Emotional blackmail is a form of psychological manipulation in which one person attempts to coerce another into doing what he wants through the use of emotional threats and the creation of undeserved guilt. People often commit emotional blackmail by threatening to harm themselves, their victim, or someone else if the victim does not provide them with the type of attention that they want. An emotional blackmailer may also simply demonstrate strong, frightening, and inappropriate emotions if their victim makes or considers a decision that the blackmailer does not like. As a result, the victim of emotional blackmail will often give in to the blackmailer in order to avoid being subject to an emotional meltdown or being made to feel responsible for the blackmailer's threatened consequences.
In the course of most relationships, it is not uncommon for one party to occasionally push the buttons of the other in order to get what he or she wants from that person. Many emotional blackmailers take this all-too-human tendency to an extreme and make it a hallmark of their interactions with others. Instead of recognizing that their needs and desires do not always coincide with those belonging to others and that negotiation and compromise are necessary in healthy human relationships, they practice emotional blackmail in an attempt to get others to do what they want. A simple form of emotional blackmail is the individual who sulks, whines, or rages when she does not get her own way. Her reaction is so unpleasant to her victim that the victim will acquiesce to the blackmailer's demands in order to avoid having to deal with her toxic emotional state.
As the psychological abuse continues, the blackmail can become more blatant, with the threatened consequences of non-submission becoming more severe. For example, an emotional blackmailer may threaten to commit suicide if his victim refuses to stay home or come visit him right away. If the emotional blackmailer has an addiction or a history of criminal behavior, he may threaten resuming substance abuse or other negative behaviors if his victim refuses to take him in or otherwise meet his needs. Some emotional blackmailers are very sophisticated and will threaten their victims with consequences that they know their victims to find extremely painful. An emotional blackmailer may tell his victim that he will start rumors about her or reveal a family secret if she is noncompliant with his demands.
Those caught up in a cycle of emotional blackmail often benefit from counseling and psychotherapy. A goal of this treatment should be training the victim to recognize the warning signs and verbal characteristics of emotional blackmail in order to respond appropriately. Victims need to learn ways to not get caught up in the cycle of emotional blackmail and to set boundaries with those around them.