my stuff in all their possessions throughout the years to the present of everything that turns up ,missing. Still stuck held down by these emotional blackmailers while im already been down for a long while financially, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

  28. Michael Morris

    Very useful when dealing with a relationship that I can now see was based on emotional blackmail. It will help me cope with the break up, or re-negotiate the relationship. Perhaps a Sheldon Cooper-style relationship agreement is a good idea after all!
    One criticism is the implication that emotional blackmail in relationships is the man blackmailing the woman. There is no evidence that this is the case. The Dunedin study actually found that women and men are equally manipulative, at least as far as physical violence is concerned.

    • J

      I agree the article seems very gyno-centric. It’s kind of creepy that every time I try to find help for abuse it’s always the male to blame. I’m tired and have given up on finding any help as a man from the mental health community.

  29. FMA

    Fantastic article. Extremely useful.
    Thank you so much ??

  30. Ramesh

    Extremely useful. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  31. sai

    I am suffering from auditory hallucinations and in them I am facing emotional blackmail. He is trying to control my thought and trying to spread his dominance.

  32. T.

    Very helpful article. Thank you so much.

  33. Bemotivator

    Nice article.Very good information thanks for sharing.

  34. Dannie

    a very interesting article, it was a really good read, thanks a lot!


Let us know your thoughts

Your email address will not be published.


Read other articles by their category

3 Positive Relationships Exercises Pack