Do you find that people induce prompt guilt in you for something that might not be your fault or responsibility? Then you’ve been guilt tripped. And it sucks.
Constantly getting guilt-tripped can make you feel resentful and powerless. It can make you feel like you’re a worse person than you actually are. And most tellingly, if someone uses guilt trips a little too much, it can signal that you’re in a manipulative relationship.
Here’s how to know if you’re guilt-tripped and how to stop letting it affect you.
What is a Guilt Trip?
We’ve all heard a guilt trip from our parents, friends, teachers, and anyone else close to us in our lives, though we might not recognize that a guilt trip was actually a guilt trip.
At its core, a guilt trip is a passive-aggressive comment designed to make you feel guilty for doing something, typically benign, that you want to do.
A guilt trip usually makes you feel ungrateful or unworthy unless you do what the guilt tripper wants you to do. It’s a low-blow and hits the most powerful emotion in the human psyche — guilt. That’s why a guilt trip is so effective.
So if someone is trying to manipulate your emotions to do what they want — and to stop you from doing what you want — that is a guilt trip.
It has the consequence of gaslighting you, especially if what you’re doing is minor. Enough guilt trips can make you start to believe that you’re more ungrateful and selfish than you probably actually are.
Guilt trips are most effective in people who are passive and can’t assert their desires, so a guilt trip is all it takes to let the guilt tripper do what they want. In essence, a guilt trip is a form of bullying, as emotionally secure people would use other, less toxic methods to express what they want besides a guilt trip.
Main Construction of a Guilt Trip
Guilt trips vary in their severity and how they’re built, but guilt trips tend to hit the following points:
- They’re often quick to assume that your speech or action is out of bad intent, such as selfishness or not considering another person’s feelings or needs. In short, they’re quick to paint you as the bad guy.
- It also fails to make room for any conclusion other than the fact that you are bad and that what you are doing or saying comes from malintent. You said or did that because you are self-centered and callous.
- You’re accused of something that’s outside of your control or responsibility.
- They’re often really harsh in relation to your action, question, or speech.
- They’re passive-aggressive in nature, so they can be very slight or mild but still get the icy tone across.
- Also, guilt trips tend to lack logic. If you’ve shown no signs of being a callous or uncaring person in the past, then there’s no reason to suspect why you would be now, especially for something minor.
- At their core, guilt trips are a cover-up and a sort of sleight of hand. They shroud the fact that what someone is actually doing is commanding you to do something, whether it’s to feel bad, to stop a behavior, or to make you look or feel stupid in front of other people. Guilt trips tend to stop you from doing whatever it was that prompted the guilt trip.
Examples of a Guilt Trip
This article includes some great examples of a guilt trip. For example:
“Go home before 7 pm, or else I will die from a heart attack. Do you want that?”
In this example, a mother was texting her child to come home before a certain time.
It’s a very effective guilt trip, as it essentially says, “You will kill me — like actually cause me to die— if you don’t come home at 7 pm. And the death of your mother will be on your conscience forever. Do you want that? Do you want to kill your mother by not coming home at a certain time?”
Using your mortality to get your child home by 7 pm is rather extreme, which is why it’s such an effective guilt trip. Anyone with a conscience would feel terrible if their mother actually died from a heart attack as a result of their tardiness, and so to give this ultimatum is a low-blow and extremely manipulative.
“Are you sure you want to leave us like this?”
In this example, a girl put in her two weeks’ notice at her job.
Her boss then asks her along the lines of, “Are you sure you want to leave us in a position like this? When you know we’re already understaffed? Our customers would be devastated, and you’re the best person we have for the job.”
The boss also really laid it on thick, as they essentially brought up a list of reasons the girl should feel bad for leaving her job, from the other employees to the customers.
If someone said this to you as you decided to quit, you can see how easy it would be to say that you’ve changed your mind. It seems like you’re going to make everyone, from your boss to the customers to your coworkers, hate you. It would feel like you’re single-handedly going to make the business fail.
But the amount of guilt you feel for quitting your job is not necessary. Yes, the company culture would probably not be the same without a strong worker there, but the business will continue without you. If it doesn’t, it’s probably for other reasons beyond your control, such as poor profits and managerial expertise.
Those factors are out of your control anyway, so there’s nothing to feel bad about. But a guilt tripper doesn’t want you to think about logistics. They want you to feel more emotional pain for your actions than you should so that you won’t do it, which in this case would mean staying on staff under someone who is psychologically manipulative. Perhaps quitting is the best option.
Some other examples of a guilt trip include:
“If you break up with me, I’ll kill myself.”
Lots of people in abusive relationships hear this. It’s kind of like the first example with the mother saying she’ll have a heart attack if her child doesn’t come home at a certain time.
This guilt trip makes you feel like you’re putting the life of someone you care about in danger. This person might not actually be suicidal, but they know that it would be an incredibly effective manipulation tool to stake their life for getting what they want. And if you’re at least a little bit compassionate, it would work.
What makes this guilt trip so effective is that the person saying it is probably emotionally manipulative in other ways. As a result, the other party in the relationship would want out, but now their guilt is what traps them into dating a psychologically abusive person.
If someone utters this phrase, their life is worth less than getting what they want. They’ll say whatever it takes — even threatening suicide — if it means guilting you into submission.
“I do all this for you, and you can’t even do this one thing for me.”
A more subtle guilt trip you might have gotten once or twice. It’s a way someone reminds you of all the “debt” you’ve accumulated in a relationship with them, and how you now should repay it by doing what they ask you to do.
It could be parents saying, “I put a roof over your head and food on the table, and you can’t even keep your room clean.” It could be a tutor saying, “I put in so much effort into teaching you how to improve, but you won’t even put effort into lessons.”
Sometimes these types of guilt trips can be useful to motivate an unmotivated party, such as a lazy teen or an indifferent student. Sometimes, saying this guilt trip can spur someone to show up and stop being dead weight if they have been.
But if you find someone near you uses this guilt trip a lot to get you to do something, they might be doing it for manipulative reasons. There’s no reason to keep score in every little thing done in a relationship. There’s no need to provide such a mental burden when both people should be putting in their weight to keep a relationship functioning.
This is a bit ambiguous of a guilt trip, as sometimes it could actually be warranted (such as snotty, lazy teens). But if you hear it invoked a lot, its usage might give the signal to nefarious intent.
“You made me do this.”
This is a common excuse among abusive partners. Say you get in a fight that results in your boyfriend hitting you. He says you’re the one that made him hit you so that the fault lies on you.
In reality, no one makes you do anything — and that’s the central tenant of the ancient philosophy called Stoicism. You control nothing in this world but your speech and your behavior, so blaming your behavior on someone else is childish and manipulative.
There is no reason why you should force someone to do anything. No matter how angry someone gets, if they have emotional intelligence, they’ll be able to control themselves and keep their words and hands to themselves.
This phrase, along with, “If you X, I’ll kill myself,” is another classic and blatantly obvious guilt trip. There’s no real getting around it — it’s a form of pure emotional manipulation.
What to Do When Someone Guilt Trips You
If you’re hit with one of these classic guilt trips or some other variant, here’s how to properly maneuver the situation.
It’s not going to be helpful if you meet a guilt trip with vitriol or a bitter tone. Practice your breathing techniques, calm yourself, and keep a level head when faced with a guilt trip.
Some of these guilt trips are emotionally charged, like the one threatening suicide or “You made me do this,” which usually follows a heated event. Take a second to collect yourself so that you don’t lash out and respond without thinking. You’ll have to de-escalate the situation and find a way to stay clear-headed.
Remind Yourself That This is a Guilt Trip
You can spot the obvious ones in a heartbeat. As a reminder, they are:
- “You made me do this.”
- “If you X, I’m going to kill myself.”
- “I’ve done so much for you, why can’t you do this for me.”
- (Do what I say) or else (Something bad will happen to me).
It’s important to recognize how someone is trying to steer the conversation with their guilt trip. They’re trying to use their words to draw out a painful emotion, then elicit an action from you.
If you remind yourself that you’re being guilt-tripped, you’re more likely to see the other person’s words for what they are — an act of manipulation. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you indeed see it, you can act more rationally and not fall for the guilt trip.
Call Out the Guilt Tripping
A powerful statement to say in the situation is, “You’re trying to guilt-trip me to get me to do what you want, and I’m not going to fall for it.”
When you bluntly state the facts as they are, you take the ambiguity out of the situation. It’s no longer the passive-aggressive statement designed to hurt you and beat you into submission.
Rather, you’re stating clearly what the other person is trying to do and saying exactly how it’s not going to work.
Sure, your interlocutor will probably try to fight against you. “I’m not trying to guilt-trip you! I’m just trying to make you see my side of things.”
Well, there are better ways of getting people to do something than to manipulate them emotionally, which is what you should say. And again, the other person might try to fight against you.
You should keep this up for as long as you can. The more you can argue that someone is trying to guilt-trip you and the more you won’t fall for it, the more you assert that you are not someone who’s going to give in to someone’s manipulation passively.
Calling out the guilt trip is the best way to expose someone’s emotionally manipulative behavior and to try to get them to see the errors of their ways. At the very least, it will stop the guilt trip dead in its tracks.
Explain Your Side of the Guilt Trip
Once you’ve called out the guilt trip, explain why you don’t like it when that person tries to guilt-trip you.
Perhaps you’ll do what they ask, but it makes you feel resentful. Both you and the other person should be aware that feeling guilty is not a pleasant experience, so of course, someone should try to avoid feeling that emotion. But it should not come at the expense of doing someone’s bidding when there are other ways to ask for what someone wants.
A guilt trip also gives someone power over you. When you can control someone’s emotions like that — and it keeps working — you can make someone do what they normally would be resistant to.
A person rarely leads with a guilt trip. It usually comes as a second to last resort to get Person A to do something Person B wanted even when Person A refused. It’s a powerful tool for manipulation, which is why someone needs to use it selectively to get someone to do something for them. It could make you, as the guilt-tripped party, feel weak and powerless as a result.
Think about the past times that person has guilt-tripped you then reflect on how it made you feel. Then, once you’ve called out the guilt trip, explain how guilt-tripping makes you feel.
It should be clear why someone guilt trips — it’s a way to get what they want. In a toxic relationship, someone getting what they want may come at the other person’s emotional wellbeing.
But perhaps there’s something deeper that’s prompting the guilt tripper to guilt trip you, which is why you should see if there’s deeper exploring you should do.
Explore the Emotions Under the Guilt Trip
Let’s examine the following scenario.
A man in his 40s finds that his mom is laying on the guilt trips a little thick. There’s always the talk of “You’re going to put me in a (nursing) home one day,” or “I’m gonna die soon, so do what I say.”
Yes, age is a factor that one must start thinking about when their parents get older, but using one’s proximity to mortality should not be used as a manipulation tactic to get someone to do something.
The man expresses as much. The mother, acclimated to a lifetime of guilt-tripping herself, pushes back against the claims that she’s emotionally manipulative. But the son is adamant, and the elderly mother finally relents.
The son asks his mother if there’s anything she wants to talk about. The mother thinks about it for a little bit and says she’s scared of the future. She’s scared of actually going into a home and afraid that she’s going to leave the family she loves so much.
After talking about it further, perhaps the guilt trip is a way to have some sense of control over a situation — even if it comes at the cost of making her son feel terrible.
Or perhaps the man’s mother guilt trips because that’s what her mother did when she got older. When that’s your model for being at that age, you’re going to adopt some of those behaviors.
Whatever the case is, if you find someone you love guilt trips you a lot — especially when they didn’t use to guilt-trip you as much in the past — explore if those guilt trips are a symptom of something deeper.
Take a couple of hours to talk about guilt-tripping. Really hash it out, and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. If you find that you’re not able to facilitate such a conversation on your own, talking to a therapist or other mental health professional would definitely help.
Guilt trips can be a form of manipulation, yes, but manipulation isn’t an inherently toxic act. If a toxic person manipulates, then the manipulation comes from a bad place.
But when a good person tries to manipulate, it can be a sign of deeper anguish on the inside, so it’s worth exploring.
Request That They Don’t Guilt Trip in the Future
No matter what the reason is that someone guilt trips, you have every right to request that they don’t do it to you.
Plainly put, guilt trips don’t feel nice. And they especially don’t feel good if they make you feel resentful and hateful to the guilt tripper. So to stop someone from guilt-tripping you, the ultimate way is to ask the guilt tripper to stop.
If the guilt tripper says they don’t realize that they’re guilt-tripping, say it doesn’t matter. They should know, if not feel, when they’re trying to manipulate someone into getting them to do their bidding. Most of the time, guilt-tripping doesn’t come from a good, healthy place, so it’s best just to stop it.
Once you’ve made that request clear, you set up the boundary for what you would like to happen. You don’t want to be guilt-tripped. When you make it clear, it’s now the other person’s responsibility to follow suit. You’ve set the line, and now it’s yours to make to see if the other person follows
Be Prepared to Do This Multiple Times
Guilt-tripping can be someone’s default habit to get what they want. Perhaps they don’t even realize they guilt trip because guilt-tripping has been so normalized in their life.
As a result, you might have to call out when someone is guilt-tripping you multiple times to make it clear how often the other person guilt trips. Sometimes it’s hard to see when what you say is actually a guilt trip when it seems benign, such as “I’ve done all this for you, why can’t you do this for me?”
Still, stay adamant and firm in your boundaries. You don’t want to be guilt-tripped, so you have to notify someone when what they say is a guilt trip so that they don’t say it anymore.
Preparing to call out guilt trips multiple times is especially crucial if you’re trying to get someone who’s older, such as a parent or grandparent, to stop guilt-tripping you. Normalized language and behaviors change across generations, so you’ll have to have some patience to help them break their guilt-tripping habit.
If the relationship is truly worth having, then helping someone get rid of their guilt-tripping habit would be the most beneficial for everyone involved. Otherwise, you might have to reconsider if a relationship with the guilt tripper is worth having at all.
Consider Spending Less Time with the Guilt Tripper
If you’ve made it clear that you don’t want to be guilt-tripped — and you’ve called out instances of guilt-tripping multiple times after establishing a boundary — it would be best to reconsider if you should keep the guilt tripper in your life.
It’s easier to cut out some relationships more than others. Let’s say a friend you made in class turns out to be a massive guilt tripper. It’s easy to cut out friends in high school or college. But if the guilt trip comes from a family member you love and want to see regularly, cutting off the relationship now becomes a lot harder.
But, at the end of the day, what matters most is your mental health. If hanging around someone genuinely makes you feel worse about yourself, like you’re the fault for all their flaws or shortcomings, then you need to do what feels best for you. And that could involve cutting out the guilt tripper from your life.
At the very least, it could mean reducing how much time you spend with the guilt tripper, such as visiting your parents or grandparents when you’re older. If a partner guilt-trips you, though, you’ll have to break off the relationship, and the same goes with friends.
If guilt-tripping continues even after talking about the behavior, talking about why you don’t like it, and establishing a boundary of “no guilt-tripping,” it’s time to be more assertive with your time for the benefit of your mental health.
Refer to this article the next time you find yourself at the guilty end of a trip. It’s a tough situation to be in — especially if you find yourself there often. But finally stopping someone from guilt-tripping you feels great, and it’s essential to ensure proper mental health.