A guilt trip may seem like an everyday, even minor occurrence, but it's actually a form of subtle manipulation. Guilt trips rob relationships and interactions of emotional maturity and honesty and encourage long-term resentment on both sides. Learn to recognize the patterns of a guilt trip so that you can defuse it and hold higher standards for meaningful, emotionally mature and honest communication.
Recognizing Guilt Trips
Guilt trips are a form of emotional manipulation that commonly take one of two forms: a guilt trip that demonizes you or a guilt trip that casts the tripper in the role of a persecuted victim. Guilt trips of both kinds heavily exaggerate the situation and present a one-sided view rife with blame and simplistic judgment. Guilt trips may commonly rely on “always” and “never” statements with accusations of intentional cruelty or a total lack of caring on your part. They may be heavily sarcastic. Examples of guilt trips are statements like, “You clearly don't care about anyone's feelings except your own,” or “Don't worry about me, I'm perfectly happy to do all the work and not get any credit.”
At the heart of any guilt trip is insecurity. People who rely on guilt trips in order to communicate their dissatisfaction with a situation do so because they're afraid they won't get results if they communicate in a more mature fashion. A guilt trip is an attack that puts you on the defensive and makes you feel insecure and is an effective form of manipulation when your surprise and guilt cause you to behave in the way the guilt tripper wants. A guilt tripper is afraid to make statements like, “I'm feeling underappreciated,” or other statements that may make her vulnerable and reveal her own feelings and needs because she's afraid others will take advantage of that vulnerability.
Calling Them Out
An important step in dealing with a guilt tripper is to call him out on his behavior, if possible. Discussing the guilt tripping directly is appropriate in the case of close relationships. Identify the guilt trip when it happens and suggest an alternative means by which he could express his unhappiness using “I” statements. Point out that extremist statements or “always” and “never” statements are clearly untrue. Help the guilt tripper to understand the root cause of this behavior and make a change over time.
Crafting Your Responses
Do not allow a guilt tripper to get the reaction she's trying to get. Defuse the guilt trip by resisting the temptation to feel guilty. Address the concern and hurt feeling behind the guilt trip if you feel it's fair and necessary to do so, but be firm so that the tripper knows she doesn't control you. Ask her to rephrase her comment. Say things like, “I don't believe that's a fair assessment of the situation. Can you tell me what you're feeling right now?” Listen and address her core concerns in a manner that is consistent to what you believe and your principles, not necessarily according to her wishes.
- Psychology Today: The Psychology And Management Of Guilt Trips
- Rev. Heath: Guilt Tripping and Emotional Manipulation
- "The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life"; Dr. Robin Stern.
- Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images