7 signs of emotional blackmail and how to stop toxic behavior

emotional blackmail

Emotional blackmail can affect people’s mental health, so it is important to know how to identify it, as well as what types exist, what are the most common phrases said by those who do it, and how to stop toxic behavior and relationships. To do so, keep reading and check out what psychologist Karyne Santiago has to say on the subject.

What is emotional blackmail

The psychologist comments that “emotional blackmail is characterized as psychological pressure. Basically it is when an individual manipulates situations to obtain psychological benefits from someone, whether they are emotional, material or cognitive in nature.”

In addition, she also explains that through behavior, speech, and actions that have a threatening tone, sometimes veiled, the person who commits this type of blackmail awakens in the victim a feeling of guilt, remorse, fear, and insecurity. The relationship ends up being based on realizations and punishments, causing much psychological suffering to the victim.

Different Types of Emotional Blackmail

emotional blackmail

Karyne also teaches that more than one type of emotional blackmail exists. It is important to know them, because each one has different nuances. Check out more details below:

Blackmail based on the promise of a reward

the psychologist explains that this is the famous “if you do something for me, I’ll give you what you want”. It may seem harmless, but when it comes to blackmail, one must always be careful. She also comments that in this type of blackmail, the manipulator tends to use kindness as a ploy to get what he wants. In addition, it is common for him to postpone and not fulfill his part of the deal, consequently causing damage to the victim.

Negative blackmail based on victimization

this is very common. It happens when the emotional blackmailer, in order to get what he wants, puts himself in the position of a misunderstood victim, arousing the feeling of pity and guilt of the one being manipulated.


The professional explains that “it is a type of blackmail that occurs when the manipulator distorts information, making the victim believe that she is wrong and/or that she needs psychological help, awakening countless doubts and much emotional suffering”.

Relationships blackmail

according to Karyne, when one talks about emotional blackmail, it is very common to think of a love relationship. In these cases, the dynamics of the relationship revolves around the threat of a supposed end. The blackmailer will almost always put the couple’s union at risk, while the victim usually feels obliged to do what she doesn’t want to do in order not to lose her love.

Maternal blackmail

The victimization is common. Karyne says that “many times, without realizing it, the mother puts herself in a position of fragility, of victim, of misunderstood person, awakening the feeling of pity and guilt on the part of the child”. In addition, she also says that this type of blackmailing can occur both in childhood and in the adolescence and adult life of the children. And she also believes that the most important thing is to be careful when communicating, especially with children. Phrases that seem harmless such as “if you do such and such a thing I will be sad” is a form of emotional manipulation.

Blackmail based on punishment

it is when the blackmailer, be it in the family, professional, loving or social sphere, uses threats of punishment if the victim does not carry out his or her will. The damage in question can be effective, physical or material, and places the victim in a position of obligation.

Blackmail based on self-punishment

the psychologist explains that this type “occurs when the manipulator creates a distorted situation, emphasizing a supposed concern for the victim, making the victim believe that she will cause herself harm if she doesn’t perform something specific.

Like the professional explained, it is common for us to associate blackmailing only with love relationships. However, they can happen in any relational sphere, be it family, love, or even among a friendship.

How do you identify emotional blackmail?

emotional blackmail

Knowing what types of emotional blackmail are, it is easier to understand how to start identifying one. The professional commented on signs that, if well observed, can help identify blackmail:

Lack of empathy

Karyne says that “emotional blackmailers are usually people with a low capacity for empathy. They tend to be extremely self-centered and focused on their own feelings and desires, so they can’t put themselves in the other person’s shoes.

Distortion of facts

In addition, she comments that another characteristic of these people is their tendency to distort the facts. To avoid taking responsibility for something, they often manipulate information in order to change the context of things and get rid of the blame.

Blame other people

speaking of blame, the psychologist teaches that this is also a characteristic of an emotional blackmailer. In their manipulations, they commonly arouse the victim’s feelings of guilt to get what they want, which occurs a lot through the distortion of facts.


” Blackmailers often put themselves in a victim position in order to get what they want. As they are extremely self-centered, they emphasize their supposed suffering and constantly put themselves in a position of being misunderstood and unhappy,” says Karyne.

Lack of responsibility for affection

another characteristic of emotional manipulators is that they lack affective responsibility. “It’s as if they can’t understand the pain or suffering of the other person and almost always minimize or belittle it, devaluing others’ feelings,” emphasizes the psychologist.

Unstable mood

they usually have an unstable mood. When they can’t get what they want, the professional comments that “the emotional blackmailer can quickly change their mood, showing themselves irritated and upset in order to make the other person accept their desire”.

Passive-aggressive behaviors

finally, Karyne says that they present passive-aggressive behaviors. In social situations, for example, the emotional blackmailer may make offensive comments subtly in jest, in order to “attack” the victim in some way.

What are the most common phrases said by emotional blackmailers?

  • “Are you sure I said that? I would never say that kind of thing.”
  • “After all I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me?”
  • “It wasn’t me, you must have done it yourself.”
  • “Oh, but you can’t even do that for me?”
  • “You’ll regret it if you do that!”
  • “Look what you made me do!”
  • “I don’t know if we’re going to work out if you keep doing this.”

Phrases like these can do emotional damage to anyone. Therefore, it is important to know how to deal with emotional blackmail and also when it is time to ask for help. And that is what Karyne teaches in the next topic.

How to deal with emotional blackmail?

emotional blackmail

Karyne comments that “emotional blackmail is not always easy to identify. In the daily life of a relationship, whatever it may be, many actions go unnoticed, but still end up leading to individual wear and tear and personal suffering.” But still, she advises that some things can help in identifying these behaviors, such as:

Reflect on

Karyne suggests it is important to “do some self-analysis to reflect on your behavior and the behavior of the other person. Understand if within your relationship you are doing certain things because you really want to, or because of what the person awakens in you (usually in a negative way).”

Listen to those who care about you

Learn to listen to those on the outside. Karyne comments that, “as already mentioned, emotional blackmail is often difficult for the victim to identify, so it is important to know how to listen to some outside opinions that may be seeing situations and behaviors that you are not.

Learn to say no

Be courageous enough to say no. The psychologist explains that saying no is seen by many people as something bad, but there are situations that require this negative. The “no” is the imposition of limits that needs to exist in any relationship, after all, it is through this that the other will understand what you like or dislike, what is good for you or not, thus delimiting a relationship of respect and empathy.

Understand the manipulator’s tactics

The professional also advises us to understand the tactics used by the manipulator. “Understanding better the outlines of emotional blackmail will make it easier for you to see when it’s happening and how to stop it,” she says.

Stay away from blackmailers

Stay away from the manipulative person for the sake of your mental health. These people will hardly take over and change their behaviors, which will continue to generate psychological suffering for you.

Get professional help

The psychologist teaches that emotional blackmail causes marks and traumas, both while it occurs and afterwards. The neutral space of psychotherapy, with reflections and venting, helps both in the process of identifying emotional blackmail in a relationship and in reducing psychological suffering. Besides this, she also comments “it is extremely important that the victim is able to develop maturity and emotional independence to get rid of those who cause him/her harm.

Report this

Karyne teaches that “emotional blackmail is a crime foreseen in the Maria da Penha Law and in the Penal Code, and it carries a penalty of 6 months to 2 years of confinement. She also comments that the paragraph that concerns psychological violence was modified in July 2021 and states:

“Any conduct that causes him emotional damage and diminished self-esteem, or that harms and disturbs his full development or that aims to degrade or control his actions, behaviors, beliefs, and decisions, through threat, embarrassment, humiliation, manipulation, isolation, constant surveillance, contumacious persecution, insult, blackmail, violation of his intimacy, ridicule, exploitation, and limitation of the right to come and go, or any other means that causes damage to his psychological health and self-determination.”

Emotional blackmail is a serious matter and can be present in many types of relationships. That is why it is so important to know how to identify it, how to deal with it, and, mainly, to ask for professional help when necessary. Take advantage and understand a little more about how psychotherapy works.