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Emotional Blackmail

March 26, 2006

Emotional Blackmail

When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation and Guilt To Manipulate You

Author: Susan Forward PhD

Publisher: Harper Collins, New York

Copyright year: 1997

ISBN: 0-06-018757-3

Author bio and credits:

Susan Forward, Ph.D., is an internationally acclaimed therapist, lecturer, and author. Her books include the #1 NY Times bestsellers Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them and Toxic Parents, as well as Obsessive Love, Betrayal of Innocence, and Money Demons. She lives in Los Angeles.

Author’s Big Thought:


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. No matter how much they care about us, they use this intimate knowledge to win our compliance. This book offers a method to break this cycle for good by giving blackmail targets the tools they need and steps they can take.

Emotional blackmail is a powerful form of manipulation in which people who are close to us threaten, either directly or indirectly, to punish us to get what they want. Knowing that we want love or approval, blackmailers threaten to withhold it or take it away altogether, or make us feel we must earn it. If you believe the blackmailer, you could fall into a pattern of letting him/her control your decisions and behavior.


Blackmailers create a thick ?fog ? that obscures their actions. FOG is a shorthand way of referring to fear, Obligation and Guilt. Blackmailers pump up an engulfing FOG into their relationships, ensuring that we feel afraid to cross them, obligated to give them their way and terribly guilty if we don?t.


Blackmail takes two ? it is a transaction. Following clarity comes change. It?s easy to focus on other people?s behavior and to think that if they change things will be fine. The change has to begin with the blackmail target. Our compliance rewards the blackmailer, and every time we reward someone for a particular action, whether we realize it or not, we?re letting them know in the strongest possible terms that they can do it again. The price we pay when we repeatedly give in to emotional blackmail is enormous. It eats away at us and escalates until it puts our most important relationships and our whole sense of self-respect in jeopardy.



Diagnosis: Emotional blackmail

The issues may differ, but the tactics and actions will be the same, and clearly recognizable.

1.       A demand ? it may be direct or indirect and may not even sound like a demand until the blackmailer is set in the course of action and is not willing to discuss or change it.

2.       Resistance from the target.

3.       Pressure

4.       Threats

5.       Compliance

6.       Repetition?


Manipulation becomes emotional blackmail when it is used repeatedly to coerce us into complying with the blackmailers demands, at the expense of our own wishes and well being. When you see other people are trying to get their own way regardless of the cost to you, you?re looking at the bottom-line of the emotional blackmailer. There is little interest in compromise or conflict resolution.

The Four faces of Blackmail

Punishers ? let us know exactly what they ant, and the consequences we?ll face if we don?t give it to them, are the most glaring. They may express themselves aggressively or they may smolder in silence, but either way, the anger is always aimed directly at us. The closer the relationship, the higher the stakes ? and the more vulnerable we are to punishers. When blackmail escalates, the threatened consequences of not acceding to a punisher can be alarming: abandonment, emotional cutoff, withdrawal of money or other resources. Explosive anger directed at us. And, at the most terrifying extreme, threats of physical ham,


Self-punishers turn the threats inward threatening what the will do to themselves if they don?t get their way. High drama, hysteria and an air of crisis (precipitated by you, of course) surround self-punishers, who are often excessively needy and dependent. They often enmesh themselves with those around them and struggle with taking responsibility with their own lives. The ultimate threat self-punishers can make is frightening in the extreme: It?s a suggestion that they will kill themselves.


Sufferers are talented blamers and guilt-peddlers who make us figure out what they want, and always conclude that it is up to us to ensure they get it. Sufferers take the position that if they feel miserable, sick, unhappy, or are just plain unlucky, there?s only one solution: our giving them what they want ? even if they haven?t told us what it is. They let us know, in no uncertain terms, that if you don?t do what they want, they will suffer and it will be your fault. Sufferers are pre-occupied with how awful they feel, and often they interpret your inability to read their mind as proof that you don?t care enough about them.


Tantalizers put us through a series of test and hold out a promise of something wonderful if we?ll just give them their way. They are the subtlest blackmailers. They encourage us and promise love or money or career advancement, and then make it clear that unless we behave, as they want us to, we don?t get the prize. Every seductively wrapped package has a web of strings attached. Many tantalizers traffic in emotional payoffs, castles in the air full of love, acceptance, family closeness and healed wounds. Admission to this rich, unblemished fantasy requires only one thing: giving in to what the tantalizer wants.

Each type of blackmailer operates with a different vocabulary, and each gives a different spin to the demands, pressure, threats and negative judgments that go into blackmail. There are no firm boundaries between the styles of blackmail, as they can be combined.


A Blinding FOG

Emotional blackmail flourishes in a cloud just below the surface of our understanding. Our judgment becomes hazy. In the midst of the FOG we?re desperate to know: How did I get into this? How do I get out? How do I make these difficult feelings stop? When blackmailers pressure us, there is practically no time between feeling discomfort and acting to get relief.

The Real F-Word: Fear

Blackmailers build their conscious and unconscious strategies on the information we give them about what we fear. The blackmailers fear of not getting what they want becomes so intense that they become tightly focused, able to see the outcome they want in exquisite detail but unable to take their eyes of the goal long enough to see how their actions are affecting us. At that point, the information they?ve gathered about us in the course of the relationship becomes ammunition for driving home a deal that?s fed on both sides by fear., One of the most painful parts of emotional blackmail is that it violates the trust that has allowed us to reveal ourselves.



Often our ideas about duty and obligation are reasonable, and they form an ethical and moral foundation for our lives. Sometimes these are out of balance. Blackmailers never hesitate to put our sense of obligation to the test. Reluctance to break up a family keeps many people in relationships that have gone sour.? Most of us have a terrible time defining our boundaries ? when our sense of obligation is stronger than our sense of self-respect and self-caring; blackmailers quickly learn to take advantage.



Guilt is an essential part of being a feeling, responsible person. It?s a tool of conscience., in its distorted form, registers discomfort and self-reproach if we?ve done something to violate our personal or social code of ethics. One of the fastest ways for blackmailers to create undeserved guilt is to use blame, actively attributing whatever upset or problems they?re having to their targets. Once blackmailers see that their target?s guilt can serve them, time becomes irrelevant. There is no statute of limitations.? Guilt is the blackmailer?s neutron bomb. It can leave

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kerri permalink
    March 27, 2006 3:17 am

    Thanks for leaving your comments on ‘my space’.  They have been truly helpful.  I will go get the book, and read it.  You know what they say, if something keeps coming up, there must be a lesson in it somewhere.  A few months ago I lost my best friend because of this issue, and now that it’s coming up again, I’m a little concerned, and know that it must be a ‘me’ issue.  Anyways, thanks again.

  2. ☺freedom☺ permalink
    March 30, 2006 2:11 am

    I’m just bored and wandering around aimlessly.
    I swear you just blogged about my ex-mother in law and my ex-husband.  So very VERY true!!  Wow!  your space has a lot of great stuff.  Keep at it!!
    Take it easy…

  3. sandi permalink
    March 30, 2006 2:45 am

    Hey, thanks for your visit to my Space…One of my favourites books is "Toxic People" also by Susan Forward…she is a great author….rock on.

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