The desire to make someone feel guilty means you want that person to admit responsibility for wrongdoing, feel badly about it and make amends. Guilt is a normal reaction to doing something wrong or insensitive. Believe it or not, it's selfish not to allow the other person to accept blame and feel guilt, according to psychologist Mark White in a 2011 Psychology Today article. Keep in mind, though, that even if you can induce misery, guilt without change won't help anyone in the long run.
What Does Not Work
As the wronged party, you have the upper hand, and the wrongdoer knows it. This is no time to go silent, angry and calculating; not if you want an admission, apology and changed behavior. If you respond by withholding attention or affection, or by upping the ante with similar wrongdoing, the focus will switch to your behavior.
Venue and Approach
Choose a place for your discussion that provides quiet and privacy. Maintain a calm, measured tone and refrain from using profanity and name-calling. Stay focused on the matter at hand and refuse to wander off, or be dragged off, into other areas. For instance, you are discussing his failure to acknowledge Valentine's Day, so don’t talk about his family or his eating habits. Follow a conversational pattern -- you talk, he talks and then you talk again -- no cutting in.
Identify the Offense
There are degrees of wrongness, mitigating circumstances and potential for harm, all of which figure in to the plan to induce guilt. Identify the wrongful act and the impact on you. Admit to any part you played in the conflict. If the person is a serial liar, focus on dishonesty instead of individual lies. You should avoid generalizations such as “You always say mean things to me,” according to the University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center. Zero in on the exact act of cruelty. Don’t dilly-dally around the edges of serious offenses, such as cheating.
Describe Your Suffering
Assume the person has no idea how the offense affected you. Explain in detail how you were affected. Tell him if the mistreatment made you feel unloved. Inform your best friend that she hurt your feelings and made you cry. Describe the frustration and embarrassment you feel when your husband behaves irresponsibility. Your roommate needs to know if your broken leg is because of the motor oil he left on the garage floor. It’s important to state just the actual effects. Exaggeration and dishonesty allows the person to discount everything you say.
Wrapping It Up and Moving On
Now that it is clear you are not willing to suffer in silence, it is time to discuss what you want. Use of the words “demands,” “ultimatum” or “punishment” only make matters worse. You want an admission of wrongdoing and an apology. Reparations might include reimbursement or a promise to do better. Once all is resolved, move on and extend forgiveness.
- American Psychological Association: Guilt Can Do Good
- Psychology today: Maybe It’s Just Me, But… - Self-Loathing and Responsibility: Your Partner Makes Mistakes Too
- University of Texas at Austin: UT Counseling and Mental Health Center - Fighting Fair to Resolve Conflict
- Psych Central: It is Okay to Make Someone Feel Guilty?
Gail Sessoms, a grant writer and nonprofit consultant, writes about nonprofit, small business and personal finance issues. She volunteers as a court-appointed child advocate, has a background in social services and writes about issues important to families. Sessoms holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies.