Blackmail and Coercion: Destroyers of Healthy Relationships

Blackmail and Coercion: Destroyers of Healthy Relationships
Sergio De Dios González

Written and verified by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Last update: 28 July, 2022

Unfortunately, human relationships are riddled with manipulation. Usually it’s unconscious. We unknowingly learn to be manipulative and unknowingly manipulate people. Two manipulative mechanisms that seriously damage relationships are blackmail and coercion.

Manipulation, in psychological terms, is a mechanism through which a person can get another person to say or do something. This is achieved through the use of deceit, schemes, and traps. A person turns into a mere tool for another to use and get something out of.

Sometimes manipulation is deliberate. Think of politicians who make false promises so people will vote for him. But e specially in a person’s private life, manipulation is usually semi-conscious or unconscious.

“I know of those who have been educated from manipulation, control, blackmail, falsehood, intimidation and violence. The paradox is that these educators believe themselves the victims.”
-Unknown author-

How do you perform blackmail or coercion without realizing it? When you take on the victim role, for example. It’s an effective way to get someone to do something out of guilt and not their free will. It also happens when you put someone down so they feel dependent on you. Or when you take advantage of someone’s weakness to your advantage.

Psychological blackmail: an emotional liability

Psychological or emotional blackmail is a form of manipulation and is, therefore, a violent act. It’s used to control another person’s behavior — and feelings too. Like all blackmail, the situation involves one person dissuading another person from doing something, “citing” negative consequences. “Do it, but you’ll pay for it”, or “Don’t do it, but you won’t like what ends up happening”.

Sad girl with branches for arms.

Psychological blackmail keeps people from acting independently and freely. That’s what the blackmailer wants. They’ll make it very clear what could happen if the victim does or doesn’t do something.

There are two legs most emotional blackmail stands on. One is guilt and the other is insecurity. A blackmailed person feels like they’re bad if they do what the blackmailer doesn’t want, or that they will cause serious harm. That’s how the blackmailer controls the victim. “Go to your party… One day I’ll no longer be around and you’ll regret not spending more time with me”.

Being insecure could make anyone quite manipulable. All the blackmailer has to do is point out the errors, weaknesses, or risks that the other person is running. It weakens them even more. “When you realize you have no idea what you’re doing, find me and I’ll help you fix it.”

Coercion, somewhere between obvious and subtle

With coercion, not only is someone trying to get you to do something they want, but it’s also something that goes against what you truly want. Coercion involves behavior that’s more violent than blackmail, although it also has subtle nuances. Either way, coercion implies a relationship of power and abuse.

In coercion, there are threats, either direct or veiled. They take advantage of a person’s fear or vulnerability. Authority figures often use coercion to manage those in their sphere of influence.

In this case, the victim is aware that they’re being manipulated but feels unable to do anything about it. It may be because the other person is stronger and threatens to use physical violence. Or it could be because they are higher, status-wise, and could cause other kinds of harm.

Woman with a mask over her eyes; blackmail.

While it’s normally someone close to you who uses emotional blackmail on you, with coercion, that’s not necessarily true. It doesn’t come from a loved one so much as someone you fear.  The victim doesn’t realize that they are able to resist. Instead, they allow themselves to be placed in a helpless position.

Both blackmail and coercion have the power to truly destroy relationships. They distort feelings and exploit human beings. The perpetrator may get away with it for a little while, but sooner or later it will come back to them.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.