SHARE Guilt trips are a form of verbal or nonverbal communication in which a guilt inducer tries to induce guilty feelings in a target, in an effort to control their behavior. As such, guilt trips are a clear form of psychological manipulation and coercion. However, we rarely think of guilt trips in such harsh terms.
Why Guilt Trips Often Succeed Guilt trips might be the bread and butter of many families' communications, but they are rarely as benign as we think. While they often "succeed," in that the recipient indeed changes their behavior as a result, these "successes" always come with a price—one few guilt inducers consider: Guilt trips frequently induce not just strong feelings of guilt but equally strong feelings of resentment toward the manipulator.
What allows guilt trips to succeed despite the resentment they cause is the nature of the relationships that usually exists between the two parties. How Guilt Trips Poison Our Closest Relationships In studies, people who induced guilt trips were asked to list the potential consequences of giving guilt trips, and only 2 percent mentioned resentment as a likely outcome.
In other words, people who use guilt trips are usually entirely focused on getting the result they want and entirely blind to the damage their methods can cause. Mild as the poisonous effects of most guilt trips are, over the long term, their toxicity can build and cause significant strains and emotional distance.
Ironically, the most common theme of familial guilt trips is one of interpersonal neglect , which means the long-term impact of guilt trips is likely to induce the polar opposite result most guilt trippers want.
Explain that their using a guilt trip to make you conform to their wishes makes you feel resentful, even if you do end up complying. Tell them you're concerned that accumulating these kinds of resentments can make you feel more distant from them and that is not something you or they wish. Ask them to instead express their wishes directly, to own the request themselves instead of trying to activate your conscience , and to respect your decisions when you make them e.
Explain that you will often do what they ask if they ask more directly. Admit that you might not always conform to their wishes but point out the payoff—that when you do choose to respond positively, you would do so authentically and wholeheartedly, that you would feel good about doing so, and that you would even get more out of it.
Be prepared to have reminder discussions and to call them on future guilt trips when they happen and they will. Remember, it will take time for them to change such an engrained communication habit. Be kind and patient throughout this process.
Doing so will motivate them to make more of an effort to change than if you come at them with anger and resentment, legitimate though your feelings may be. For more about how guilty feelings impact our mental health and what you can do to manage excessive guilt, survivor guilt, separation guilt, or disloyalty guilt, check out my forthcoming book, Emotional First Aid: