How To Combat Emotional Blackmail In Family Relationships?


Family is one of the most important areas in our lives, on a social and emotional level. There is social convention, practically worldwide, that love in the family is and should be unconditional.

Therefore, for many, family is one of our most important emotional supports. However, this is not the case in all cases.. For some people, their family relationships are a source of discomfort rather than well-being.

And often, especially in the same cultures in which the social convention of unconditional family love exists, family members fall into emotional blackmail. What can we do about this? Well, in this article I explain to you what emotional blackmail is and how you can combat it in family relationships.

What is emotional blackmail?

Emotional blackmail is considered a method of psychological manipulation. The manipulative person seeks to get what they want, through comments and actions that are intended to provoke unpleasant emotions in the manipulated person, mainly guilt or fear.

Some of these methods are threats in order to frighten, the victimization of the blackmailer himself to provoke guilt, punitive silence and the absence of signs of affection to provoke both emotions.. It must be taken into account that, for emotional blackmail to be effective, an emotional bond must previously exist.

In this way, the blackmailer emotionally controls the other person by making them feel guilty or frightening them into complying with their expectations and desires, even taking advantage of intimate information obtained through the personal relationship. It goes without saying that emotional blackmail is a toxic and harmful behavior in social relationships.

No healthy relationship can be based on fear or guilt. This psychological manipulation causes an imbalance of power in the relationship, which benefits one party, at the expense of harming the other.causing anxiety, low self-esteem and emotional dependence.


Emotional blackmail in family relationships

Emotional blackmail in family relationships is difficult to detect and resolve, for two reasons. The first is because in families, from the start, there is already a hierarchy of power, that is, one of the family members is above the other in terms of decision-making power and favors, as occurs in parent-child relationships. .

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In this sense, it can be difficult to detect manipulation, because our own conception of the family leads us to allow our parents (or relatives older than us) to be favored over us. Here comes the second reason, the conception of unconditional love in families: we must love them unconditionally, and we take it for granted that they have to love us “unconditionally.”.

However, these assumptions are not always met, see the case of emotional blackmail. Yes, for your family members to show you affection and not harass you, you have to give in to everything they ask of you, love is not so unconditional. These premises make us force social convention to be fulfilled: since our family has to love us no matter what, we try to make them do so by giving in to their blackmail.

The worst thing is that these patterns are often “inherited” and perpetuated in the family, because we learn to relate to each other based on our own relationships.. In these cases, manipulation is even more harmful, due to the preconceived idea that family ties cannot be broken and the difficulty in detecting blackmail.

How can I combat emotional blackmail in family relationships?

The key to combating emotional blackmail in family relationships is to set limits. Explicit limits are essential for any social relationship to be healthy and stable, so in the case of the family, they will be no less so. Setting limits allows us to feel safe and free to act as we want, maintain and improve our self-esteem, and protect our needs and expectations.

In this sense, an absence of limits can lead to the opposite, including being hurt and manipulated within the relationship, through, for example, emotional blackmail. That is why below I leave you a series of steps that you can take to set limits and combat emotional blackmail in family relationships.

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1. Think about what you both need

To set limits in our family relationships, we first need to stop and think about what we want to get from this family member and what objective you have when you go to talk to this person. It can be affection, support, fun, respect, privacy… Or more specific things that depend on the situation. Be clear about what you need from each person, and you will be able to set firmer limits. You can write it down if that helps you.

Since not all family members will treat you the same nor are they the same way, you will have to ask yourself what limits you want to set in each case individually. And how will you know when you have to set a limit? If you feel bad about a family member, they will surely have violated some limit that you would like to set. When this happens, analyze why you feel bad and set the limit accordingly..


2. Set limits through assertiveness

The best way to set limits is to use assertiveness. This communication style allows you to express and defend your needs, opinions and desires directly, and without hurting anyone. You can follow some of these guidelines to practice assertiveness:

Also keep in mind that if a family member is doing emotional blackmail on you, it is because they want to get something. This form of manipulation is their way of setting limits (a very bad way). Therefore, also take into account what the other person wants to achieve..

You can explicitly talk to him or her that these are not the best ways, and that you can reach an agreement without the need for that manipulation. However, remember that being assertive, unfortunately, does not guarantee you getting what you want 100%, especially if the other person is not willing to have healthy communication in the relationship.

3. Dismantle the beliefs arising from emotional blackmail

It is very likely that if a family member does emotional blackmail to you today, they have also done it to you for the rest of your life. Being exposed to constant emotional blackmail means having grown up with the belief that if we go outside the other person’s wishes, we are doing something wrong. It can easily make us tend to feel guilt or fear in most relationships, because it is what we have learned and accepted..

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In this case, you are going to have to do a conscious job of analyzing what you think when you feel fear or guilt in a relationship, and evaluate if this belief is true and if it adjusts to reality. You will discover that until now you have been taking many things for granted, when you do not have to feel responsible for not meeting some of other people’s expectations and desires.

4. Accept that you are going to have a bad time

Generally, setting limits where there were none before usually generates a bad response from other people. Keep in mind that when you try to put one on, your family member will try to do more emotional blackmail, attacking you in ways that he knows hurt you and that you can give in to. Despite the emotional suffering it may cause you, stay firm, do not give in to his manipulation, and keep in mind what you want to achieve.

You are going to have a bad time no matter what, because you will inevitably feel fear and guilt when you defend your needs and fight emotional blackmail. Enduring these unpleasant emotions should not be enough reason for you not to be able to take care of yourself within your family relationship..

The more limits you set, the more you will get used to those emotions, because you will see that nothing bad happens and that you are not a bad person for fighting for what you want. In this way, it will become increasingly easier for you to combat emotional blackmail in family relationships and you will be able to have a healthy and stable bond.