What Is Emotional Blackmail? Here’s How To Spot The Toxic Behavior.

This type of manipulation from partners, friends and family can incite fear and guilt. Here’s what it looks like and how to confront it.

Let’s say you’re in a romantic relationship. You have shared a dog with your partner for five years, but the dog is technically your partner’s dog; he adopted it six months before you got together. You love this dog, and during a particularly heated argument with your significant other, he says, “If you leave me, you’ll never see the dog again.”

This is just one example of emotional blackmail, which Karla Ivankovich, a clinical counselor based in Chicago, said is when “someone close to us uses the things they know about us against us as a means of harm or manipulation.” Usually, the manipulator uses fear, guilt or obligation to get what they want.

The concept of emotional blackmail was popularized by psychotherapist Susan Forward in the late 1990s. It can exist in the context of a romantic relationship or any relationship where the ties are close-knit. It’s not always a sign the relationship is doomed and over, but it can be indicative of a very unhealthy dynamic if it persists.

What Emotional Blackmail Looks Like


Some forms of emotional blackmail can be overt and shocking, according to Darlene Lancer, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of “Conquering Shame and Codependency.”

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