6 Alarming Signs Of Emotional Blackmail From Family (And How To Respond To Them)


Emotional Blackmail From Family: Warning Signs and How To Handle It

Emotional blackmail is a dysfunctional form of manipulation that aims to get a victim to behave a certain way by employing tactics of shame, guilt, or threats. It’s essential to be able to recognize the behaviors associated with emotional blackmail, especially when it comes to your family, so you can protect yourself from being mistreated.

If you suspect that you are a victim of emotional blackmail from family members, keep reading to identify the signs and ways to handle it. But first, let’s see how emotional blackmailing works.

How does emotional blackmailing work?

The term “emotional blackmail” was coined by Susan Forward, Ph.D., in her book Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You (Forward & Frazier, 1998). In her book, she explains how abusers use emotional blackmail to get what they want by making threats and placing demands.

These tactics create feelings of fear, guilt, and anger, making their victims comply. Essentially, the abuser shifts the blame and responsibility for their own negative actions onto the victim.

emotional blackmail from family
6 Alarming Signs Of Emotional Blackmail From Family (And How To Respond To Them)

Emotional blackmail usually happens in close relationships, like within families. The way it works is pretty insidious: the abuser identifies your vulnerabilities, applies emotional pressure, and then demands you do what they want. It’s a way for them to shield themselves from their own insecurities and maintain control over the relationship.

Signs of emotional blackmail from family members

Recognizing the signs of emotional blackmail from family is the first step to taking back your power. Watch out for these signs if you are worried that you might be a victim of emotional blackmail from family members:

1. They shame you

Emotional blackmailers love to guilt and shame their victims. Take this classic example: “You don’t love your mother anymore; you never come visit.” Sure, it sounds like a mom just wants to see her child more, but the way it’s said is pretty manipulative. It’s immature and dumps a load of unnecessary shame on the child.

Shame is a powerful tool in manipulation. When we feel bad about ourselves, we’re more likely to let others control us. If someone makes you feel guilty or ashamed to get their way, they’re probably using emotional blackmail to manipulate you.

Read More: Are You Carrying The Debt Of Your Family Karma? 5 Signs

2. They exaggerate the harm you have caused

What do you think would be a reasonable response to breaking a vase in a healthy family? They might be a bit annoyed, but they’d understand it was an accident and eventually forgive you. But with an emotional blackmailer, it’s a whole different story. One of the most common signs of emotional blackmail is exaggerating the harm you have done.

They’d spin the accident into a personal attack, making you feel like you did it on purpose to hurt them. Then, they’d go on and on about how deeply it affected them, piling on the guilt and shame to use against you later. It’s all part of their strategy to keep you under their thumb.

3. They give you the silent treatment

If you don’t do what an emotional blackmailer wants, they might give you the silent treatment. This passive-aggressive move is all about gaining control. They might stop talking to you or ignore your calls and texts. It might not sound like a huge deal, but when it’s someone as important as a family member, it can be incredibly frustrating and hurtful. They know exactly how to push your buttons and keep you on edge.

emotional blackmail from family
6 Alarming Signs Of Emotional Blackmail From Family (And How To Respond To Them)

4. They manipulate you into changing your behavior

The ultimate goal of blackmail is to get the victim to do what the abuser wants. Most abusers will go to extreme lengths to achieve this. They might try to sap your self-worth, threaten you, or make you feel guilty or ashamed. The whole point is to change your behavior so that they don’t have to deal with their own emotions or work to get what they want.

5. They’re constantly offering ultimatums

Ultimatums are often a last-ditch effort to manipulate someone who’s resisting. It’s like when someone says, “If you don’t do this, I’ll do that” – for example, “If you don’t let me use the TV to watch my show, I’ll turn off our cable, and neither of us can watch anything.” These tactics work because they demand immediate action, threatening an extreme consequence if you don’t comply.

6. They threaten to harm themselves if you do not agree to their demands

Another archetype of emotional blackmailers is the self-punisher. These people often threaten to harm themselves to get you to do what they want. For instance, they might say, “If you spend time with your friends, I’ll be so lonely I’ll self-harm.”

emotional blackmail from family
6 Alarming Signs Of Emotional Blackmail From Family (And How To Respond To Them)

Usually, there’s little chance they’ll actually follow through, but it’s tough to ignore when you care about them. This makes it hard to resist, even if it means sacrificing your own happiness.

How to deal with emotional blackmail from family

Dealing with emotional blackmail from family can be incredibly challenging. But it’s important you find a way out of this situation. And do it in a way that does not affect you later. Here are five ways that might help you deal with emotional blackmail from family:

1. Identify the signs

The first step towards dealing with emotional blackmail is recognizing that it is happening. The common signs of emotional blackmail often involve manipulation tactics like guilt-tripping, threats, and making you feel responsible for their happiness. It is important that you recognize these signs early on so you can protect yourself against these behaviors before the damage is done.

If a family member says something like, “If you really loved me, you’d do this.” Yeah, that is a red flag. Once you understand these patterns, it helps you see through the manipulation and prepares you to respond appropriately.

2. Set clear boundaries

Setting boundaries can be difficult for some of us but it is absolutely essential when dealing with emotional blackmail, especially from a family member. Setting boundaries is all about defining what you will and won’t tolerate.

This might mean saying, “I can’t discuss this right now,” or “I need you to respect my decision.” You need to start adding these sentences to your everyday expressions in order to protect your emotional well-being. Always remember that it is okay to prioritize your mental health, even if it feels uncomfortable at first.

Read More: Is Your Relationship Sucking The Life Out Of You? 9 Signs Of An Emotionally Draining Relationship

3. Stay calm and composed

When faced with emotional blackmail, staying calm is key. I understand that it’s easy to get defensive or upset in the heat of the moment, but reacting emotionally can often give the manipulator more power. And we don’t want that.

So take deep breaths and give yourself a moment to think before responding. Or say something like, “I need some time to think about this,” to give yourself a break from the immediate pressure and to respond more thoughtfully later.

4. Use assertive communication

Assertive communication is about expressing your needs and feelings clearly and respectfully. Instead of accusing them, “You’re always trying to manipulate me,” you could say something like, “I feel uncomfortable when you say things like that because it feels like you’re trying to control my decisions.” This way, you’re not accusing them, but instead expressing how you feel. It’s a powerful yet subtle way to take control of the conversation without escalating it.

5. Seek professional help

Sometimes, dealing with emotional blackmail on your own can be overwhelming. Don’t hesitate to seek support from friends, other family members, or a professional therapist. Talking to someone outside the situation can help you see things in a different light and provide you with a safe space to release your emotions.

A therapist can help you develop strategies according to your specific situation and give you the tools to handle future incidents more effectively.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with emotional blackmail from family members is a process. It’s about gradually building up the confidence to say no to their demands and the ability to handle manipulative behaviors. And most importantly, it’s about protecting your emotional health and peace of mind.

If something is bothering you constantly, take it up with them and let them know that their actions have hurt you. Make sure that they acknowledge your efforts and express their needs without belittling you. If this doesn’t change things, don’t hesitate to reach out to a counselor or a therapist.

Read More: 5 Types Of Emotional Vampires: How To Identify Them and Protect Yourself

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What should I do when if my parents hurt me emotionally?

If your parents hurt you emotionally, try to communicate your feelings to them if you feel safe doing so. Let them know that their actions have caused you pain. If you want to vent, seek support from your trusted friends and family members, or a counselor who specializes in familial matters.

How do respond to toxic family members?

When dealing with toxic family members, the best thing you can do is limit contact. But of course, you cannot avoid them forever, so set clear boundaries, learn how to say no, and prioritize your well-being. Do not give them the power over your emotions.

How to protect yourself from emotional blackmail from family?

To protect yourself from emotional blackmail from family, start by setting clear boundaries and standing firm. Stay calm and don’t give in to their demands. It’s also really helpful to talk to friends or a therapist for support when dealing with emotional blackmail. You don’t have to handle it alone!

how to deal with emotional blackmail from family
6 Alarming Signs Of Emotional Blackmail From Family (And How To Respond To Them)

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