The interpersonal relationships always create very complex constraints, sometimes difficult to handle. Sometimes our interests and needs do not coincide with those of the others, so to achieve our goals we must resort to manipulative behaviors that could be classified as emotional blackmail.
Likewise, there may be people who adopt emotional blackmail as their favorite relational strategy, always putting our backs against the wall or making us feel bad because we are the “bad guys”.
In some cases it is easy to recognize the emotional blackmailer because it uses coarse techniques, more typical of a commercial transaction than of an interpersonal relationship. The typical mercantilist blackmail is a perfect example of it, because before giving, the person asks for something in return, or decides not to give anything because feels defrauded, and so punish us emotionally.
However, there are other forms of emotional blackmail that are much subtle and harder to recognize that can lead us to a blind alley or, worse, affect deeply our self-esteem.
The subtle types of emotional blackmail
1. The elephant in the room
The concept of “elephant in the room” is a metaphorical expression used to refer to an idea or important fact that persists in the thought of all the people involved, but nobody mentions it and everyone avoids it. In these cases, the people involved pretend to live an absurd normality, but since it is impossible to “ignore an elephant in the room,” everything is so unnatural that is clear that there is something wrong, a conflict at the base that is repressed
This phenomenon can become a sort of emotional blackmail when one person refuses to face an important issue to resolve, but with his attitude contaminates constantly the atmosphere, leaving the matter pending, as if it were a cloud above us that never leaves.
Basically, this person is trying to make us feel guilty because he is making clear, without using words, his discomfort and disagreement. In fact, refusing to address the issue, it only extends and aggravates the conflict.
The Gaslighting is a type manipulation common in situations of abuse, but is so subtle that many people do not notice it. It consists of making sure that the other person doubts of his mental abilities, distorting the reality so that he cannot really understand what’s going on and get rid of emotional blackmail.
In these cases, the emotional blackmailer can invent false memories with which he or she blames the victim, so that he feels bad with himself, or can persuade the person to do something, saying that he had promised to do it when it’s not true.
Therefore, we can think it is impossible to fall into his net. But the problem is that this blackmailer builds his network little by little and we don’t notice it. First of all, it gains our trust and becomes indispensable, only then begins to undermine our confidence in ourselves by offering us its distorted vision of the reality.
3. Blackmail for “need”
Some people try to blackmail others by using their needs. These blackmailers do not hesitate to let us know their needs and make them look so obvious and “basic”, ending up making us feel bad if we do not help them.
They prepare their speech in such a way that their requests seem very reasonable, and if we do not contribute to meet those “imperative” needs, we feel guilty. They are persons who “always cry for misery”, although their situation is likely to be far less dramatic than ours.
In fact, the problem is that neither these needs are so basic, nor this is the only way to satisfy them and, above all, their needs are usually countless. These people will always ask for more and more, without taking into account our needs, until they can completely empty us.
Punishing the others is one of the most common forms of emotional blackmail, because it is a simple manipulation strategy that has a strong emotional impact. But it is also very easy to spot, so it’s harder to fall into its net.
On the contrary, self-punishment is a more subtle type of emotional blackmail. Basically, the person assumes the role of a martyr or victim, in order to make the other feel bad. He will not punish us, but will punish himself and can even pretend to feel suffering and pain.
A common example of self-punishment is when someone pretends to be sacrificing for us, but in reality is just doing a long-term investment, because he has in mind of asking us to return the sacrifice with the interests.
5. Protective Control
This kind of emotional blackmail is common in some couple relationships and those that some parents set up with their children. In practice, one of the persons becomes the “protector” of the other. The problem is that this protection represents a total control.
We do not realize this emotional blackmail because the other person masks himself with good intentions, and is also likely that is true, but with his attitude tries to create an emotional addiction to dominate the other.
The problem is that any attempt to question such a protecting and controlling attitude is in contrast with the well-being of the relationship. In that moment, the blackmailer will make us look as a ungodly person who does not recognize everything he has done for us.