Emotional Blackmail in Relationships: Meanings, Signs, And How to Handle it

by Jemiyotan Arioritsebafor

Emotional blackmail in relationships is a common occurrence all over the world, Nigeria inclusive.

It involves the use of guilt, shame, fear, or other negative emotions to control or manipulate another person’s behaviour. 

Emotional blackmail can have serious long-term consequences on mental health and self-esteem. 

It can also create a toxic dynamic in the relationship, which can damage long-term trust and intimacy.

Here are a few examples of emotional blackmail.

  • A partner threatening to leave or end the relationship if their demands aren’t met.
  • A parent using guilt or shame to control their child’s behaviour.
  • A boss making an employee feel guilty for taking time off or asserting their rights.

It is important to recognize these signs of emotional blackmail and address them if they are present in one’s relationship.

In this article, we will explore signs of emotional blackmail, its effects, and tips on how to handle emotional blackmail in relationships.

Signs of Emotional Blackmail

Emotional blackmailers use fear to get their way at all costs. 

They’ll threaten to leave you if you don’t do what they want or tell you that no one else will love you as much as they do, and this can be terrifying.

But, there are tell-tale signs of emotional blackmail, some of which are;

  • The person consistently adopts a victimised attitude.
  • They use embarrassment and force to get what they want.
  • They threaten to withhold love, attention, or affection unless you comply.
  • They make unreasonable demands
  • They use fear, obligation, and shame to control you

Most people are unaware of the signs of emotional blackmail.  However, if you think you might be a victim of emotional blackmail, certain feelings will clue you in.

  • You feel like you are walking on eggshells around the person
  • You feel guilty or ashamed even when you haven’t done anything wrong
  • You find that you have lost your sense of self and no longer know who you are
  • You feel anxious or depressed around the person
  • You feel like you are constantly compromising your own needs and wants

While disagreements are normal and inevitable in any relationship, emotional blackmail is not.

 It’s important to distinguish between the two and seek help if you feel like you are being emotionally blackmailed.

Read also: 7 Important qualities of a healthy relationship. 

Effects of Emotional Blackmail

Emotional blackmail is a form of abuse, and it can have a significant effect on your mental health.

If you are a victim of emotional blackmail in your relationship, here are some ways it can affect you.

  1. Psychological effect

Being emotionally blackmailed can lead to helplessness, fear, guilt, anger, and shame. 

These emotions can have a lasting impact on your mental well-being and can affect your self-esteem and confidence.  You may start to question your capabilities and self-value.

  1. Self-esteem and confidence

Emotional blackmail can chip away your self-esteem and confidence over time.

 If you are constantly being manipulated or made to feel guilty, it can be hard to feel good about yourself. 

  1. Mental health conditions

Emotional blackmail can have significant consequences for your mental health in the long term.

It can lead to a buildup of resentment, anger, and hurt, which can result in a breakdown in your relationship.

It can also lead to the development of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Symptoms of anxiety and depression range from feelings of sadness or hopelessness to having trouble sleeping or eating, and withdrawing from social situations or activities you previously enjoyed.

It is important to address emotional blackmail in your relationships to prevent further damage to your mental health.

Common Myths About Emotional Blackmail

  1. It is a sign of love

One of the biggest myths about emotional blackmailis that it’s a sign of love. Emotional blackmail is a form of abuse and manipulation.

It can be used by anyone (a partner, family member, or friend) to get what they want from you without your consent.

  1. It is not as harmful as physical abuse

Another common misconception is that emotional blackmail isn’t as harmful as physical abuse. This couldn’t be further from the truth! 

While physical abuse may leave visible marks on your body or cause physical pain which makes it easier for others to recognize, emotional blackmail can damage your self-esteem in ways that are harder to detect but just as damaging over time.

  1. There must be something wrong with them

It is also a common misconception that if a person is subjected to such behaviour, it must mean that they are inadequate in some way. But again, this is not true! 

Anyone can be taken advantage of at any stage in life. No one should be made to do something against their wishes simply to suit the desires of another.

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How to Handle Emotional Blackmail in Relationships

Dealing with emotional blackmail can be difficult, but there are healthy ways to respond to it.

 Here are some tips on how to handle emotional blackmail in relationships.

  1. Set boundaries: Let the person know what behaviour is unacceptable and establish consequences if they continue to blackmail you.

Read also: Setting Boundaries: How and when to set boundaries for your relationship. 

  1. Communicate effectively: Use “I” statements instead of blaming the other person. Express your feelings and needs clearly.
  1. Practice self-care: Take time to reflect on yourself, unwind, and do things that make you happy.
  1. Don’t give in to demands: Refuse to engage in emotional blackmail or give in to unreasonable demands.
  1. Stay calm: Emotions can run high in situations of emotional blackmail, but staying calm and composed can prevent further escalation.

Read also: 8 Devastating signs of a Toxic Relationship. 

  1. Seek professional help: A therapist or counsellor can offer assistance and advice in managing emotional blackmail.
  1. Reach out for support: Confide in a trusted friend or family member who can offer a listening ear and support. Remember, dealing with emotional blackmail is not easy, but with the right tools and support, you can overcome it and maintain healthy relationships.

Importance of Seeking Support When Dealing With Emotional Blackmail

Managing emotional blackmail can be a difficult and daunting task. It can make you feel confined, powerless, and isolated. 

It is advisable to turn to trusted loved ones for support. 

This could be a close friend, family member, or mental health professional. Having someone to talk to can provide you with a safe space to share your feelings, gain perspective, and receive guidance on how to move forward.

However, seeking support can be difficult for some individuals. They may feel ashamed, embarrassed, or guilty about their circumstance, or worry that others may not believe or understand them. 

In such situations, it is essential to remember that asking for assistance is an indicator of courage rather than an act of inadequacy. 

There are professionals in Nigeria who  specialise in helping individuals deal with emotional blackmail. 

A licensed therapist, counsellor, or mental health professional can provide you with the tools and resources needed to navigate the situation and heal from any trauma or harm caused by emotional blackmail.

Remember, seeking support is crucial in healing and breaking free from emotional blackmail. You do not have to face it alone. 


Emotional blackmail is a form of abuse that can be used by anyone in a relationship.

It is crucial to identify when either yourself or somebody around you is being subjected to emotional blackmail so that the necessary steps can be taken to receive assistance.

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About Author

Avatar of Jemiyotan Arioritsebafor
Jemiyotan Arioritsebafor
Jemiyotan is a writer, researcher, and instructional designer.

She likes to discover new ideas and explain them in an easy-to-understand way. She enjoys finding the perfect balance between the complex details of her topic and the feelings it can evoke.

When she's not writing, you'll most likely find her exploring the latest trends on social media or binge-watching shows.

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