May 2, 2022

Guilt Trips

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A guilt-trip is the intentional manipulation of another person’s emotions to induce feelings of guilt. People use guilt-tripping by purposefully causing another person to feel guilty, remorseful, or bad about their decisions or choices.

What do guilt trips look like in relationships? Guilt-tripping in relationships occurs when one person intentionally induces feelings of guilt in his (or her, or their) partner. When successful, guilt-trips cause the receiver to change or reverse their course of action due to the other person having made them feel bad. For example, let’s say a husband and wife have plans to go out, and at the last minute, the wife asks if they can stay home and relax instead. The husband, feeling disappointed by her decision, tells her she is a terrible wife who only ever thinks about herself. His wife now feels guilty, and perhaps even agrees with his assessment. Instead of standing her ground, she gives in to alleviate her guilt. Guilt-tripping is a natural form of passive-aggression that people resort to when they don’t have the skills or language to assertively communicate their needs or feelings.

Is guilt-tripping ever acceptable? Most of the time, guilt-tripping is problematic and damaging in that it leaves the receiver feeling bad and ashamed for expressing their preferences or feelings. There is always a better way to communicate. In the example above, the husband instead could have said, “I’d really like to go out tonight. I’ve been looking forward to this reservation all week. Can we go out tonight and stay in tomorrow?”

When can guilt-tripping be effective? Guilt-tripping can be used with purpose when the intent is to teach a lesson about guilt. We often see this with parents, who occasionally rely on guilt-tripping to teach their children right from wrong (e.g. “you shouldn’t have hit your friend, Tommy! You hurt him!”). The idea behind guilt-tripping children is to teach them remorsefulness when they have caused emotional or physical harm to another.

How is gas-lighting different than guilt-tripping? Gas-lighting differs from guilt-tripping in that the intention of gaslighting is to deny another person’s reality, whereas the intent of guilt-tripping is to induce guilty feelings. Guilt-tripping can be a form of gas-lighting if the message being communicated denies the other person’s reality; however, not all gas-lighting is guilt-tripping.

How can I respond when someone tries to guilt-trip me? One helpful suggestion is to confront the other person and say something like: I don’t appreciate being made to feel guilty for expressing what I want/feel. I’m sorry it’s not the answer you wanted to hear, but I’m not going to feel bad about having my own preferences or opinion.

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