Tips for knowing how to deal with situations in which someone tries to emotionally blackmail us.
It has happened to all of us to hear more than once “If you loved me, you would do it”, “you will hurt me a lot if you let me”, “yes… I always do everything wrong, oh, how unhappy I am!” and other phrases of the like, said by family, friends and partner.
If when a loved one wants us to do something we do not want but makes us feel guilty for not doing it, perhaps we are facing a case of emotional blackmail, something that we must stop now.
Next, we are going to understand a little more what emotional manipulators do in order to know how to deal with emotional blackmail.
How to deal with emotional blackmail?
Emotional blackmail can be defined as the more or less subtle act of control from one person to another done in the form of psychological violence. Normally, the person who perpetrates this type of emotional violence is a loved one, such as a mother, brother, girlfriend, husband or even trusted friends. The emotional blackmailer uses different actions to try to control the behavior of his victim, without allowing him to choose an option that benefits both and, if he ignores him, there will be consequences.
Threats, intimidation, playing the victim or harshly criticizing the person they are trying to manipulate are just some of the techniques that emotional blackmailers use to achieve their purposes, always at the cost of the mental health and emotional stability of their victims. Fortunately, there are all kinds of strategies that allow us to deal with these types of situations.
How to detect an emotional blackmailer?
The emotional blackmailer uses all kinds of tricks to get what he wants from his victim. He tries and insists on making his victim, be it the partner, a friend or a family member, do what he or she wants, even if this puts the victim in a commitment. It leaves him no other option and, in an exercise of deep selfishness and lack of empathy, the manipulator only focuses on achieving what he sets out to do, without seeing the psychological abuse he is exercising.
We cannot face an emotional blackmailer without first detecting it, and below we will see some of the behaviors and situations that occur in an episode of emotional blackmail.
1. Unfair and insatiable demands
As we mentioned, emotional blackmailers often have demands that go against the needs, desires and rights of their victim. They don’t care how many times the victim has satisfied their selfish demands: they are not satisfied.
2. Heavy and insistent
If he wants us to do him a favor, the blackmailer is not going to stop insisting. He remains firm in his wishes, even if it causes us to waste our time and health and, if we tell him that we do not think like him or she or that we do not want to do what he tells us, he will give us a real war until we get tired and give in to his wishes.
If we do not obey what he tells us, there are several emotional responses that he can manifest, although the majority will be disappointment and anger. He will cry, argue, complain and do all kinds of unpleasant actions so that we are the ones who get off the donkey.
3. They misrepresent the words
The manipulator is a specialist in twisting words when he does not want to take responsibility. If we want to defend our rights and we tell him that what he asks of us does not seem fair, he will automatically assume the role of victim “(we are the victims!) And will try to make us remember all the bad things we have done to him. It may be true what he reproaches us, but of course it is not an argument for us to violate our own rights to satisfy him.
4. Threat with consequences
Although they are not always direct threats, every emotional blackmailer warns that there will be negative consequences if we do not obey them. They can exaggerate the consequences of an exaggerated decision, threatening all the pain and suffering that you will feel or that we ourselves will also experience. You can even threaten not to speak to us because of a genuine banality.
5. They underestimate the problems of others.
The manipulator is not interested in his victim’s problems, however serious they may be. As it is considered the center of the world, its problems are ahead of ours. If we try to share with her some bad drink that we are going through, she will ignore us and try to divert attention to her supposed problems, however banal and stupid they may be. Their problems are added to ours.
6. They know our weak points
The blackmailer is a skilled emotional reader, knows the weak points of his victim and puts his finger on the wound. He is not empathetic but of course he knows how to use our emotions very well, using them for his own benefit and trying to manipulate us.
He can tell us things like that we are his saviors and that if we ignore him, he will be condemning him to suffer a lot. You can also do the opposite, tell us that we are useless and bad people and that it was already expected that we would not help you. Any weak point is worth to manipulate us.
7. Pushy and rigid
They always want to be right and get very upset when they advise or contradict them: they take it as a personal attack. In their mental world they are always the ones who are right and at the least that someone contradicts them they interpret it as insulting their intelligence.
As a counterattack they make an effort to nullify the opinion of the other or, even, they can make comments suggesting that we are the wrong ones, for example “yes, I do everything wrong, that I am not capable of doing anything, you are the perfect ”Even if we have only criticized him in a respectful and polite way.
8. They change their mood easily
Emotional manipulators change their mood extremely quickly, since they use this expression of emotions according to the context, according to their interests. In a moment they can be happy and satisfied and, absolutely short of time, they begin to cry, get angry or yell. If things don’t go their way, they make sure to be as irruptive as possible so they can gain control of the situation.
9. They make you feel guilty
If we resist the demands of the blackmailer it is very likely that he will do everything possible to make us feel guilty. He will tell us that we never help him, that we are bad people, that for one thing he asks us we say no and other falsehoods. They are all lies because it is not the first time he has asked us for something and, as manipulated as we are, we have fallen into his trap.
How to protect ourselves from this type of manipulation?
When we enter a circle of emotional blackmail, it is going to be difficult for us to get out of it, but we should not give up because we can. Of course, we will need to be clear about things and make an effort to fall into the selfish and absurd demands of our manipulator. Only by having a cool head and well focused on our goal of prioritizing our rights ahead of the whims of those who claim to be a loved one can we free ourselves from their tyrannical insistence.
Before learning how to protect ourselves from emotional blackmail, we must be clear that the person who exercises it normally does so because they are afraid of losing something that, ironically, is spoiling the relationship. Emotional manipulation often hides fear of abandonment, an expression of personal insecurity, and low self-confidence. Bearing this in mind, we must not soften: no matter how badly this has happened, it does not justify the damage it is doing to us.
We must avoid blaming ourselves, since it is the main weapon of the manipulator. The emotional blackmailer makes us feel guilty to exploit our weaknesses and get what he wants. It is in a certain way understandable that we feel guilty for not satisfying their desires, but before thinking about it further, we must reflect: if we satisfy their demands, do we violate our rights? Is what you ask for unjustified? If the answer to this is yes then we have no reason to feel bad about ignoring you.
Another way to deal with it is to focus on the manipulator. It may seem counterproductive and, in fact, gives the feeling that we are falling into his blackmail, but it is the ideal weapon to turn the situation against him. By listening to what he asks of us and, little by little, shifting the focus of attention to him, we can make him reflect on how just his demands are. If he understands what is happening, he is likely to reconsider and leave us alone.
We can use time to our advantage when the emotional blackmailer makes unreasonable requests of us. It is common for him to ask us for an immediate commitment because he knows that, if we reflect with a cold mind and with time, we will not give in on his request. So a good strategy is to confuse him by saying that we will think about it. Let’s take our time to weigh the pros and cons and, if we can, trust that you will forget about your absurd request.
It is essential to learn is to be assertive and acquire the healthy ability to say clearly “No”. One of our fundamental rights is to put ourselves ahead of others, as long as it does not mean hurting them. If you ask us for something and we do not want to do it, saying politely, kindly but clearly “No” is the best way. Naturally, at first he will do to us everything that an emotional blackmailer does in this situation but, if he repeats it on other occasions, there will be a moment when he will tire and we will stop being his victim.
Finally, if he is one of those who threatens us with “don’t do it, yourself, watch out for the consequences” we are going to confuse him by telling him that we expect them. We must show him that we are not afraid of what may happen and that, if something has to happen, as long as it is not terribly serious, let it happen.
Also, if he insists on the alleged negative consequences of not obeying him, just ask him what those consequences are. On many occasions they do not even know them and, when we put them against the sword and the wall, they see that they have lost their power.
Emotional blackmail, no matter how slight, is psychological abuse. We shouldn’t do it, and we shouldn’t tolerate it being done to us. If our partner, friends or family ask us for things that, if we do not want to do them, make us feel guilty, threaten us with supposed terrible consequences or highlight the bad things we have done other times, they are hurting us. We are victims of psychological abuse that we must put an end to.
It is through the different strategies that we have discussed that we can break the vicious circle of emotional blackmail. With determination, having things clear and knowing how to say “no” we can make the person who has told us so insistently about their problems and ignored ours to realize how abusive they have been. Others, unfortunately, will never realize it, either because they have a mental disorder that prevents them or because they are really bad people. In that case, the best thing is to break the relationship and save yourself from its toxic influence.
DeGue, S. and DiLillo, D. (2005). “You would if you loved me”: Toward an improved conceptual and etiological understanding of nonphysical male sexual coercion. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 10, 513-532.
Muñoz-Rivas, MJ, Graña, JL, O’Leary, KD, and González, P. (2007). Physical and psychological aggression in dating relationships in Spanish university students. Psicothema, 19, 102-107.