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A guilt trip is a form of communication in which an individual uses guilt as a manipulation tactic, attempting to make a target feel guilty and thereby controlling their behavior. All of us have experienced guilt trips throughout the course of our lives. Some of us may even have a friend, family member, or lover who has guilt-tripped us frequently over time, leaving us feeling bitter and emotionally exhausted.Though those who initiate guilt trips are ultimately to blame for their behavior, we can all learn how to better cope with guilt-tripping. By recognizing when you’re the target of a guilt trip and learning how to more effectively communicate your own emotional needs, you can better protect your emotional well-being, lessening the effects that guilt trips have on your life.
Guilt-Tripping: Effective But Harmful
On a surface level, guilt trips may seem fairly innocent. A mother may make her son feel bad for not finishing his dinner, sighing and reminding him that she spent hours preparing it. A boyfriend might make his girlfriend feel guilty for not attending a sporting event with him, making it clear that he feels as though her rejection of the event is a rejection of everything that he cares about.
Though the guilted individuals in the aforementioned scenarios might sigh and acquiesce, eating more dinner or attending the sporting match, the effects of these guilt trips can add up over time. Using guilt as a means of getting one’s way is ultimately manipulative and coercive. Though the guilt-trippers might win in the short-term, they generally lose in the end. Over time, constant guilt-tripping can lead to feelings of resentment, causing victims to pull away from those who are guilt-tripping them.
Though those who suffer from frequent guilt-tripping often cite resentment as a top consequence of the behavior, one study showed that only 2% of those who induced guilt trips predicted resentment as a potential outcome of their behavior. This reveals that those who manipulate others using guilt-based tactics rarely perceive the negative consequences of their actions. Many are only focused on “succeeding” in getting the result that they desire; causing feelings of bitterness is rarely their goal.
Recognizing a Guilt Trip
To successfully manage a guilt trip, one must recognize guilt-tripping behaviors as they are occurring. Those who guilt-trip us are generally those we are closest to. If you find that you often feel guilty in the presence of a parent, a friend, or a romantic partner, there’s a chance that they’ve been guilt-tripping you. Guilt-tripping behaviors often include nagging, constant reiteration of a particular point, and dramatic language and actions. Guilt-trippers often bring up past behaviors and may try to claim they have helped you in the past and that you “owe them a favor in return” now. They may speak in dramatic, black-and-white terms, claiming that you “never” do something or “always” act in a particular way. They may claim that they “need” your help and that you “don’t care at all” if you don’t do as they say. Remember, however, that guilt-tripping communication rarely reflects the truth in an accurate and balanced way. If someone claims that you need to do something “in return” for them, remember that, if they helped you in the past, it should have been out of the goodness of their heart. Helping others shouldn’t be a “tit-for-tat” dynamic. In many cases, it is unfair of others to expect you to conform to their wishes. No matter how they behave, it remains your right to respond as you choose.
Tools for Combatting a Guilt Trip
Those who guilt trip you often do so because it works. Though you might not be able to put a stop to guilt-tripping behavior entirely, you can communicate in ways that let guilt trippers know that you recognize their manipulation and don’t appreciate the way it makes you feel. By responding with strength and confidence, you can avoid simply giving in to the feelings of guilt being hoisted upon you.
As with most interpersonal problems, communication is the key to reducing guilt-tripping behaviors and their impact upon your life. Begin by explaining to the person who is guilt-tripping you that you understand where they’re coming from. They are communicating in the way that they are because they very much want you to behave in a certain way. Let them know, however, that their means of communicating with you is making you feel guilty and resentful, and that even if you end up conforming to their wishes, you won’t feel good about doing so. Express that this form of communication may cause you to pull away from them over time, which isn’t something you want.Clarify that you’d be grateful to them if they would communicate their wishes to you in a more direct manner. Tell them, too, that they need to respect your decision if you decline. Explain that you might not always agree with them and do as they want you to, but that when you do, they can rest assured that you have chosen to do so wholeheartedly and of your own free will. State that you may need to let them know when they’re making you feel guilty in the future. Continue being kind, patient, and mindful of your own behavior, and ask that they do the same.
Some people are unlikely to change their ways. For some, guilt-tripping is a life-long pattern that may be hard to break. If this is the case, remind yourself that a guilt trip has more to do with the guilt-inducer than you. The guilt-tripper is likely behaving in this way to assuage their own negative feelings, such as sadness, anxiety, or frustration. They are trying to bend you to their will in order to feel more comfortable themselves. If someone, such as a parent or an authority figure, tries to make you feel as though you’re the “only one” who can solve their problems, don’t fall for it. They can likely solve the problem themselves or with someone else’s assistance. You do not have to rescue others simply because they want you to save them.
If guilt-tripping persists, it is important to call upon your own inner strength. It is your right to simply say “no” to anything that makes you feel unduly guilty or uncomfortable. Many of us have been brought up to feel as though refusal and awkwardness must be avoided at all costs. We often comply with guilt-tripping simply to bring an end to uncomfortable situations. Though we might alleviate our discomfort in the short-term, we may suffer from increased feelings of stress, annoyance, and resentment in the long-term as a result of following the will of others, rather than our own desires. Remember that it is better to be true to yourself now. Though it may be hard to turn someone down now, it will likely save you from suffering later on.
Guilt-trippers often prey on those with low self-esteem. If your self-worth is low, you may be more likely to doubt yourself and ignore your own sense of intuition. If they don’t get their way at first, guilt-trippers often result to even more manipulative and abusive tactics, such as threats, insults, and name-calling. It is important to work on your self-esteem by standing up for yourself. If you show signs of weakness or uncertainty, you will be much more likely to be overpowered by the guilt-tripper’s unyielding pressure. Instead, stand your ground and make your position clearly known. Guilt-tripping is often similar to bullying. By standing up to the bully, they will be less likely to continue targeting you in the future.
If you cannot find a way to effectively communicate with a chronic guilt-tripper, it may be best to simply distance yourself from them. Continuing to associate with someone who is behaving in a toxic manner will only serve to damage your psychological well-being. Sometimes, distance will help a person recognize the error of their ways. If not, keeping your distance will simply aid you in protecting your psyche.
Though you may feel guilty when someone guilt-trips you, remember that you are not at fault. Guilt-tripping is a toxic form of manipulation that will likely build resentment over time. If you feel that you yourself are guilty of guilt-tripping others, work on learning how to communicate your desires in a more direct manner. Strive to accept others’ decisions, even when they clash with your own preferences. If you are the victim of guilt-tripping, practice standing up for yourself. Saying “no,” and communicating with guilt-trippers about the flaws in their communication techniques can be extremely difficult to do. Simply continue practicing open communication. Stand by your beliefs and refuse to comply with others’ wishes simply to appease them. If all else fails, distance yourself from anyone who is manipulating you. Protecting your own mental health is more important than making others happy.Though it may be impossible to avoid guilt-trips entirely, it is possible to change our own behaviors so that we suffer from fewer feelings of guilt and resentment. Stand up for yourself and your beliefs! By refusing to be manipulated, you can boost your self-esteem, improving the quality of your daily life.
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