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Emotional Blackmail


According to the book “Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You” (Forward & Frazier, 1988.). 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

  • Possible identities: parents, partners, bosses, co-workers, friends or lovers

  • Know how much we value our relationships with them

  • Know our vulnerabilities and deepest secrets

  • Use our compliance to win the pay-off they want

They may not be aware of their act and may even regard it as a communication device to show their care for the relationship. Thus, they make demands due to the fear of abandonment and scarcity of confidence, but their purpose may not be intentional in wanting to cause harm to people they love.

Emotional hot buttons

These are strong, negative emotional reactions (e.g., irritation and despair) to people or situations that touch on old emotional wounds, such as self-doubt, feeling out of control, or the pressure of expectations. They are one of the key factors in forming our personality.

Emotional blackmail sufferers

Emotional blackmailers fully grasp the emotional hot buttons of sufferers. They manipulate and pressure the sufferers by pushing their emotional hot buttons.

The volatile nature of our emotional hot buttons has real—and harmful—implications in our lives. Getting pushed frequently, they sabotage every aspect of our lives, from our feelings about ourselves to our school or work efforts to our relationships.

Essential factor - responding to emotional blackmail is one’s determination



  • Have patience with each other and understand that everybody makes mistakes

  • Actively listen to each other

  • Be thoughtful and careful not to hurt each other’s feelings


  • “If you do not meet my demand, you are destroying our friendship/family connection/any relationship.”

  • Project blame on a person for everything that has happened

  • Ignore and give a person the silent treatment


  • Establish and respect boundaries in a relationship

  • Treat disagreements with each other decently and express any problems to keep the relationship peaceful and healthy


  • Demand to know where the other person is at all times

  • Act like they own that person

2. Start a conversation

It depends on the circumstances, where you feel emotionally and physically safe doing so. A conversation can help increase the awareness of blackmailers that their words are adversely affecting your mental state. For example, you can express how their words or behaviours make you feel, and suggest to them how to change those behaviours that you feel more comfortable with.

Note: Identifying emotional blackmail requires observation and thorough understanding of it. You should be careful with identifying emotional blackmail. If you consider all demands from others as blackmail, you will lose a lot of valuable suggestions and relationships.


Forward, S. & Frazier, D. (1998) Emotional blackmail: When the people in your life use fear, obligation, and guilt to manipulate you.


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