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Does threatening to blackmail someone count as blackmailing someone?

15+ Examples of Emotional Blackmail

The emotional blackmailer typically does not have any other coping or go-to methods for how to communicate and interact in a healthy manner. They fall back to stonewalling, slamming doors, threatening, and engaging in other damaging behaviors to get what they want. They typically do not have the tools available to understand how to convey their needs.

Many examples of emotional blackmail occur in romantic relationships. Any gender can engage in emotional blackmail. However, a male-female partnership is a prototypical example.

One scenario is if a man in a committed relationship is caught cheating on his partner. Rather than taking ownership and apologizing for his actions, he may twist the story. He may blame his partner for not meeting his needs or being there when he needed her, therefore, seemingly rationalizing or justifying his behavior. This can be confusing for the victim, as she may be inclined to question herself or start believing his claims.

She may wonder if she is good enough or if she could have done more in the relationship.

Other examples of demands and threats in emotional blackmail:

  • If I ever see another man look at you I will kill him.
  • If you ever stop loving me I will kill myself.
  • I’ve already discussed this with our pastor/therapist/friends/family and they agree that you are being unreasonable.
  • I’m taking this vacation – with or without you.
  • How can you say you love me and still be friends with them?
  • You’ve ruined my life and now you are trying to stop me from spending money to take care of myself.

Emotional blackmailers commonly attempt to make the victim feel responsible for their (negative) actions.

  • It was your fault that I was late for work.
  • If you wouldn’t cook in an unhealthy way, I wouldn’t be overweight.
  • I would have gotten ahead in my career if you had done more at home.

Emotional blackmail may also occur in situations where one person is an addict. They may threaten to take the car if the victim does not pick them up from the bar.

Emotional blackmail can take place in family relationships as well. A needy mother may attempt to give her child a guilt trip for not spending enough time with her. She may make comments referencing what “good daughters” do.

Emotional blackmail can occur in friendships. A friend may ask for money and threaten to end the friendship if they do not comply.

A punishing type of blackmail can occur. For example, if a couple is going through a difficult divorce, the emotional blackmailer may threaten that if their partner files for divorce, they will keep the money or never let them see the kids. Such behavior can leave the victim feeling rage at the attempt of being controlled and not knowing how to properly respond.

Another type of emotional blackmail that is even more insidious is when we use fear, obligation, and guilt to hold ourselves hostage. We can inflict our own FOG which can control our behavior, even if it is not coming from external sources. “If I were a good son, I would visit my mother more frequently.”

There can be different levels of emotional blackmail, ranging from threats with little consequence to threats that can impact major life decisions or can be dangerous.

Here are some additional brief and damaging examples of threats associated with emotional blackmail:

  • If you don’t take care of me, I’ll wind up in the hospital/on the street/unable to work.
  • You’ll never see your kids again.
  • I’ll make you suffer.
  • You’ll destroy this family.
  • You’re not my child anymore.
  • You’ll be sorry.
  • I’m cutting you out of my will.
  • I’ll get sick.
  • I can’t make it without you.

Difference Between Blackmail and Extortion

While some people use the terms interchangeably, there is a difference between blackmail and extortion. Whereas blackmail is a crime based on information, extortion is a crime based on force. Extortion, a type of theft, involves the threat of physical harm or destruction in order to obtain something of value. It can also entail a government official misusing authority to coerce a person. An example of extortion is a police officer threatening to arrest someone if they refuse to pay them.

With blackmail, a person threatens to reveal personal information instead of using threats of harm or destruction. Though there is a difference between blackmail and extortion, the law considers both criminal acts.


Read More About Emotional Manipulation

Featured photo credit: Naomi August via unsplash.com

13. Say Nothing

Sometimes people don’t need to hear your opinion. The next time you want to chime in and give empirical data supporting your side of an argument, stop and ask yourself the question, “Do I want to be happy, or do I want to be right?” More times than not, being happy means conceding the argument and enjoying the company of others.

Advice for Parents

Emotional blackmail can also be used in families, even with children or teens blackmailing their parents. However, it would be easy to assume that all temper tantrums by children sound like emotional blackmail.

In his article Emotional Blackmail: Fear, Obligation, and Guilt (FOG), Skip Johnson differentiates the difference between immature actions taken by children to manipulate their parents and emotional blackmail. He highlights how the use of the term “blackmail” brings such a negative connotation. He clarifies that in using such a term, it is implied that there is forethought or premeditation involved.

A child having a crying fit at the grocery store because they want candy is clearly a different dynamic than emotional blackmail used in an adult relationship. Children may naively demonstrate such behaviors, without the understanding of the manipulation element. That being said, a teenager making a demand for parents to give them the car or they will hurt themselves does qualify as emotional blackmail.

All parents are invested in wanting their kids to be happy. This potentially makes them more vulnerable to being emotionally blackmailed by their children and adolescents. Mental health experts claim that this type of manipulation tactics can be very difficult to identify and address. If they give in to such manipulation tactics, parents can often end up feeling hijacked by their own family.

Kids and teens can exploit your wish of wanting them to be happy in order to get what they want. This hijack can be addressed if parents are clear and understanding that the primary role is not to make sure their kids are happy, but to keep them safe and teach them about the world.

Parents that are dealing with a child who engages in emotional blackmail can feel as though they are being held hostage. Addressing these behaviors as a parent is complicated and challenging. There is a range of severity in terms of the level of emotional blackmail kids can use with their parents. A common example may be a tantrum in the grocery store, where the parent, in an effort to avoid a scene and to escape the store will give in.

Once parents give in to this behavior, the cycle becomes reinforced. The child then learns what buttons to push in order to get what they want. They now know what to do in order to get the parent to give in. As kids get older, the behavior may shift into disrespectful attitudes and remarks as a teenager to try and control the parents.

Adolescents can learn techniques to manipulate their parents by expressing strong emotions. In his book Declare Yourself, John Narciso identifies these behavior patterns as “get my way techniques.” Adolescents, like adults, can identify triggers for their parents and use this knowledge to get what they want. An example of a button to push, is if the parent is sensitive to rejection.

Teenagers can pick up on that and act in ways that spark fear in the parent that the teen does not like them. This can create guilt and fear in the parent, who then ends up complying to the adolescents’ demands.

Another example is if a parent is sensitive to inadequacy, the adolescent can criticize the parent by attacking their competence. A parent sensitive to this may give in because of the discomfort they experience feeling judged. If parents are sensitive to guilt, teens can highlight their emotional suffering to get what they want.

To re-direct emotional blackmail, parents need to stand firm and consistent with their boundaries, regardless of the emotional outbursts or threats from the teen. It is important to clarify that acting upset or aggressively will not change the parents’ mind. The key is to not be sensitive to these behaviors to the point that it changes your parental decisions.

Some families, especially those dealing with mental illness in the family, will experience more severe forms of emotional blackmail. It creates a conundrum, because for children who engage in extreme emotional blackmail, common forms of influence, discipline, punishment, or reinforcements are not effective in changing the behaviors. A severe form of manipulation may involve children threatening their parents that if they do not get what they want, they will tell people that they are being abused.

Here are some additional examples of children blackmailing parents. They can blame their parents for behaviors such as stealing, suggesting that it was not their fault that they had to take the money. The may say that if the parents gave them a bigger allowance, they would not have needed to steal the money for what they wanted at the time.

Another example is that they make threats to physically harm another sibling if the parents do not let them go out or do what they want. They may threaten to run away if they do not get their way. Making a threat to harm themselves is another severe example of emotional blackmail. In these situations, parents need psychological support and guidance on how to best navigate in a way that will keep everyone safe.

Blackmail Example Involving a Celebrity

In 2009, Robert Halderman, former CBS News producer, learned that “Late Show” host David Letterman was engaged in extramarital affairs. On September 9, he gave Letterman’s driver a sealed envelope containing several documents. Included was a letter threatening to ruin Letterman if he did not pay a large sum of money. That same month, Halderman met with Letterman’s lawyer to discuss the terms of the arrangement.

On October 1, 2009, he received a check for $2 million dollars in exchange for his silence. The next day police arrested him, and the court later released the blackmailer on $200,000 bail. Letterman announced the situation on his show and admitted to affairs with female staffers. Rather than go to trial, the man pled guilty and received six months in jail, five years on probation, and 1,000 hours of community service.

3 Strategies Of Emotional Blackmail

Psychotherapist Dr. Susan Forward devised the acronym FOG to sum up the strategies that manipulators typically use – Fear, Obligation, and Guilt.

A manipulator can use all of these three kinds of strategies at once, or rely on just one or two of them.

A person can tap into their partner’s fears (perhaps about the relationship ending), trigger their feelings of obligation (perhaps reminding them that they’re the breadwinner in the family), or make them feel guilty (by laying their problems entirely at their partner’s door).

They do this using the knowledge they’ve gained over the years about what makes their partner tick.

Being aware of these strategies and the four types of emotional blackmail discussed later can help you to identify behavior you might not have otherwise recognized as manipulative.

Let’s take a closer look at the three strategies, and then examine the four types of blackmail and see how the two interlink.


Fear is a reaction designed to protect us, triggering physical responses that get us ready for ‘fight or flight’ when we find ourselves in threatening situations.

Those situations don’t necessarily have to be physically dangerous.

We can feel fearful about losing the ones we love or harm coming to them.

Sometimes, it’s just fear of the unknown that manipulators play on.

There are all kinds of fears that can be used to hold people hostage, such as fear of abandonment, fear of upsetting someone, fear of confrontation, fear of tricky situations, and fear for your own physical safety.


We often feel obliged to the people around us because, as human beings, a strong sense of community is a large part of what has enabled our species to be so successful.

There’s safety in numbers, and we all want to be included in the group. In order to be accepted, we’ve always had certain obligations to fulfil.

Manipulators can use different strategies to remind us of those obligations, pushing the buttons that make us feel duty bound to do what they want.

A parent might remind a child of the sacrifices they’ve made for them and tell them they’re being ungrateful.

A partner might claim that they would do whatever it is they have asked you to do if the roles were reversed.

A manipulator might accuse a friend of being selfish.


Guilt is very much linked to obligation.

If we don’t do something we think we’re obliged to do, we tend to experience guilt, or feel like we deserve to be punished in some way.

It’s pretty easy to trigger guilt in someone, for all kinds of reasons.

We can be made to feel guilty for something we’ve done to upset someone, for our selfishness, or for not doing our share of the work in a relationship.

We can be guilt-tripped for working too much, for spending too much, for spending time with other people, or even just being happy or enjoying ourselves when the other person is low or going through a hard time.


Blackmailing someone emotionally requires you to be strong, bold, act smart and be patient. When you blackmail someone emotionally, you are taking advantage of the love they have for you, and when it is taken too far, it may turn out bad.

If you want things to be done your way by blackmailing someone emotionally, follow the steps outlined above, and you will be amazed on how everything will work out the way you want. However, note that emotional blackmail may not work out with everyone because there are some people out there who are smart enough to spot when their emotions are being blackmailed.

With all the points listed, your question on how to blackmail someone emotionally would be solved if you read through and follow the steps.

How To Deal With Emotional Blackmail

Now we’ve taken a look at the signs of emotional blackmail in a relationship, you should hopefully have a good idea about whether this is what’s happening in your relationship or not. 

Although it can be really painful coming to the realization that your partner has been using emotional blackmail against you, it’s vital that you act and deal with it. No one deserves to be treated like this. 

Acknowledge the different ways you’re being blackm

Acknowledge the different ways you’re being blackmailed

As we have seen with the signs above, there are many ways a person can emotionally blackmail someone. It’s really important to acknowledge and recognize what ways your partner blackmails you so that you can then look deeper into the issue and understand it further. 

Also, while you’re trying to figure out the ways in which your partner is blackmailing you, it is vital that you do not let on to your partner that you know they are blackmailing you. Firstly because you want to be able to monitor the behavior they normally exhibit, but also because you could put yourself in danger.

Think about whether your partner is capable of change

Once you have identified the ways in which your partner blackmails you, you will need to think very seriously about whether you think your partner is capable of change, or not. You do not deserve to live in fear of blackmail, so the only two options you have are either your partner changing their behavior and realizing it’s wrong, or, you leave. 

The majority of the time, the best option is to leave. However, if you truly believe (with unclouded judgment) that your partner can change and needs help to change, you might be able to stay and have a successful relationship in the future.

Think about whether you’re in danger

One of the most important things you need to consider when you realize that you’re in a relationship with an emotional blackmailer is if you are safe, or in danger. You will probably be able to grasp whether you are in danger or not by thinking about your partner’s behavior when they blackmail you. 

Is your partner really aggressive with you normally? Has your partner ever physically abused you? Does your partner have a quickly changing, fiery temper? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then you might be in danger. 

If you are in danger, it’s important that you leave the relationship as safely as possible. Don’t let your partner know that you have realized what they’re doing to you, and definitely don’t let them see that you’re attempting to leave. It can be extremely helpful to gain support from loved ones and even professionals.

Share your situation

You can find support in sharing details of your situation with loved ones and trusted friends. They will be able to offer you advice, check up on you, and support you emotionally. You might also find it useful to speak to a professional about your situation, such as a therapist or relationship counselor. They will be able to help you further understand what emotional blackmail is, and assist you in dealing with it.

As well as these people you can confide in, you could also connect with others in the same position. Although no one deserves to live with constant fear, obligation, and guilt, you’ll be surprised by how many people do. There’s an array of online blog sites and forums for people dealing with this situation and it can be comforting to have a support network like this.

Leave or work through the problem

Once you fully understand the situation you are in and have a game plan of how you are going to deal with it, it’s time to take action. Leaving someone that’s emotionally blackmailing you might be hard, but it’s the best thing to do in most situations. Make sure you’re not in danger, have a good support network, and leave him!

However, if you are going to try and work through the issue with your partner, now’s the time to safely confront them and see if they’re willing to work at it together and see a professional to help them.

Own it up

Like I pointed out above, the only deal in the blackmailing game is fear, fear of the unknown. The only trusted way to conquer that fear is to say it out loud to yourself, yes! I did it!

6 More Signs Of Emotional Blackmail

If you’re in a relationship with a serial emotional blackmailer, then reading the above might have set off a few alarm bells.

But here are a few more signs to look out for should you have any doubt that you’re in a relationship with a manipulator, or should come across one in the future.

1. You know deep down

Much as you might try to lie to yourself or find it difficult to admit your suspicions to your friends or family, you know deep down when the person you’re with is toying with your emotions to get what they want.

Listen to those persistent niggling feelings in the pit of your stomach and you can’t go too far wrong.

2. They like to boast

People who are manipulative tend to be quite outspoken about just how wonderful they are… because they really believe it!

If someone seems to lack proper modesty, that’s a big warning sign.

3. They like the sound of their own voice

They don’t just boast, but they talk a lot, dominating conversations, just as they try to dominate their partner.

They’re not a good listener at all.

4. They’re not good at taking advice/criticism

Deep down they’re pretty insecure themselves, even though they prey on the insecure and vulnerable.

They tend to see any advice given to them as an insult to their intelligence rather than what it is.

And lord help you if you try to criticize them, even if you believe it is constructive feedback.

5. They criticize the opinions of others and play down their successes

They don’t want other people to look better than them, so they make it their mission to discredit the things that other people say.

They also can’t bear to see other people succeeding and thriving when they’re not, especially a partner, and they struggle to hide their jealousy.

Basically, it’s all about them.