Emotional Blackmail and Bipolar: What Is It? What to Do About It | Bipolar Burble Blog | Natasha Tracy


Emotional blackmail can occur in any relationship, but, unfortunately, some people associate emotional blackmail with bipolar disorder (or another mental illness). I’ve had many people talk to me about this over the years. It’s extremely hard to deal with emotional blackmail no matter who’s doing it, but when emotional blackmail comes alongside bipolar disorder or another mental illness, really, it’s double-tough. Read on to learn about emotional blackmail and what you might want to do about it.

Emotional Blackmail: What Is It?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, emotional blackmail is:

“the act of using a person’s feelings of kindness, sympathy, or duty in order to persuade them to do something or feel something.”

In short, an emotional blackmailer tries to use your own feelings against you. A person is bludgeoning you with your feelings. It hurts and it’s a form of manipulation.

Often, the emotion being used in emotional blackmail is guilt. This is commonly known as a “guilt trip.” For example, a mother might say to her child,

“I was in labor with you for 28 hours and you can’t even come to dinner?”

Similarly, a mother might say something like,

“If you were a good daughter, you would do as you’re told.”

Obviously, the desired action of getting a child to come to dinner isn’t particularly sinister, but the same technique can be used in an attempt to manipulate a child to do almost anything.

Emotional Blackmail and Bipolar Disorder

Another example of emotional blackmail that comes up in relationships sometimes is the “if-you-loved-me” scenario. It’s when one person says or implies to another that the person would act in a certain way if they loved them. For example, a man might say to his spouse,

“If you really loved me, you’d get over that affair. You know I was manic at the time.”

In this case, the person is not only using emotional blackmail in an attempt to get his partner to “get over” something, but he’s also using his bipolar disorder as an excuse for his actions. If you ask me, this twists the knife even further because not only is your love of the person supposedly in doubt but so is your empathy for the person with bipolar disorder.

Another example might be,

“If you don’t get a job, I just know I’m going to get depressed again.”

Here, a person with bipolar disorder is emotionally blackmailing her partner with fear and suggesting that her mental wellness is the other person’s responsibility.

Bipolar Disorder and Emotional Blackmail’s Dirty Tricks

Emotional blackmail is basically a dirty trick anyone can pull out at any time in an attempt to win an argument or alter another person’s behaviors. It’s not fair; it’s not right and it shouldn’t be a part of anyone’s relationship dynamic.

See this video for one of the worst types of emotional blackmail when it comes to bipolar disorder, the if-you-don’t-do-what-I-want-I’ll-kill-myself variety.

But I want to make something clear: just because a person has bipolar disorder doesn’t mean they’ll emotionally blackmail anyone. Emotional blackmail isn’t as much about bipolar disorder as much as it is about desperation and a lack of interpersonal skills; both of which may be present in a person with bipolar disorder.

Why Would a Person with Bipolar Emotionally Blackmail Someone?

First off, there is desperation. It’s easy to see how a person with bipolar disorder may be desperate. A person with bipolar disorder may be desperate because of things that have happened during a manic episode or because of the fact that they can’t get out of a depressive episode or because they can’t meet their commitments or because they fear their partner leaving them for being “deficient” or about a million other reasons. Being desperate is practically baked into bipolar disorder.

But the second part that may lead a person with bipolar disorder to emotionally blackmail is a lack of interpersonal skills. Many people with bipolar disorder started getting sick very young — some even before their teens — and so they have stunted growth in some respects (if they have not taken action to correct this). If you think of a 15-year-old, for example, the idea that they might try to emotionally blackmail you is almost predictable. So is the fact that the person will grow out of doing things like that. Unfortunately, if you’re sick when you’re supposed to be learning more positive techniques, you may never pick up those techniques and thus you are left with emotional blackmail as an arrow in your quiver in a relationship.

So when you combine these two factors, you can see how emotional blackmail and bipolar disorder may go together for some people.

What to Do About Emotional Blackmail and Bipolar Disorder

If you’re the person that is being emotionally blackmailed by a person with bipolar disorder, I’m so sorry. If the person with bipolar disorder is threatening their own life or health, I’m doubly sorry. What you’re dealing with is horrendous and practically unthinkable. Emotional blackmail is not okay whether the person has bipolar disorder or not.

How you deal with emotional blackmail with bipolar depends on a few things but one of the major things is this: is the person blackmailing you a repeat offender?

If the person with bipolar is emotionally blackmailing you and you’ve never confronted them on it, now is a good time. You need to sit down outside of the incendiary situation and talk about the type of interaction that was had. You need to talk about emotional blackmail: what it is and why it isn’t acceptable. It’s possible the person may be doing it without truly understanding how damaging and devastating it is. If this is the case, the person with bipolar will work to change their behavior and communication techniques. This might take more than a conversation, though, this might take the help of a therapist. Whether solo therapy or couple therapy is tried, it can be very effective in teaching someone new and healthy ways to disagree. If the relationship is important to you, this step makes sense even in the face of something as unreasonable as emotional blackmail.

What to Do About Repeat Emotional Blackmail and Bipolar

If, on the other hand, the person with bipolar is a repeat emotional blackmailer, your response may be different. If you have already confronted the person and have tried therapy (or therapy has been rejected) then you’re in a much harder spot. As I said earlier, emotional blackmail — by a person with bipolar or not — is abuse and abuse is never okay. At this point, you need to set strict boundaries for yourself you can live with. If you’re prepared to continue in an abusive relationship, that’s your choice, but I would highly encourage you to take a step back. You do not deserve to be treated that way. Abuse — including emotional abuse — should never be a part of any relationship.

And please remember, you are not responsible for anyone but yourself. Don’t let an emotional blackmailer convince you that you are responsible for him or her. While it can be incredibly painful, at some point an adult has to take care of him or herself. (This doesn’t mean you can’t call in help, however. If you believe that your partner truly is at risk of hurting themselves, don’t hesitate to call a crisis team or even 9-1-1.)

Yes, this may mean saying goodbye to someone who refuses to change, but remember, this makes room for someone in your life who is whole and healthy. And you deserve that.