Emotional blackmail is one of the favorite tools in the narcissist’s kit. It is a technique that can leave you feeling guilty, obligated and even threatened. That’s why it’s critical to understand how this blackmail progresses so you can best decide how to handle it.
Emotional blackmail is a manipulative technique that the narcissist uses to get what they want. It does cause damage to the victim and is a form of psychological abuse. This type of emotional abuse can be very subtle and difficult to discern, particularly in the initial stages.
Experts in the field have used the acronym FOG to refer to emotional blackmail. It stands for fear, obligation and guilt. These are the emotions the narcissist hopes to engender in their victim to get them to do what they want.
It’s an accurate acronym given that the victim is often left feeling confused and unclear about the experience. That confusion just adds to the fear and sense of obligation the victim often feels. The cycle of emotional blackmail often begins with subtle or implicit comments or behaviors.
The behaviors and comments then progress in an insidious manner so that you might not even realize the impact it has had on your behavior until it’s severe.
Progressive Stages of Emotional Blackmail
It’s vital to understand the stages of emotional blackmail since it can be so subtle. Here are six progressively worse steps that indicate emotional blackmail.
1. It Begins with a Demand and a Threat
Someone who is emotionally blackmailing you will make a clear demand of what they want, and this is typically tied to a threat. “Give me what I want or else,” is the common format of this kind of demand and threat. Sometimes narcissists can be more subtle when they make a demand. They might say something like, “If you can’t do this for me, I’ll have to…” They make it seem like they are the ones backed into the corner.
2. You Typically Resist the Demand
Once a demand is made from your narcissistic emotional blackmailer, you will likely experience a sense of resistance. You may decide you want to avoid the narcissist making the demand and you certainly are sensing a feeling of resistance to do what they want.
This can leave you feeling unsavory or even dirty. It’s an odd sensation to have this kind of demand placed on you. You also have to contend with the threatened response if you fail to come through, and that can make you feel like you’re paralyzed. You don’t want to do what they’re demanding, but you also don’t want them to follow through on their threat, so at first, you do nothing.
3. That Causes Them to Increase the Pressure
The next thing you’ll likely experience is a sense of increased pressure from the narcissist. They are hungry to get what they want and don’t mind pushing you to do it. They aren’t concerned if your feelings are hurt by their demands, and they aren’t above creating a sense of fear if it will get them what they want.
As part of the pressure the narcissist uses, they frequently make you feel as though you are being irrational or unreasonable. That can cause you to question your own sense of reality because you’re probably used to this kind of gaslighting from the narcissist. You might wonder, “Am I being unreasonable?”
It’s also not uncommon at this point for the narcissist to use more gaslighting or even blame and shame to make their victim question themselves more and agree to do what the manipulator wants.
4. Next Come the Threats
To put even more pressure on you, it’s not uncommon for a narcissist to make more threats to get you to do what they want. They may threaten to do more things that will result in your unhappiness, discomfort, or even pain.
It’s also common for a narcissist to use this technique to blame you for any negative outcome that occurs if you don’t do what they want. They will imply that you are the one who holds the power and can avoid the negative consequences by simply doing what they want. It’s not uncommon for them to say something like, “You’re making me do this.” This is just another case of the abuser blaming the abused.
5. Finally, You Comply
After increasingly doubting yourself and your perceptions and suffering from a heightened sense of anxiety and even guilt or fear, you may finally give in and do what your narcissistic abuser wants. It’s not something you should be ashamed of since you are not the one doing something wrong.
Emotional blackmailers are adept at making you feel like you have no other choice. They increase the pressure on you until it can be difficult to carry on with your normal life. It’s no wonder you would want to do what they’re asking to relieve that kind of pressure.
6. Then There’s a Temporary Reprieve
Once satisfied because they have gotten what they want, the narcissist will lay off the pressure for a while. This is only a temporary reprieve, however, because as soon as they need or want something else, they will repeat their emotional blackmail tactic.
Once the manipulator is successfully able to implement this cycle of emotional blackmail, it will be a tactic they utilize time and again in the future.
How Is Emotional Blackmail Different from Indirect Communication?
You might wonder how this kind of manipulation is different from simply indirect communication. They both can have passive-aggressive undertones.
The difference comes in when the technique is used in a coercive manner to manipulate another person. Additionally, it’s important to note that complying with emotional blackmail is something that comes at the cost of your own well-being.
Another difference involves the threats used by a narcissist to emotionally blackmail you into doing what they want. They are threatening something punishing if you don’t do what they want, and of course, once that has worked, it becomes a recurrent cycle.
Emotional blackmail is psychologically abusive and it’s a common manipulation technique used by narcissists to get what they want. It can begin in a subtle way and become progressively more demanding.
In a healthy relationship, individuals are able to make their needs known without resorting to emotional blackmail. For the narcissist, it’s a technique they use frequently to get their unhealthy needs met. They are constantly seeking to manipulate the people around them so they can get that external validation they so desperately seek. They will stop at nothing to preserve their image.
To avoid being the victim of emotional blackmail, you have to set strong boundaries and learn how to protect yourself from narcissistic manipulation. There are steps you can take to get a narcissist to leave you alone, and it’s well worth it to know the tools you can use to be free of this kind of emotional abuse.
To resist emotional blackmail, you can learn “5 Must-Know Techniques to Effectively Reject a Narcissist.” Just click on the link below this post and I’ll send you a free copy directly to your inbox. You’ll learn how to say no to the manipulative tactics of narcissists.
Forward, S. (2019). Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You. Harper Paperbacks.
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