Cultivating healthy relationships: How to break the cycle of emotional blackmail

The purpose of the next couple of posts is to explain how to deal with the more difficult cases.  In this post we will talk about how to break the cycle of emotional blackmail, and in the following posts we will discuss knowing how and when to get out of dysfunctional relationships and how to bring out the best in ourselves and others.

Emotional blackmail is when somebody applies an emotional penalty against us when we don’t do what they want us to do.  It is only a problem if we are inclined to change our behavior as a result of the emotional penalty they apply.  In other words, if we were planning on acting in the way the other person wants us to regardless of the emotional penalty they are threatening, then it is a non-issue and not worth responding to.  Better to just ignore it and do our thing.

The most important thing to know about blackmail is when somebody emotionally blackmails us and we give in to their threats we guarantee that they will attempt to blackmail us again in the future.  The other person knows they can control and manipulate us.  This is why it is a cycle.

So how do we break this cycle?  The starting point is we need to acknowledge that the only reason why people can emotionally blackmail us is because we let them.  At the end of the day we have choice over our actions.  We can choose not to give in to their threats.  The reason why we usually do give in is because we think it is not worth the hassle – the other person will make a bigger problem for us if we don’t go along than the benefit we otherwise would receive if we did what we think is best absent their threats.  So we decide that it is not worth the fight.  The flaw in this logic is that while it may be true on any given instance, the fact that this destructive pattern will be repeated again and again reverses the costs and benefits.  It is not just this one issue, but the blackmail will happen again and again on issue after issue until we finally break the cycle.

Before we take a stand against somebody blackmailing us we need to make sure that we are right.  It is not advisable to take a stand on issues where we are wrong because that just makes us stubborn and unreasonable.  To break the cycle we need to be willing to accept whatever penalty they throw at us and still not change our behavior.  This will demonstrate to them that their emotional weapon of choice is powerless over us.  We will not change as a result.  This eliminates the power of that particular emotional weapon forever.  They will know that it no longer works.  Even if they try to use that same emotional weapon again, it will be easier for us to again not give in.  Eventually they will no longer try using it because they know it doesn’t work anymore.

Please note when we do not give in to their first level of threats, they will most likely escalate the emotional penalty they throw at us to something worse.  We have to be willing to take that as well.  The point at which we give in is the point at which they have control over us.  They will seek out the point we are the most vulnerable on and attack that.  So in parallel we need to train in non-attachment to the things that they can threaten to take away from us.  We need to get to the point where mentally we don’t need these things anymore.  We need to get to the point where we don’t fear what they can do to us anymore.  Our happiness does not depend on having what they can take away from us nor does it depend on avoiding what harm they can throw at us (if they are abusive, then we often need to get out.  See the next couple of posts).

Cultivating this non-attachment can sometimes be very hard to do, especially when it comes to losing the love of those who are very close to us, such as our spouse, children or parents.  But as Saint Francis said, “ask that I may not so much seek to be loved as to love.”  In other words, it doesn’t matter whether they love us, it only matters whether we love them.  Our happiness does not depend on them loving us, rather our happiness depends on us being able to love others – something entirely within our control.  It is our attachment to things that others can take away from us which enables them to blackmail us.  If we didn’t have this attachment, it wouldn’t be possible to blackmail us.

We need to work gradually with this.  We often can’t break free from their systems of control too quickly because the other person won’t be able to take it and may do something really stupid.  We should start by not giving in on small things at first, and then when we think it is becoming too much (for them or for us), we strategically give in.  Then next time we push it a little bit further.  Eventually we absorb everything they have to throw at us, and none of it works, so they stop trying.

How do we deal with particularly difficult cases of others threatening to harm us or to harm themselves?  We need to be very careful here to assess how credible the threat is.  If it is truly credible, then we need to know at what point to stop.  Usually people who threaten things like harming us or harming themselves also employ a vast arsenal of smaller threats and emotional blackmail weapons.  By gradually wearing away at these smaller threats through the method described above, we can erode the foundation for them to call in their ultimate trump card.  Since we don’t give in on the smaller threats, they are forced to escalate until they reach their trump card.  But then they will have to threaten the ultimate on smaller and smaller things.  In such a situation, they are more likely themselves to not think it is worth it, for example, to kill themselves if we don’t go to the movie of their choice!  By eroding the smaller threats we make the ultimate threats less likely and less credible.  Sometimes we may need to call their bluff; and if we are right that they are bluffing, they become highly unlikely to employ that particular threat again.  This helps us because then we are not threatened in this way again and it helps them because they are forced to learn new ways of dealing with others.  If, however, the situation is really extreme, and we have done everything we can think of, then we might need to get them help and get ourself out.  We will talk about this in a later post.

How can we do all of this with a compassionate motivation?  Our motivation for breaking the cycle of emotional blackmail should be as compassionate as possible.  By allowing somebody to emotionally blackmail us we are enabling them to accumulate all sorts of negative karma for themselves which will result in them being similarly emotionally blackmailed in the future.  They blackmail us because they think their happiness depends on us doing particular things.  By giving in, we feed their attachment and therefore make them dependent.  This doesn’t help them.  We also need to help them realize that their happiness does not depend on what we do.

The bottom line is we don’t help people by indulging them in their delusions.  This doesn’t mean we jump to the extreme of never doing so in one go, but it does mean we have a general direction of our relationship with them.  With an intention to save others from all of the negative consequences described above, as an act of love towards them, we simply stop giving in.

It will be hard, and sometimes people may conclude it is not worth having a relationship with us if they can no longer manipulate us.  So be it – the relationship was doomed anyways.  But most of the time, we can bring about a change in the dynamic between us and others by engaging in Ghandi-style non-cooperation with wrong behavior.  If we succeed in doing so, after the long ordeal, our relationship will then be put on a healthy foundation and we can begin to enjoy the fruits of mutual love and respect.

70 thoughts on “Cultivating healthy relationships: How to break the cycle of emotional blackmail

  1. My sister-in-law (56 yrs) has used emotional blackmail since she was a kid. Her mum and dad spoilt her rotten – and we are repeaping the attitude. She always places conditions (if you don’t do it this way, then I can only assume you don’t want to be part of my family)

    She does the same blackmail to her kids (if you talk to uncle and aunty, then sadly that means you don’t love me)

    The rest of the family have had enough. And its been good in particular, for my husband and I by not communicating or replying to her demanding emails. We have enjoyed a normal life – not having to walk on eggshells when she’s around.

    Personally, I would enjoy telling her to get over herself and get on with life but out of respect for my husband I haven’t – YET!

    • This is a very good example. The key issue is to not cooperate or give in to her attempts at blackmail. When she knows it doesn’t work on you, she will give up trying (which she has probably largely done with you). It is an issue for the kids, though. If you have a close relationship with the kids, you might be able to tell them, “what your mother does with this isn’t right. There is not a lot you can do about it now, but just know it is wrong.” This will protect them somewhat. I know a story of somebody who was abused by their father. After a scene at a grocery store, a total stranger came up to this kid and said, “your father is acting in an abusive way towards you. You should know that it has nothing to do with you. It is his problem, not yours. Don’t ever forget that.” My friend says it is because of this one stranger’s sentence that they feel their father didn’t screw them up and they were able to keep a distance from it all. Such acts of protection may create waves, but sometimes it is exactly what needs to be done.

  2. What do you do when your 17yr old child threatens to cut of contact if her demands are met. My daughter would do this and she is my only child. I would be alone in the world. On the other hand giving in and her constantly doing it isn’t love either. Emotional blackmail in this instance is doing evil to me and is mental torture. Would appreciate advice.

    • Hi Judy,

      This is a really difficult situation with no easy answers. I have five kids, most of them little, and I get blackmailed on a daily basis, though the worst that will happen is they throw a fit in public so the consequences are less significant than for a child who is on the verge of being an adult. Likewise, without knowing the exact context of your situation and her demands it is difficult to say. But, and I may be wrong, it seems to me the principles here are the same regardless of the age or the circumstance: Unless the person credibly is likely to do serious harm to themselves (such as suicide), giving into their blackmail doesn’t help them in the long-run. If their demands are unreasonable and self-destructive and they are asking for your cooperation in fulfilling those demands, you quite simply say, “No, I am sorry, I am not helping you by going along with this. I cannot control what you do, but I can control what I do. It is because I love you that I must say no.”

      I understand it is hard to face the prospect of “being alone in the world,” but the question you need to ask yourself is “is my fear of being alone harming my child because I am allowing this cycle of blackmail to continue, creating bad habits in her?” She has found your weakness and she uses it to get what she wants. Do you want to teach her that this is how one goes through life? Do you want her to become that sort of person? By letting go of your own fears, you deprive her of the power to manipulate you and thereby protect her from becoming that sort of person.

      In short, you have to be willing to call her bluff. Keep saying, “it is your life, you must make your own choices. As somebody who loves you, it is my responsibility to tell you when I think you are making a mistake. But I can’t control you and I won’t attempt to do so. You need to assume responsibility for your own life and with it the consequences of the decisions you make. But the days of you emotionally blackmailing me are over. Full stop.” She will huff, she will puff, and she very well may leave. She may have to fall flat on her face before she realizes. It may be even be many years and significant drug use before she eventually realizes her mistake. During all of this time, your position should be, “my door is always open whenever you decide you want to get your life back on track. I am always here to help you when you need it. But I will not participate in things that are harmful to you.” If you are right on the substance of what is right and what is wrong, eventually the reality of life will show her you were right all along, and deep inside she will know you are right but just be incapable of admitting it. That’s enough. You don’t need the credit. But then again, if you call her bluff, she may huff and puff and threaten but when she sees you are not budging, she will cave in. When this happens, the cycle of blackmail will have been broken. Pray that she has the wisdom to make the right choices and pray to have the strength to not give in and fall into your own past bad habits.

      In general, I find that when you empower people to assume responsibility for their own life and the consequences of thier choices in the short run they make the wrong choices but in the long-run they learn to make the right ones. Giving responsibility to our kids makes them responsible people. In a year, she is going to be “an adult” anyways, so there is really little difference. The relationship is going to fundamentally transition anyways, so you might as well start today.

      Again, I could be wrong about all of the above because I don’t know your situation, but this is what comes to my mind when I read your story.

      I hope this helps. Let me know how things evolve. If you want to contact me offline you can at kadam.ryan@gmail.com.

      Ryan

      • Is it possible that the daughter in this case is not carrying out emotional blackmail, but making the healthy choice to get out of a dysfunctional relationship? “I would be alone in the world” is a big red flag for me.

  3. i live with two emotional blackmail people- one is the mother of the family who in contrast when her personality comes out truthfully she’s a nasty piece of work and uses every situation possible to get her way without cause for concern towards your situations- only hers.

    I point out that something is a miss (say like housework), she then twists and turns my words and uses it to some sort of extent that i’m the bad guy and i feel horrid or just ignores my point and says she going to do something about it but doesn’t.

    then i apologize for my opinion about a topic- then all i receive is a dismissed apology accepted followed by 8 days of ignorance even the basic hello is ignored.

    But the worst one is her son, at the moment him and his fiancée’ are going through a huge relationship problem- he claims he was the victim because he didnt know what he was doing by being drunk i beg to differ, in every aspect of a action there is a reasoning behind that action.

    He has a very eccentric personality who could twist your arm and make you do anything and when you don’t ,he blackmails you with stuff he has done for you in the past.

    The worst of it all is that he is currently trying to justify why he did what he did with his relationship through himself and his mum and by the sounds of things like they are both teaming up and trying to twist,turn and justify the thing what he did when in reality or if it was another couple they would dismiss it straight away. i find this behaviour very disturbing.

    I have recently distanced myself with all their behaviour and i had a talk with the mum a few months ago about my behaviour has changed recently due to meeting my girlfriend, From what i can recall it was all on her behalf- “why don’t we see you anymore” to ” why do you spend all your time in your room” – My personality is one of them who prefers one to one time or spending time own my own- i’ve had this behaviour since my teens and i like it.I wasn’t honest because of the situation that the family puts a roof over my head. Thinking about it a few days later though, thinking that it wasn’t right in any way shape or form.

    Since i have worked out what these 2 people are like and distancing myself from the shenanigans – they have turned the tables with other members of the family outside of the house and turned the unlikeliest of people against myself and even my girlfriend- even sly emotional digs towards my girlfriend yet she hasn’t been involved at all.

    I’m currently saving up for a place of my own with my girlfriend and i’m really looking forward to moving from all of this blackmail. I know i can be hard to handle due to suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder but when something is amiss -i have a honest opinion about it- it is dismissed straight away and turned into a dig or a stab towards me and now my girlfriend.

    Glad i stumbled upon this article tbh- it’s a great read

    • Thank you for your comment. It is difficult for me to say exactly what is best, but it seems to me from your explanation of the situation that the fundamental problem is you are still dependent on them for your housing. Since they have something they can take away from you that you can’t live without, it is difficult for you to “stop cooperating” with some of the more dysfunctional behavior. So as a long-term strategy, becoming financially independent of them will contribute greatly to your ability to break free. Of course this may not be immediately possible, so in the meantime you will just need to be patient and accept that this process may take time.

      In the meantime, I would pursue a two-pronged approach. First, minimize the amount of contact and interaction you have with them to the maximum extent possible, without it actually making things worse because it becomes ackward. Second, pick your battles. If it is something insignificant, just smile, nod, and then do your own thing regardless of what they said. If it is something significant, then explain to them, “I understand you see it that way. From my perspective, I see things … way. Therefore, it seems best to me that I do … If they are saying things to other people which create problems, then I would simply call them on the behavior saying, “I understand you have said XYZ. In the future, I would appreciate it if you did not do so (did not speak with her, etc.). Let’s try get along, and undermining each other and provoking each other doesn’t help.” Finally, you should make many prayers, “may my experiencing of these dynamics teach me many lessons about how to deal with people in a healthy way.” It may continue to be a difficult situation, but at least you will be growing as a person as a result of it. Knowing this makes it easier to accept the situation. Good luck!

  4. With my friend Kathleen, we also talk about emotional blackmail on our blog http://screamunderwater.wordpress.com/tag/emotional-blackmail/page/4/.

    Emotional blackmail is very destructive. The first step is to realize that there is blackmail, the second is to accept that we are an active part of it. I use the 50/50 image to help me. A relationship is 50 % me, and 50 % the other. We are equals, no one is better or worse than the other. On our blog, we have some strategies and ways to overcome it. We also try to find ways to deal with the aftermath of the first time we refuse to cave in. Yes, that’s really hard, but it really worth it.
    Florence

  5. I’m really struggling with an emotional blackmailer right now…well, I have been my whole life. I have cut off contact with this person before due to her emotional blackmail, but we only got back into each other’s lives when she got pregnant. Now the emotional blackmail is worse than ever before because she’s dragging her child — my 1 year old nephew — into every issue that comes up. She’s an expert on deflection and manipulation.

    But I’m torn now. I don’t want her in my life, but she’s the mother of my nephew. She’s unwilling to communicate properly; she comes up with random excuses not to talk things out, but she’s more than willing to discuss these issues with other people. She even blames me for her recent blow-up when I corrected something she said about me behind my back that was a blatant lie. Mind you, she twists things around all the time so she can be the victim, and I’ve rarely stood up to her because she blows up at me every time, no matter how nice I am. Apparently in her world, correcting something she said means you’re trying to “ruin” her child’s birthday party. My head is still spinning from that bizarre statement.
    In all of this, I can’t see my nephew. I took care of him like he was my own son. At times it seemed like I understood his wants and needs more than his parents did. I taught him new things and was there for every milestone. Now I can’t babysit him like I’ve done nearly every week since he was born.

    How can you live your life with an emotional blackmailer who thinks they don’t have a problem because in their mind they’re a “qualified counselor”? As much as I really want to cut off contact with her, how can I when she is the mother of one of the most important people in my life?

    • Each situation is different, so it is hard to say what exactly is best in your situation. But my feeling is this: since you are not a parent, ultimately it is up to the mother to decide whether you can or cannot see your nephew. There is really no way around this. I would keep it really simple with her: “I love your son very much and want to be able to see him regularly. This would help you out as well by giving you a chance to run errands or whatever. It is also good for the child since we always have a great time. I am willing to babysit him at XYZ times. If you want me to do so, I am available. If you don’t, then it is your choice.” Then, you just have to have genuine equanimity with respect to whether you are able to see the kid or not. If she thinks you are desperate to see the kid, then she will blackmail you saying, “if you don’t do XYZ, etc., you can see my son.” And then you will be constantly at her mercy. If instead, you just say, “I’m available if you want me, but if not it is your choice” then you rob her of this power over you.

      For the rest of the stuff of her talking behind your back, criticizing you, etc., just ignore it. If you show her that it upsets you what she says, you give her power and she will do it more. When you show it doesn’t even phase you, then she will realize she doesn’t get anything out of it, and she will be more likely to stop. But outside of you babysitting the kid, it doesn’t really sound like there is much reason to see her. It may take a few months before she adapts to the new reality of what you will or will not do, but she will adapt. Then if and when you see the kid, it will just be a story about you and the kid, nothing more. Just my thoughts, it could be completely wrong.

  6. I need some help here..Wife and her parents are pushing me to relocate and are using our 2 babies as an excuse but in effect she wants to move out to the new place so that to be next to her parents and have her mother grow up our kids.. I cannot proceed as I will have to quit / abandon my 2 jobs and almost start from scratch in a place i will have no friends/relatives etc..Some of my current activities do not have demand in the suggested new area so I will either have to travel a lot so that to keep them or just abandon them for good.

    I love my kids and want the best for them but I want to be able to support my family without depending on others (her parents)..My 2nd issue is that her parents are intervening a lot in the everyday life and she doesn’t cut them out .

    i feel emotionally blackmailed and now that i am responsible as i let it grow…

    • It seems to me the core of the problem is everybody is looking at things from the perspective of how it will impact them individually, as opposed to what is best for the family unit as a whole. Right now, the struggle seems to be: who loses, you or me. You need to change this to: how can we best help the family as a whole. There seems to be no scenario where individually somebody loses, but what matters is that all agree the biggest priority is to do what is best for the family as a whole. So I would suggest having a conversation with your wife where you both agree that the criteria you will use to make this decision is what is best for the family as a whole, irrespective of how it may impact any one individual. If you agree on the criteria, then it is just an issue of weighing the pros and cons of all the relevant considerations on the family as a whole. Then, you will be working together to find a common solution instead of working against one another to see who can deflect who loses.

  7. Thank you for your article. I stumbled across it while googling behaviour patterns recently in an effort to understand my mothers latest attacks on my confidence. I am a 29 yr old woman living with my boyfriend of 6 years. We are both teachers and spend lots of time on other professional projects too. We live a distance from both families. My mother and I have always had a turbulent relationship, but lately I have become withdrawn and noticed signs of depression in myself as a result of her actions. I visit home as often as I can bear(as I argue with her a lot) perhaps once a month or 6 weeks. Recently I went home the weekends before my brothers birthday, the weekend of my birthday(the following week) and the following week also for Easter. I brought home my Boyf for Easter Sunday. We then left Monday to spend Monday and Tuesday with his family who I havnt seen since Xmas. She is now not speaking to me because’it must be nice’ spending time with my partners family. My brother told me she feels shortchanged by my actions and that I must make amends. When myself and my partner are away she has full use of our house, not his family, my family visit and are invited down more to see us, despite the stress it cause, I now find myself lying to my family about my boyfriends family visiting in case she finds out and says hateful things. I am working up the courage to tell her where to go but I’m painfully aware she has no one else in the world except me, my bro and sis(who are younger) and my father who largely ignores her. She has suffered from depression and I do not know the lengths she will go too.

    • My mother was not unlike yours. She felt very threatened by my having good relations with my father or pretty much anybody else. At the core of it, such behavior comes from insecurity about feeling loved. She knows your relationship with her is strained, and to know that you have a good relationship with her boyfriend’s parents just feeds this insecurity. Our parents give so much to us, and then feel betrayed when we “abandon” them. On the basis of this feeling, they start doing strange things like you describe.

      If I were you, I would try proceed in steps. First, next time you see her offer to take her to her favorite restaurant – just you and her. At that meal, explain to her that “you get where she is coming from and you understand her need.” Often times when the other person articulates exactly what our feelings and worries are, but then tells us that we don’t need to worry, we can let it go. But when we feel the other person doesn’t understand what we are feeling, then no matter what they say, it will never be enough. Apologize for not being in contact more and explain that she shouldn’t interpret your lack of contact for a lack of love or gratitude, rather just life is busy, you are not good about keeping in contact with anybody (not just her), etc. Hopefully that would “reset” things back on the right track.

      If it doesn’t, then step two would be to tell her, “Look, I understand you worry that I don’t love you, but I do very much. No matter what I do, I can’t make you believe it nor prove to you that it is true if your starting point is a conviction I don’t. So now you need to decide whether to believe me or not. If you choose to believe me, this whole unnecessary dynamic goes away. If you choose to not believe me, then there is nothing I can do.” The value of this step is it puts the ball firmly in her court. She will know it is up to her. From your side, you just carry on as normal – seeing her when you would normally see her, contacting her when you would normally contact her, etc. Not less, not more. In other words, it becomes her problem, not yours. This doesn’t mean you don’t care, rather it just reflects the reality that you can’t control what somebody else thinks. You do your part, but beyond that it is out of your control.

      As far as letting her know when you visit the boyfriend’s family, you just need to be skillful. There is a difference between lying about something and not rubbing people’s face in things you know they can’t handle. I can’t remember the details, but I think in Ghandi’s autobiography it talks about how he didn’t tell his parents that he ate meat for a period of his life because he knew the only effect would be to upset them. For a long time, and even to an extent today, I don’t tell my in-laws every time I go to a Buddhist teaching not because I am hiding it but because I know it just unnecessarily antagonizes them. I know I am not doing anything wrong, I understand they are mistaken to feel threatened, I do what I need to do and just try be skillful about what I say and when. Depending on the circumstance, this is not necessarily wrong.

      Over time, through the force of your actions of maintaining your expression of love towards your mother, her fears will subside because she will realize they are unfounded. This is the only long-term solution. If instead, you tell her to go to some place, that will just feed her worst fears and engender a self-fulfilling prophecy, and a self-perpetuating cycle of decline.

  8. I am being blackmail and harassed by a former co officemate. He is always telling me that he loves me and he can’t live without me. He has several harassed to me physically and mentally especially If i will not go on sex with him and seeing me. He left his job because his live-in partner harassed him in work and he blamed everything to me. And worst, he let me pay for his misfortune like lost of job, ruined family, and he blamed me his damaged self worth and esteem.

    • Others may blame us for their problems, but that doesn’t mean we need to assent to their interpretation of reality. We are each responsible for our own experience of life – he is responsible for his, and you are responsible for yours. If you must communicate with him, just stay single-pointedly focused on this one message. In your own thinking about how he is creating problems for you, likewise stay single-pointedly on this one message. If you do so, gradually you will disentangle your reality from his and then you will be able to move on with your life. He may continue to orbit for some time, but if you don’t feed the dynamic, it will gradually die on the vine. When you reach the point where you can walk way completely, do so.

  9. I am currently dealing with emotional blackmail. My best friend and I had been extremely close for a year following the suicide of his sister. I would find myself catering to him out of my own feelings while he would keep me at a distance due to trust issues and a fear of intimacy. I tried to help him get past his issues and to see that he could have a future. He was often self harming and displayed signs of borderline personality disorder. We would be perfectly happy people for a week or two and then he would freak out and push me away, making me feel like my emotions made him uncomfortable and that because of me he couldn’t be happy.

    Now I am 18 weeks pregnant with his baby and ever since I told him that I was keeping it we have been on the same emotional roller coaster but with higher stakes. He threatens to kill himself if I don’t get an abortion, he says I am manipulative and will just use the baby to trap him, that he can never find love because of me, that he can’t trust me, and that I was supposed to be his best friend, then when that doesn’t work he will say he wants nothing to do with the baby or with me and he wouldn’t care if I died in a ditch. Finally when that doesn’t work he says he will be in his child’s life, that he will prove that I am an unfit mother and take my baby away and have full custody. That he could never love me because he can’t even trust me. It is always this pattern ending in him coming back a few days later and apologizing, saying I am his best friend and that we will work together and picking baby names with me and going to the ultrasound appointments. He tries to build me up but always in the back of my mind I have to wonder when he is going to have another episode. He describes it as an uncontrollable anger and says he has had it in all his relationships. I try to be patient with him and in past relationships I have had a problem being walked over and giving into blackmail- but this is different, this is a baby. It has made me look at myself and how I handle these situations in the past and realise that if I don’t stop this now before the baby is born that my child will be at risk of either being hurt by these actions or inheriting them.

    • This is a very difficult situation. While I can’t say for sure, it seems to me that you have consigned yourself to the role of “reacting to what he does” as opposed to charting your own course regardless of what he does. Since he swings from one wild emotional extreme to another, you do with him. If instead you adopt a consistent emotional approach regardless of what he does, then you will provide a much needed pole of emotional stability. He may or may not be able to latch onto that stability, but you and your baby will need it.

      On him threatening suicide if you don’t have an abortion, you should never give into such a threat. If he does kill himself, that is on him and has nothing to do with you. He is essentially asking you to kill your baby or he will kill himself. If he kills himself, it is his mistake. Killing your baby would be yours. If you gave into this, the decision would haunt you your entire life. But the fact that he would say such a thing should cause you to seriously question whether you want to spend the rest of your life with this man, or try raise a kid with him. Such a threat speaks volumes about the liklihood of establishing something healthy and normal with him.

      On him saying he doesn’t trust you, my question is why? Did you essentially trick him into getting you pregnant? If yes, then he has every valid reason to not trust you. You did something fundamentally dishonest of the highest order. If you did do this, you should admit fully and honestly that you did so, apologize and vow to never be dishonest again. He will most likely try to use this against you for years to come, saying, “you need to prove your trustworthiness to me by doing XYZ, if you don’t, I can’t trust you.” Under no circumstances should you enter into such a dynamic with him, because if you do, you will never escape from it. Instead you tell him, “I will prove my trustworthiness by never again being dishonest to you. Anything else is you trying to manipulate me by using this against me. I will not enter into such a dynamic. If you can’t trust me with my vow to you, then leave. But I will not be manipulated in this way for the rest of time trying to “prove” something to you.”

      On him saying he doesn’t care about you and would want you to die in a ditch, again, such talk is completely misplaced in a healthy relationship. If you allow him to say such things, he will continue to do so forever. If you take a stand and say, “if you say something crazy like that again, I am leaving” he will apologize and be all nice until you take him back. But then he will fall right back into his old patterns and do it again. He said that this is his pattern with all of his past relationships. It will be his pattern with you if you allow it to continue. Give him one warning saying if he talks like that again you will leave, but then if he does so again, just leave and never look back. He will beg, he will plead, he will say, “I’ll change baby” but if you take him back, it is guaranteed the whole cycle will continue on and on until you stop it.

      On him saying he will try take your baby away and get sole custody, he might try but he won’t succeed. You should keep a record of all of the crazy things he has said. Send him an email everytime he says something outlandish saying, “you said XYZ, this is completely unacceptable and I will not allow such things to continue.” If he doesn’t deny he said such a thing, you can then use that as evidence of how he is if ever it winds up in front of a judge. If he threatens you or the baby in any way, you especially need to document that. You can then use that to get a restraining order put on him.

      At the end of the day, you clearly were the one who pursued him and most likely encouraged him to get you pregnant. You will have to deal with the consequences of that for essentially the rest of your life. But just because this is the situation you find yourself in does not mean it is a situation you must remain trapped in. You need to adopt a constant strategy REGARDLESS of what he does or what his current emotional state is. And what should that strategy be? You say, “I am going to love this baby and do everything I can for it to have a healthy environment to grow up in. If you want to be a part of that, the price of entry is you need to stop your wild emotional swings. If you can’t do that, then I am prepared to absolve you of any responsibility towards this child and set out on my own. I will ask nothing from you ever again, no child support, no contact, nothing. Just let me raise my baby in peace.”

      I am sorry to say, I think in a situation as extreme as yours you will find there is no middle way. If you “need him” for anything – emotionally or financially – I am afraid these sorts of patterns will never stop. You either take a stand now or forever regret not having done so. If he comes around, great; if he can’t, then better to end it now and move on.

  10. Thanks for your reply. I tend not to allow his episodes to effect me. I of course have a moment of discomfort but I brush it aside and try to be patient for him. I tell him that I will respect whatever course he decides to take and will never push anything on him. I then give him his space and when things calm down and he comes back around I let him know that all though I understand what it is that he goes through that it does have an effect on me. That effect being that I see a pattern and have to wait for the next time he has one of these breakdowns.

    He has a trust issue that has nothing to do with me that stems from an abusive mother. He also has an ex that he “blames” for losing his trust in all women. Regardless of how he feels about women in general I have tried to build trust with him for the past year and a half. His sister committed suicide a year ago and I have been the person that he can rely on. I helped him build back his confidence and gave him a better outlook on life.

    I never intended to get pregnant. At 17 I had a serious pid infection that made it so that my chances of conceiving naturally almost non existent. I have been living my life as if I would never have children (but always wishing deep down that one day I would). My family is very happy that I am having this baby and happy for me having this chance. If I were to have an abortion not only would it destroy me spiritually but it would in all likelihood destroy the only chance I have of conceiving a child.

    I do love him but I want to break the cycle of emotional blackmail. He has stated his desire to seek professional help in the past. He says that him saying he doesn’t trust me is a cry for help and that he does trust me. He was so happy to be a father when I first told him I was pregnant but he warned me that he knew he was going to push me away and that he needed me to be strong and not let him. So I don’t know. It has been a few days since we last talked and I just don’t know what to do when he opens the lines of communication again.

    • Also I don’t feel like I depend on him emotionally, or financially and most definitely will walk away if I feel like this pattern of behavior can’t be reversed. As much as I want to work with him, if it is a question of my baby’s happiness I will always chose my child.

  11. I just want to thank you for this wonderful article. My mother is an expert of emotional blackmailing, and I cut off contact for a few years. I recently resumed the calls and visits thinking she might have changed, only to find out she’s even advanced her methods because other family members had been enabling her. Now she is all like “You’re not the daughter I know any more” and “I’m doing these all for you but you’re so ungrateful” and “You never appreciate my sacrifices for you” if I don’t do as she wants. She even tries to sabotage my relationship by verbally attacking my partner whenever she gets a chance.

    Now I ignore her verbal attacks and wonder if I should block her numbers again. Not that I’m sure cutting off contact once more could fix the problem– actually I doubt she will change at all because she’s got enablers. But when it comes to fight or flight, I guess I’m always better at flight. One question though: is it actually a good idea? I mean, okay, I stay away from what hurts my sanity, but is it a way to break the cycle?

    • As a general rule, I would say we shouldn’t cut anybody off. But we can say, “when we are together, we have to agree on some ground rules.” To be fair, both sides should be able to provide ground rules. If somebody decides they can’t abide by the ground rules, then you simply don’t see each other. This prevents the silly back and forth that we see on Facebook for example of friending, and then de-friending, only to later re-friend them.

  12. What about when the emotional blackmail is in a form of the silent treatment? I suffer from abandonment issues and ignoring me is a form of abandonment and rejection.

    • Anytime somebody else tries to impose some emotional penalty on you if you don’t comply with their wrong wishes, it is a form of emotional blackmail. Our response should be two-fold: (1) eliminate our own attachment to needing others to relate to us in any particular way, and (2) not giving in. The former helps internally protect us from others being able to blackmail us (they can only do so if we give them buttons they can push), and the latter protects them from continuing to try to blackmail us because they see it doesn’t work. Easier said than done, I agree, but the path is clear. Of course if their wishes are not wrong – instead we are the one who is wrong – then we should change accordingly.

  13. My son-in-laws father wants to sell a house he and his sister own together. She does not want to sell it. She is living in the house and her brother lives thousands of miles away. He has told his son and two daughters that if they have anything to do with her (their aunt) he will disown them. He is trying to isolate his sister so she will have no reason to stay in the house and give in to his desire to sell the home. My son-in-law and his sisters have children and don’t want them to not have a relationship with their grandfather. I feel he would also blackmail his grandchildren down the road if they give in to him and that is a concern for me. My daughter was very upset but did not want to let her husband know she had shared this information with me. What does one do in a situation as this?

    • This is clearly a case of emotional blackmail, of that there is no doubt. The fundamental problem your daughter faces is it is not her father, therefore it is very difficult for her to tell her husband (your son in law) that he can’t give in. That would most likely create a situation where her father in law tells the son he must choose between him or the wife. Instead, your daughter has to say, “it’s your father, so only you can decide how we should proceed. Whatever you decide, I will support you 100%. However, with that being said, here is why I think you should not give in to your father’s wrong wishes…” The reasons for not giving in are fairly obvious: (1) if they give in on this, then the father will undoubtedly do the same tactic for things in the future, so they will be blackmailed again and again, (2) if the father has a problem with his sister, then it is between them (sister and brother), and has nothing to do with your daughter’s family. Don’t get in the middle of other people’s conflicts, (3) your daughter’s family would otherwise have good relations with their aunt if it weren’t for the father doing this, so they have no particular beef with the aunt and therefore see no reason to have to choose between the two. In other words, they choose good relations with both. If it were me, I would tell the father, “your making me choose between my aunt and you is a false choice and one I won’t make. I choose both. If you choose to no longer have relations with me because I choose to love you both, then that is your choice – a wrong choice, but yours to make. But I will not make such a false choice, I choose to love you both.” Then, let the father realize he is wrong and realize the price he pays for his choice. If he hates the sister more than he loves the son, then you have to ask, what good is it to have relations with him anyways? These are just my thoughts, feel free to ignore.

  14. Hi! I need some advice and I am hoping you can help. My husband threatens to get angry (rage!) when I try to talk to him about my feelings and concerns. I cannot say more than a phrase and he starts to manipulate me. He will start shouting and namecalling me and sometimes he starts throwing and punching things. He never hit me! I dont know how i get him to listen. The only way I can think of, is to end the relationship 😦

    • Ultimately, we have no control over what others do. But we do have control over our own actions. If I were you, the first thing I would check is why I need him to understand my feelings and concerned. Somtimes it is because we are attached to others “understanding us” for its own sake, and othertimes it is because we need something to change in the nature of the relationship or with respect to some decision the family needs to make. If it is the former, then probably better to just let go. Others don’t need to understand us, we need to understand ourselves. If it is the latter, then it is a legitimate case where communication is required. For these cases, my suggestion is you keep things “action oriented” when you speak with your husband. Make it clear what decision needs to be made or action that needs to be taken, then say, “my feeling on this is XYZ, I would like to get your thoughts on this so we know how to proceed.” This subtly gets your perspective out in the context of soliciting his views. It also indirectly makes you the decision-maker on the question at hand. While I know it is a stereotype, I think there is also a high degree of truth to the maxim that men tend to look at things through the lens of “problem-solving” as opposed to “expressing feelings.” It might be because we don’t know how to do the latter! 🙂 Effective communicators don’t try get the other person to talk to them in their way, rather the effective communicator communicates themselves with the other person in a way that best suits the other person.

      When your husband does start raging at you, you need to master the fine art of (1) staying completely calm yourself in how you express yourself while (2) telling him that speaking to you in an aggressive manner makes everything harder to solve/resolve. So you kindly request him to speak with you calmly and kindly. If (and when) he refuses, then you have the power to say, “I would really like to discuss this issue with you, but I refuse to do so when you get so angry. Once you calm down, then we can discuss it further.” Since there will inevitably be times he needs to discuss things with you, you refusing to speak with him about it until he calms down is a way of breaking the cycle.

      I hope this helps.

  15. I came across your post when searching for solace, i dont expect a reply but i need to tell my story, i cant bottle it up anymore. A bit of background. 3 years ago my grandmother passed away I did not want to see her suffer but my family pressured me to come saying she wanted to see me before she died. When i got there everyone took a step back and as I loved her very much I stepped up and nursed her until she died it was incredibly difficult I was the one to have to tell everyone she had died as only I checked on her. I have struggled with this everyday since, an still have nightmares. Since her death i have been pretty much isolated from my family due to a Dislike of my husband and the only ones ireally speak with are my grandfather and ovcasionally my mother. Currently i am 13weeks pregnant and have just been told my baby has a 1 in 4 chance of being severely disabled and am very stressed about this, I have further tests next week for this. My family have just called saying my grandfather is dying and I need to come as he wants to see me before he dies. I love him very much but i have said I am not going. My reasons for this are 1. I do not want to see him like that. 2. I have to keep calm for the baby. 3. I spoke with my grandfather and he understands I am not coming and he told me to look after my unborn child. 4. I feel that I am unwelcome with my family. 5. I believe my family will step back and again force the responsibility of nursing him on me. I don’t believe I am mentally capable of dealing with the stress on top of what I am already facing. My family wouldn’t back off and called me many cruel and hurtful things of which I will not repeat. I have been told I am selfish and I don’t care about anyone but myself. Now when I try to call my grandfather I cannot talk to him as I am constantly stonewalled saying he is asleep or they simply hang up on me. Do you have any advice on how best to cope?

    • First, I wanted to thank you for taking care of your grandmother. In today’s society, it is rare for somebody to step up to the plate in the way you did to care for another person when they need it the most. You did the right thing by caring for her, and you should have no regrets about the time you spent with her. There is no doubt it was incredibly taxing, but at the same time it is when we care for another living being, and put the interests of that person before our own, that we really begin to grow as person. I don’t know whether you believe in karma or not, but the karma you created by caring for her is pure gold. Other people may never thank you for what you did, not will they ever likely appreciate all that you went through. But they don’t have to. Nobody else has to understand. What matters is you understand.

      In exactly the same way, your decision to take care of your unborn child is likewise not an act of selfishness, but an act of selfless love. If you, her mother, doesn’t look after her, who will? Once again, the other people in your family may not understand, but they don’t have to. Nobody else has to understand. What matters is you understand. If they don’t understand, but you are clear in your own conscience, then if they have a problem it is – frankly – their problem. If you start going down the rabbit hole of trying to live up to their expectations of what you need to do, it will literally be endless. They will realize they have the power to manipulate you into doing whatever they want by simply accusing you of being selfish. They will see it works to get a rise out of you, so they will do it more. You need to do the right thing regardless of what other people think. This doesn’t mean you don’t consider their perspective to see if it is valid or not – we always need to consider other people’s perspectives – but you need to come to your own decision about what is the most virtuous thing you can do. You say you have discussed this with your grandfather, and that he understood. This is what matters.

      The reality, it seems to me, is your family is upset at you because they realize if you don’t do it for your grandfather, then they have to. And they don’t want to inconvenience themselves in this way. So really, their criticisms of you are motivated from a wrong place. So why should it bother you what they say? It shouldn’t. This does not mean you don’t try your best to patiently explain your perspective, and try help them to understand. But if they don’t, then so be it.

      It sounds to me like there is a difference between you visiting him and you becoming his primary care giver. There is nothing wrong with you going to see him, and you probably should do so to let him know you care. Explain to him that you are unable to get through, they hang up, etc. So at least he will understand. But then you have the strength of your convictions to say, “I am visiting him, but I am not in a position to become his primary care giver.” Write him a letter if you have to, have it hand delivered by somebody you trust if you have to. Don’t bash on the other members of your family in the letter, just explain to him that you love him, care for him, pray for him, and he is in your thoughts.

      Just do the right thing, regardless of whether others understand.

  16. I think I am emotional blackmailer. I always wanted my bf to this and that, and if he didn’t do what I want, I will nag and talk until he agrees. Sometimes I use breakup to threaten him, knowing that he loves me. Now, he’s fed up and doesn’t show his concern anymore. He said I may use family or commit suicide to threaten him later.
    Now, I am asking how can I treat myself? I never know I have this issue, until now. Please help???

    • I think as a general rule of thumb, when we become aware of mistakes we are making it is best to just go to the other person and say, “I have recently come to realize I do XYZ. I now see how obnoxious and destructive that is, and I wanted to apologize. This is a long-standing habit with me and I can’t guarrantee I will be able to stop it overnight, but I can say I am now aware of it and I will work diligently to try stop it. In the meantime, I ask you to be patient with me until I have left this bad habit behind.” It is rare that this won’t work. The key, though, is you need to forgive yourself if you want the other person to forgive you. If you feel all guilty and are very heavy about the whole thing, then the other person will be too. If instead you have a light-hearted and accepting attitude about the whole thing, and are able to have a good laugh with the other person about how absurd you are, then they will also have an accepting attitude, share a laugh with you, and things generally work out.

  17. Thank you for your quick response. He has highlighted the issue for many months and I did not realize the seriousness until now. I had apologize many times and said will change (without knowing this is the main issue). Now, he walked away and asked me to show by action, not just talk. Apologize doesn’t work anymore. I may need counseling to get through this. You have any suggestion on books to read?

  18. This is truly a great topic and I’m so thankful I stumbled across it. I read through all of the experiences and thank everyone for sharing them as well as Ryan for creating the forum for healing.

    I would like to ask for what advice or work do you suggest to someone who IS the emotional blackmailer and would like to stop the behavior themselves? I understand everyone has their own story and own reasons for engaging in such manipulative behavior and that those require work as well. But in the moments when someone would turn towards emotional blackmail, what are things they could do to catch themselves and help break the cycle? This in a relationship where the partner wishes to see a change of behavior as their patience has already been exceeded.

    • As with all mistakes we might make, it begins with identifying what we are doing wrong. Then, we decide on a more healthy alternative. Then we choose to do it. Ultimately, it comes down to one thing: wanting to change. If we want to change, we will; if we don’t want to change, we won’t. To stop blackmailing others we simply need to leave others free to do as they wish without any penalty. Our ability to do this depends on letting go of viewing the other person as a “tool” we manipulate to satisfy our own wishes. Our happiness doesn’t depend in any way on what they do, say or think. Our happiness depends upon our own peace of mind, which we can cultivate through abandoning deluded habits of mind and cultivating positive ones. We can likewise consider karma – if we blackmail others, we create the causes for others to blackmail us in the future. Not wanting that, we stop. As Shantideva says, all suffering in the world comes from cherishing ourself, and all happiness in the world comes from cherishing others. If we are clear on this, we will gradually figure out what to do.

  19. I am glad to have found this.

    I have a quick question on emotional blackmail. My ex, he used to pull all emotional blackmail till I left him. Mostly because these episodes always coincided with exam periods (when everyone is stressed as heck – I always got twice the level of stress)

    Unfortunately, it seemed to get worse. Instead now around exam periods he would go and tell my friends that if I didn’t start speaking to him he would blackmail me with some material he has. It annoys me because my friends are neutral territory and I’ve left them out of the loop, so why are they targets now too?

    It got to the point where he was kicked out of my friends’ social circle. He did try to gatecrash a party unsuccessfully (a careless soul casually mentioned it once) but…

    My question is, why do such people exist and how do I deal with it? My parents and close friends are well aware of the matter but I dislike having to live with the idea of blackmail and such negative energy directed at me (for things I have done my best! my last conversation was in the name of compassion and forgiveness – within the next 2 days he was back to abusing and saying all kinds of crap like I didn’t care etcetc so I cut all ties then)

    • There are two answers. At a normal conventional level, such people exist in our lives because we let them behave in these ways by cooperating with their blackmail. Ghandi showed the example of “peaceful, non-violent, non-cooperation.” We simply choose to stop cooperating with the blackmail. Then the other person has a choice: they either (eventually) stop trying to blackmail us seeing it as futile, or they conclude that “we’re awful and they can’t stay with us anymore.” They will blame us, but the reality is they are deciding they don’t want to be with us if they can’t manipulate us. Fine. Let them blame us, it changes nothing, we know what is really going on. We can still tell them, “it is because I love you that I am not willing to cooperate with your blackmail anymore. I am not helping you by cooperating with it.” They may not understand at first, but the words will stick and resonate in their minds for years to come each time they “see our absence” in their lives.

      At a deep karmic level, such people exist in our lives because we used to treat people in the same way. We need to purify the negative karma and stop creating new similar karma if we want it to stop in the future.

  20. I have an extremely spoiled sister.She was the youngest of us all.
    From as far as I can remember back as a child she threw tantrums on the floor My brother and I always had to back off so she can get it her way.
    This is still today the case in a sence if she do not get things her way she get very angry .
    My mother even at the age of 94 believes every word she says.
    She has been telling blatant lies about us and saying things like if mother dies I will drop some bombs about us to the rest of the family.
    We do not know of anything she can use against us but her blackmail and lies never stops.
    For the last 8 years she would not allow my mother to come and visit either of us
    She is taking care of my mother and in that sence she is doing a great job!
    The problem is that she makes it so impossible for us to go and see her.
    She lives a five our (and five back) drive from us and we can not do frequent trips.
    Getting there we get treated so badly by her and has made my mother turn against us.She even told me I can be glad she allow me in her home.
    Some of the stuff we are accused of is of serious nature and have it all in writing .
    It has come to a point that we are considering legal action but again thinking of my mother at her age .
    I am a soft natured person and get angry with myself for allowing her till today to run over me.
    I do not need any of this in my life and forgive me for saying this I sometimes feel just cutting ties with my sister and mother .As a Christian I do not know what is expected of me and do not want to regret.

    • It is clear your sister is acting incorrectly. I imagine it is motivated by thinking, “I am doing all the work here, you can’t how hard it is, and you do nothing.” She then generates resentment because she would rather be doing something else but can’t, so she sub-consciously blames you and expresses it in her current behavior towards her. However, you don’t know how much longer your mother is going to live. The last thing you want to create a big fight with your sister because that will just upset your mom. As a parent myself, it hurts us when our kids fight, and it makes us happy when they get along. Your top priority now has to be to your mother.

      As far as relations with your sister are concerned, I would just keep it simple: only engage with her correct behavior and completely ignore the rest (as if she never even did or said it). When you resist her wrong behavior, she is likely to just dig her heels in the sand more and “double down” on her wrong behavior. That doesn’t help you, her or your mom. If you go along with the wrong things, then the two of you continue in a goofy dynamic. If you just ignore it as if it weren’t happening – simply don’t engage with it – then it will whither away on the vine (very gradually). At the very least, it won’t get (much) worse. Good luck!

  21. How to stop an emotional blackmailer from texting you threats, not accepting responsibility, or change, putting the blame for there self harm (attempting sucidide of overdosing) onto you, not willing to speak in person, to continue texting with no replies after 6months, to getting them out of your life for good? He’s trying to hold onto me, texting me “the crisis team is telling me to tell them what’s wrong, even if that’s going to hurt you” I’ve told him to do what’s best for him, and I have to do what’s best for me. But he’s still clinging on. How do you go about un-breaking the cycle?

    • Unless I am misunderstanding, it sounds as if you have already broken off contact completely from him. If so, probably best to keep it that way. Each time you reply, it will just encourage him to text some more. If he receives no reply, at some point he will stop – even if it is 5 years from now. If you don’t want to receive his texts or emails, perhaps there is a way to block his messages on your phone, to your email and on Facebook. Eventually he may (or may not) give up, but you won’t be receiving them. Perhaps you can also look into changing your phone number. A pain yes, but perhaps less of a pain than constantly seeing his texts if you can’t block him. He will try convince you that his hurt is your fault. This is not correct, his hurt is due to the delusions and wrong views in his own mind, in particular grasping at thinking his happiness depends upon what you do. You can know it is an act of compassion for him to NOT respond to him ever again and let it whither away on the vine. In the meantime, you can pray for him, requesting that he receives blessings for a calm mind that is able to let go. Just because you are no longer with him doesn’t mean you can’t still wish him well. Prayers are very powerful if done with a pure motivation and sincere faith.

  22. You are so right. It isn’t at all easy to break the cycle of emotional blackmail. In my case it has been 6 years. What started out as a very nice and loving relationship is now an exhausting experience. So many of the comments I have read resonate with the same frustration and sadness I have felt.

    The emotional blackmail in my relationship comes in the form of rage and abandonment. Those “buttons” are the ones he uses to get out of anything he doesn’t want to do. I can’t talk about my feelings or needs and can’t ask for anything he doesn’t want to do without him throwing a tantrum. His favorite lines are “Nothing I do is good enough for you” and “I can’t stand you always telling me what an asshole I am”. (that’s his response to me when I ask him why he can’t just be nice). He will finish it off by either storming out, or telling me to leave, essentially punishing me by leaving me.

    Then, like clock work, he will get in touch with me and act like nothing bad happened. Or, if his emotional blackmail has worked, I contact him to get some comfort by hearing that he is sorry and still loves me. Sigh..

    He never fails to become a kind and loving person for a while. He is happy as long as he gets his way. But, what about me? What about what I want? Well, there is another opening for emotional blackmail. Those times he does something nice or good are thrown in my face the next time I ask for anything he doesn’t want to do, for instance come to my house instead of me going to his. Then I get the “nothing I do is ever good enough for you:” again followed by anger and more mean remarks.

    I know I am being manipulated. I think I made it easier for him to blackmail me by being loving and open and giving in. I called it a compromise. But in the long run, he didn’t hold up his part of the bargain. Alot of empty promises came out of his mouth.

    The thing is.. he isn’t good enough. And after six years of me me trying to make it work, it isn’t any better, not for any length of time any way. So why do I let it continue? Why do I let the good moments give me hope that the bad moments are over? Why do I keep giving him chance after chance to prove he loves me? He tells me he does. Why do I believe him anymore?

    Well, detaching is the hard part for me. Staying calm when the mean remarks and disregard for my feelings start is really difficult, I let it get to me and I cry. So, how do I break the cycle???

    • It seems two distinctions need to be made. First, we cannot really love somebody if we still “need” something from them (for example, receiving love in return). Love is necessarily a selfless mind that seeks nothing in return for one self. It quite simply wishes the other person to be happy and it considers the happiness of the other person to be important. We are fulfilled by loving, not by being loved. Second, love alone is not enough, we need to love with wisdom. Love wishes for the other person to be happy, but love with wisdom is aware of what actually makes others happy. For example, when I was training my first daughter to sleep at night, I “loved” her so much I didn’t want her to cry, so every time she would I would pick her up, walk her around until she fell back asleep, etc. I thought I was loving her, but in fact I wasn’t because she never learned how to sleep on our own. Finally, a friend of mine told me, “if you really love her and want what is best for her you will put her down and let her cry it out until she learns to fall asleep on her own.” What she wanted was for me to pick her up and comfort her, but what she actually needed was for me to stop doing so. I wouldn’t have been able to let her cry for selfish reasons of me wanting/needing to sleep, but when I realized it was an act of love to not go back and pick her up, I was able to do so (though it was still hard). The same is often true for dysfunctional dynamics in a relationship. We think loving the person means giving them whatever they want, but sometimes it is a greater act of love to say “no, I am not going to play this game anymore.” You need to do what is right regardless of his reaction. If he throws out his lines, don’t do what he wants to avoid his hurtful words, rather do whatever is the right thing to do regardless of what he says. The bottom line, it seems to me, is both of you are too attached to each other to break up, but too averse to each other to make it work, so you are stuck in a miserable limbo state. A healthy relationship is one where both people mutually support one another. There will always be fights, but if you both view working through your disagreements as an opportunity to draw closer to one another it is not a problem. But if in your heart you know it is not going to work out no matter how much you try, better to just make the unilateral decision to end it and never look back.

  23. I wanted to thank you for this post which was a guiding light to me through an extremely difficult experience earlier this year.
    It gave me an explanation that I could share with others as to why I had to take a certain course of action. It helped to galvanise me through a painful and gruelling experience. Thank you for the clarity of thought and words that brought this post into existence. It has helped me a great deal.

  24. This article did help, thank you.

    I currently have an issue where I strongly believe that my mother and my sister are emotionally blackmailing me.

    My sister tells me to do things and if I say no, even when I am completely within my rights to do so, she yells at me and then goes on about how she can’t do something by herself when she can and says that I’m selfish for not doing it and makes me feel guilty.

    My mother makes me do far more than I’m able and if I do something that my siblings (including my sister) are able to do without repercussions I’m the one who gets in trouble and she also treats my siblings a lot better than she treats me.

    I know this probably sounds like the whining of a kid but I would be extremely grateful for any advice you could give me.

    • Anytime we belong to a family, or any community for that matter, it is incumbent upon us to “contribute more than we take.” It is not enough to just not impose a cost on others expecting them to carry our weight for us, we need to actively contribute something above and beyond to the common good. When we do so, then we are on much more solid grounds to say no when it is appropriate to do so. When your sister asks you to do things, there are really only two possibilities: she is right or you are right. If she is right, meaning you should help out in the way she is suggesting, then you should do so happily and without making an issue out of it. But if she is wrong and you are in general contributing more than you take, then it is much easier to say no if the situation requires you to do so. Even if she tries to make you feel guilty, you won’t feel guilty because you know you are carrying more than your own weight.

      As far as the situation with your mother is concerned, it is a very common situation where kids feel their parents don’t treat them equally or fairly. I know I always felt that way between me and my brother, and to make matters worse, I was right about it! However, now that I am a parent, I realize it is much more complicated than that. Do I treat my kids fairly? From an external point of view, it can seem like no because I expect more of some than I do others. But more deeply, I am expecting equally of each kid, but each kid is capable of different things. I expect each kid to do their maximum, but what the maximum is varies. Perhaps your mother is doing something similar. Even if she is not, once again the solution is the same: “contribute more than you take.” If you do, then your mother will come to appreciate your contribution even if she never says so. And it doesn’t matter whether she appreciates what you do, you help because that is the right thing to do.

  25. Thank you for this post. My siblings and I have been emotionally blackmailed by our mother since we were kids. We all have our own families now and my parents live alone. Their needs are provided for by us and we are otherwise a close knit and loving family. But growing up we’ve had our share of dark times. My parents would often fight about money, all these stresses somehow pushed my mother to depression and she has been taking anti-anxiety medication for a long time now. Though our childhood was happy, I have happy memories. I also have memories of my parents having huge fights, and of my mother threatening to kill herself. I would be calling her name and begging her through a locked bathroom door. I remember several episodes of having to pick her up from the bathroom floor as a 12 year old. This was devastating to me as I tended to feel like I wasn’t good enough for her to want to live. I know my father made mistakes. Their relationship was never a true partnership, and yet they love each other and are still together. It’s been quite the roller coaster.

    But now that I am an adult and a mother myself, I realize one defining factor. My mother’s reaction has a big impact on almost everything. Whether it is a family project we are working on, a problem, a crisis, or even such things as what to do during a holiday, and big decisions we make with our own families. I remember having to struggle with her wants and moods when I was preparing for my own wedding. If she is happy about it, she’s great. But if she is against something, you can be sure that it will be a huge challenge to just deal with all her complaining.

    In recent years she has become more negative about life in general. She often tells us “I am so tired. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I just don’t feel happy anymore.” It is an old line of thinking that brings back bad memories for me. She usually uses this reasoning if she wants us to help her with something, wants something for herself, or feels slighted by our actions. It doesn’t matter if it’s petty (it often is), or if the problem is a bit more complicated. I find myself in varying levels having to do what she wants out of fear, obligation or guilt.

    I could give you many examples. Except this post of mine is getting too long 🙂 Let me just end by saying that I wish I were wrong, that someone would just tell me “Hey, you mother is actually right. You and your siblings are not giving her enough attention or love and she has every right to act like that.” It would be easier that way because then the change would have to come from us. Which would be easier and within our control. But that is not the case. We are good kids, and we genuinely love and care for our mother. I know that she loves us, and she doesn’t do these emotional blackmailing because she wants to hurt us. I truly believe she knows no other way, and it’s so ingrained in her and is some sort of personality trait that she can’t change. I would never abandon her, and would happily give her everything she wants within reason. I’m just want peace. I am seriously thinking of a strategy on how I can cope and effectively deal with how she does things, in a way that provides peace for all and preserves our family.

    Thank you again for this post.

    • Sounds like you are seeing things fairly clearly. I think you are right, it is highly unlikely your mother will change anytime soon. However, it seems your way forward is pretty simple: When your mom is blackmailing you to do something and she is right, you should do that thing, then just do it. If however she is blackmailing you into doing something that isn’t right, then just politely tell her, “it seems to me XYZ is a better thing for us to do for ABC reason, so that is what we are going to do.” Then, if she flips out and starts applying the emotional penalties, you can say, “I understand you might disagree with our choice, but it is what it is. If you have a problem with it, I am sorry, but we have to do what seems right.” She might huff and puff, but if you don’t give in – and you repeat this process a few times – eventually she will just grumble but no longer have any sway. While she grumbles and is generally disagreeable to be around, you can practice unconditional love and acceptance (yes, Grandma grumbles but we love her anyways).

      As far as your experiences as a kid are concerned, that must be very tough. Remarkably, it sounds like you have been able to not let it scar you too much. You must be doing something right, my hat goes off to you!

  26. Hi , I am sanjana and I am in relationship with a guy since 10months .I love him so much , he always threatens me that he is gonna committees suicide for reason’s like : when I am against him , when he thinks that I’m giving more importance to anyone than him (including family) ,when I’m not reaching his expectations, when I ignore him and eventually he won’t kill him self instead he kills me with emotional blackmails . he doesn’t give me freedom , he Always controls me , he always wants me to care to him 24/7. Suppose when I’m doing stuff which he doesn’t like then he gets mad at me .I feel like I am under control like I’m slave and he says he loves me and he can die for me . please help me , he is not giving me a chance to concentrate on other things , I feel like robot . I love him and I tolerared Everything for him till now but I cant anymore . i’ve also tried interacting with him but no use . he threatened ms that he will die for more than 20times . please do help me !

    • I’m very sorry to hear about your situation, it must be very, very hard to deal with. While of course it is difficult for me to say without knowing more closely the situation, from what you have presented me it is very clear: you must get out of this relationship quickly and definitively. There are several reasons for this. First, you are NOT helping him by allowing him to manipulate you and blackmail you in this way. You think you might be making him happy, but by letting him blackmail you in this way you in fact are just allowing him to create all sorts of terrible karma for himself where others will do to him what he is doing to you. When you love somebody, you are willing to do anything to help them, even if that means some personal sacrifice. In this case, if you truly love him and want what is best for him you will stop cooperating with this sort of behavior and stop allowing him to treat you in this way. It is an act of love to leave. The personal sacrifice is you are no longer able to be with him. Second, in Buddhism we make a clear distinction between love and attachment. Attachment says, “I love you because you make ME happy.” Love says, “I love you, how can I make YOU happy.” Your boyfriend says he loves you, but in fact it seems he is just extremely attached to you doing whatever he wants you to do. He thinks (wrongly) he can’t be happy unless YOU do certain things. By agreeing with this logic you are actually preventing him from realizing that his happiness depends entirely upon himself and his own mental attitude. So he uses all sorts of systems of control to get you to do what he thinks YOU need to do for HIM to be happy. This is not love, this is just extreme attachment. Third, sticking around with a guy like that destroys any trace of self-respect and self-confidence. When we cooperate with extreme behavior such as this what we are really doing is telling ourselves we are not worth anything, it is OK for somebody to treat us this way, and we can never do any better than him. All of these are exactly wrong. It is n act of self-respect and self-confidence to say, “I am not going to allow this to continue anymore.” Fourth, he is forcing you into a situation where you need to choose between your relationship with him and your relationship with anybody else in your life. So you sticking around with him not only hurts him, not only hurts you, but it also hurts everyone else in your life who you are seeing less. It also, no doubt, hurts them to see you with somebody who treats you so wrongly. Fifth, it is highly unlikely he will ever change. If you tell him, “if you don’t change, I will leave” he will then (at best) change in the short-term, but as soon as you “take him back” he will fall right back into his old ways. I have seen dynamics like this last for decades where people are too attached to break up but too adverse to one another to ever really have any joy. If he doens’t WANT to change, he won’t. You can’t make others change, they have to decide to change themselves. It sounds like he has no interest in changing himself, his only objective is changing you to conform with his every wish. The only way he will have any chance of changing is for you to leave him because of all of this and never look back. Your ABSENCE will be a constant reminder to him of his mistake. Hopefully he will learn his lesson and not do this again to some future girlfriend. Think of it as an act of kindness to his future girlfriends.

      The only reason to possible stay with him is your fear that he might do something really stupid like kill himself if you leave. Here you need to analyze the situation very carefully. There are really only two possibilities: he is bluffing with this threat or it is a credible threat. If he is bluffing, which I suspect he is since he has threatened it so many times, then he will huff and puff and threaten and so forth, but he won’t ultimately do it. This will then hopefully break the habit of him being able to get what he wants by threatening this. If he is not bluffing, and you think the threat is indeed credible, then you have no choice but to call the authorities and have them intervene, possibly having him committed to a psych hospital. But under NO circumstances should you EVER go back to him because he threatens if you don’t he will kill himself. If you go back, all you do is guarantee that he will threaten this again and again and again until one day you realize you should have put an end to this long ago.

      Sorry to be so blunt, but your situation is very extreme. My advice is simple: get out and never look back. You can tell him why by simply saying what you said to me above. You can say, “You have been doing this, I can’t live like this. It is not healthy for you, it is not healthy for me. Because I love you and wish you only the best that I must leave you and never talk to you again. You need professional help to not treat people in this way. I can only pray that you never do this again to anybody else. What goes around comes around, and if you treat people in this way it is just a question of time before somebody does the same to you. Because I love you, I implore you to realize your mistake and never treat somebody this way ever again.” Hit send, then change your number, email address, facebook settings, whatever. Never look back. He will say and do anything and everything to try get you back. You must be categorical that the answer is no. Get your friends and family to help you keep your resolve.

      • Thank you so much for your advice , so there is no chance of changing him at any cost ? I want to teach him a lesson ,I want him to realize and i want to see him regretting . how ? Is that possible ? . let’s imagine what if I go away from him for a year and come back , will he change ?

      • I don’t know him so there is really no way I can know for sure. However, generally speaking, if the only reason why somebody has changed is because we forced them to (not because they actually want to change from their own side), then as soon as the pressuring circumstance is removed the person reverts back to their old ways. I have seen this happen many, many times. Likewise, if you still are hanging on to the possibility of “if you change, I will come back” then he will pick up on that and know that what you are doing is simply a tactic for controlling him as opposed to an actual decision on your part. It is not your job to teach him a lesson, nor should you need him to regret how he has hurt you. Rather, you need to do what is best for your own future and sense of self-worth and inner peace. Fortunately, this thing is also what – in the final analysis – will likely be most beneficial for him. If, however, he chooses to not realize his mistakes there is nothing you can do about it. He has to learn his life lessons, you need to learn yours. We can’t be attached to others learning their lessons, we need to focus on learning ours.

  27. Well written article. Thanks for nicely elaborating everything. What to do if the parents blackmail their child that they will commit suicide if he/she does love marriage against their wish? The reason they are against is that they think they loose face in society or get pointed out in their friends circle for their childs love marriage? If they get angry and cut off from their children its a different thing. But what about emotional blackmailing of suicide as a final thing if the child goes against their wish? Please suggest what is the best way to approach this problem

    • Hello,

      This depends a great deal on the cultural context. I am not sufficiently familiar with your cultural context, so it is difficult for me to assess if there is a real danger of them doing so. My suspicion is it is easy for them to say that, but it seems highly unlikely they would in fact do so. They might be angry at your for a very long time, but it seems highly unlikely they would actually do so.

      If you are 100% sure the person you want to marry for love is the right person for you, etc., then I would go to your parents and explain to them (1) you understand why it is important to them, (2) you understand the social pressures they might be under, but (3) you really love this other person. Their attitude is forcing you into a position where you have to choose between loving your parents and loving your future spouse. Explain to them that you reject this as a FALSE CHOICE. You love both your parents and this other person. Try explain how they are creating many problems for themselves as well. If you marry this other person, then they will be unhappy and likely try sabotage the relationship. This will just make everyone miserable when they could just as easily change their views and accept that you marry the person you love. You can explain in modern times, people marry for love. Would they rather you be miserable your whole life just so they can temporarily save face with their friends? And why can’t they be cultural trailblazers supporting you in your decision and if people criticize them for it, they can say they are adopting a modern attitude towards the whole thing.

      One thing is certain: you shouldn’t call off your marriage just because they are threatening this. If you do, they will use similar means to control you your whole life (about your kids, every major decision you make, etc.).

      If you approach this with love and understanding, there is a good chance they will realize how unreasonable they are being and eventually come around. If not, and you think they are bluffing about killing themselves, then just get married anyways and tell them that you love them no matter what they do to you in retaliation.

      I pray (and trust) everything will work out with time, though you should expect it to be bad for possibly many years to come.

  28. My “friend” emotional blackmails me. As a form of punishment she ignores me, talks bad about me to others and then blames me for the fall out. In the beginning I did do what she said to “keep the peace.” Now I try and keep my distance. I’m not a child and won’t be punished for her own jealousy and temper tantrums. Being a loner, it’s hard to turn my back on my “only” friend, but realising she’s toxic is a huge wake up call.

  29. What happened if you are the blackmailer?
    My parents are emotional blackmailers too, i didn’t notice that i was one till i met my partner.
    He made me realized how terrible I am. I constantly use tears to blackmail him.
    Any exercises you can do to break the cycle?
    I love him and I want to make amends. I am tired of going through the self-caused drama every now and then, my partner is a great man and I want to love him as he is and live happily together. Please advise.

    • Hello,

      Two thoughts come to mind. First, if you are aware that you are the blackmailer and that it is not the healthy way of relating to others, the hard part is already done! Most people are oblivious to this and feel so justified in their own actions that they never think to put them into question. If we want to change, then eventually we will. Towards our partner, we should say something like, “I have recently become aware that I have this bad habit. I see it as unhealthy, and I want to change. Unfortunately, it is something I have done for a long time and old habits die hard. I ask you to please be patient with me as I gradually change. Please know I am working in this direction.”

      Second, the only reason why we blackmail others is we are still convinced that OUR happiness depends upon what THEY do, say, or think. If we can overcome this wrong view, then it is easy to let go. Ultimately, our happiness does not depend in any way on what others do, say, or think. When we convince ourselves that our happiness depends on others behavior, we make ourselves the victim, and we deprive ourselves of taking control of our own happiness. Attachment is defined as thinking some external condition is a necessary prerequisite for our happiness. It’s not. In fact, our happiness depends upon our own inner peace. If our mind is peaceful, then we can be happy even in the most awful of circumstances. If our mind is not peaceful, then we can’t be happy even in the best of circumstances. So the key to being happy all the time is to be able to maintain a peaceful state of mind, even in the worst of circumstances. We can primarily do this by realizing how bad external circumtances are actually really useful for our internal development. Internal development matters more than externally good conditions because if our inside is good we take it with us wherever we go (even beyond death). How do we develop a peaceful mind? Through mixing it with wisdom and virtue. Meditation is more than sitting down formally in meditation, it is more a way of life guided by principles of wisdom, love and compassion. Learn how to put others first in everything you do, let go of all attachments realizing they are making us victims, and it is not hard to find inner peace. Wehn we experience inner peace, we won’t need anybody else to be any particular way, and then we will no longer feel the need to blackmail them.

      Ryan

  30. am exteremly in pain bcoz of ma wife always trying to find a way to blackmail me. mostly she wants me to send her to her mother place nd dnt ask when to return nd should always be ready to go any where anytime when she wants to visit her relative. if i dnt do that she wld threaten me to leave mostly via her mother quoting u cant live this sort of life style. but actually she wants me to say yes mam always. i didnt want to hurdle her ever by any mean. but she find it more easy way to blackmail rather talking to me respectfully nd making me agreed which i always tends to be. but she use her mother who dnt have her own mind. generally she doesnt tell or show any big problem living with me. but she only use my affection as my weakness.

    • As a general rule, we should try put the interests of others first unless their wishes are wrong, harmful or negative. If going to your wife’s mother’s place makes her happy, then you should try do so unless you have some reason not to. What you can do is tell her that you want to do so because you love your wife, not for fear of her getting mad at you if you don’t. Explain to her that her getting mad at you if you don’t do what she wants just makes you want to resist what she is asking, when in reality you would like to cherish her and make her happy.

      At the same time, you can explain that your not going occasionally so you can do other things (with your friends, for example) is not you not loving her, rather you also have other things you want to do. Perhaps make a deal where you go “every other time” to her mother’s, and then you do something that she doesn’t normally want to do when she is at her mothers. that way she doesn’t have to accompany you doing something she doesn’t want, and the same with you.

  31. I want to thank you for writing this blog, this post in particular. Your writing has a refreshing lack of…let’s call it epicycles that much writing has.

    I think it can be helpful to note that everything in this post applies also internally. When we pay attention, we will often find that our parts use such leverage over us and other parts to get what they want. E.g. moral licensing.

    Cheers.

  32. I have been seeing a guy on and off for they are six months he has a kid aged 11-12 he has a job of his own landscape gardener the wife is no longer around he’s no longer married to her as he said to me he’s got full custody his family treat him really bad he asks me for money practically every week either for cigarettes money for his daughter school trips for her I shouldn’t be paying this out I give him because he keeps asking me but then when I don’t when I tell him that I haven’t got the money he gets very abusive towards me calls me names and I can’t put up with this anymore because I’ve got my health to consider and at the moment I’ve got a feeling he is using the child as a weapon against me and I become really close to the Kid I’ve got really close to it I just can’t go on anymore I just don’t know what to do I am thinking of ending the relationship because of this and I might have to he has actually put me in debt. Every time I don’t give him money he doesn’t talk to me for weeks on end if I give him money he talks to me everyday he rings me up he talks to me he tells me he loves me but if I don’t give him money he don’t talk to me for weeks on end is that really a relationship to be working on I don’t think so I think I’ve come to the end.

    • Of course it is your choice what to do, but for me this situation is crystal clear: he is in a difficult situation, largely created by his own bad choices and bad habits in the past, and he is using you to shield him from the consequences of those choices. Love is a wish for the other person to be happy, attachment is wanting the other person to make us happy. When he tells you he loves you, it seems to me, all he is really doing is using what emotional tools he has to get what he really wants. You might then doubt, “but if I love him, shouldn’t I give him what he wants?” The answer is you need to give him what is actually good for him, and what is actually good for him and what he wants are not necessarily the same things. This is easily seen if you think about the karma he is creating for himself. Him using and manipulating you in this way is creating the karma for him to be used and manipulated in this way in the future. You allowing him to use and manipulate in this way is you allowing him to continue to create a terrible karma for himself. That doesn’t help him – quite the opposite, it hurts him. Also, it is useful to look into your own mind and ask the question, “why do I allow myself to be used and manipulated in this way?” Most likely at the core of it is a wrong view that it is better to be mistreated than it is to be alone. This wrong view needs to be attacked from two angles. First, what’s wrong with being alone? I know society places all of this emphasis on being with somebody, and we can convince ourselves we can’t be happy unless we are with somebody. But the cause of happiness does not lie outside of us. We are happy when our mind is peaceful. Our mind is peaceful when it is filled with wisdom and virtue. If our mind is peaceful, we can be happy even if our external circumstance is terrible. If our mind is not peaceful, we can’t be happy even if our external circumstance is perfect. This clearly shows our happiness comes from the inside. You don’t need him, nor anybody else, to be happy. That doesn’t mean you reject all relationships, it means you reject the wrong view that you need a relationship to be happy. Second, a willingness to be mistreated often comes from a lack of self-worth. Deep down, part of your mind likely doesn’t think you are deserving and that you are not good enough. This is wrong. We all have what is called “Buddha nature,” which basically means at our core we are all have the potential to become perfectly good. Our Buddha nature remains undefiled, no matter what mistakes we may have made in life. You need to start identifying with your Buddha nature. When you do, you will draw it out. As you draw it out, your sense of self-worth will increase and you will no longer think it is OK for people to mistreat you in these ways. As far as the little girl is concerned, since it is not your kid, there is little you can do. You can tell her that it has nothing to do with her and you can tell her that you will always love her and have a special place in your heart for her, but I sincerely doubt there is a scenario where you can maintain a relationship with the daughter and end it with the father. She has already been abandoned once by her mother, it seems. You need to tell the daugther – clearly and directly – that it is not her fault. She should hold her head high, and become a powerful, independent woman. Part of that is not being dependent upon other people, especially those who use and manipulate you. You will be setting a good example for her so she doesn’t wind up in such a dysfunctional relationship herself in the future. This is my view of the situation, at least, based on the information you have provided.

  33. My husbands friend moved back to our area with his wife and child (who I had never met). He would go away and leave her with no food money or transport. (he drives long distance trucks) I felt sorry for her so started taking her to the shop. This woman is not a friend of mine and is not the person that I would ever have chosen to be friends with. This became an everyday thing and has been going on for a year. She sends me messages to call her and then tells me her 8 year old child does not have food, and can I help her with food and money, and of cause the transport to the shop.She also always brings GOD into it and says he will provide, She always tells me she will pay me back when she gets money, but never does, and just call me on her husbands payday to take her shopping. I am not really in a situation to help someone else as I run my own struggling business, but her husband earns a salary. If she asks her husband for anything he tells her to phone me. Her child is has no respect for me or my car and this is causing problems. I am sick and tired of running after her and need to move on with my life, and it is causing problems in my marriage.. Another friend told me today that this is emotional blackmail and it must stop, as she always says that the child has nothing so that I run after her. Please can you tell me how to get out of this situation . Thanks

    • You were correct to try help her once or twice, but once it became her way of dealing with things, then it ceased being helpful. If I were you, next time she asks you for money, give her what she asks for plus $20 and then say that this will be the last time you will give money or buy anything for her. Explain that you want to help and you wish her all the best, but you are not in a position to provide permanent assistance and it doesn’t help her find a new solution to her life situation (living within her means, getting a better job, learning to ask her husband, etc.). So it is because you love her and you want her to find a permanent solution that this will be the last time you will give. Afterwards, she will come back asking for more. You will then need to say no, and repeat your reasons, explaining you said the last time was the last time. She will then try guilt trip you, threaten she won’t be your friend anymore, etc. You say, “I will always be your friend and I have done my best to help you. If you can’t realize that or you expect more from me, then I ask you to examine what you understand it means to be a friend yourself. Are you being my friend by trying to guilt trip you into giving you more money?” It may mean the end of this relationship on a physical basis, but you can and should always pray for her.

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