Guilt Tripping: What It Is And Isn't, And How To Deal With It

We all hear about guilt tripping and how it's a lousy thing to do to people - but what is it, exactly? What's the difference between pointing out a fact that simply induces guilt in someone, and genuinely trying to guilt trip somebody? And what can you do when somebody tries guilt tripping you? This article aims to help address these issues so you can avoid falling prey to a guilt trip, avoid throwing guilt trips yourself, and know that just because you bring up the fact that someone's actions are hurtful or unfair, doesn't mean you're guilt tripping.

So why do people guilt trip, and what is it?

Some people guilt trip others because they are toxic and manipulative by nature. Others do it because they picked up the habit from other people and never learned that it was wrong. But whatever the reason for it, you're never obligated to give in to a guilt trip.

At its core, guilt tripping is deliberately inducing guilt as a means to get others to act against their better judgment, to get out of taking personal responsibility, or to make people feel obligated to do things they aren't actually obligated to do. It is not merely asserting the fact that someone's actions are causing you pain and distress and that you'd really like this person to stop, though many abusive people will accuse you of guilt tripping if you do that.

To make the difference clearer, here are some examples of things that are guilt tripping along with things that are not guilt tripping.

Guilt tripping: "Telling me that my tone of voice makes you anxious makes me feel bad. Stop trying to guilt trip me!"
Not guilt tripping: "Talking to me in that tone of voice makes me anxious. I would appreciate it if you would stop."

Guilt tripping: "Yeah, I'm sorry the game didn't turn out to be what you guys wanted, but you shouldn't be so hard on me! I've had a really hard time lately and all I wanted was to have a little fun!"
Not guilt tripping: "I'm sorry the game didn't turn out to be what you guys wanted. I've been pretty exhausted lately and that hasn't helped me out any, but I'll do what I can to get better."

Guilt tripping: "I do so much for you without you even asking me to - is it really too much for me to ask this one little favor from you?"
Not guilt tripping: "I'm really exhausted, so I'd appreciate it if you could do this favor for me."

Guilt tripping: "How could you even think of watching a movie like that? It's so upsetting to me! What are you, some kind of sicko?"
Not guilt tripping: "Can we watch a different movie? This one has content that really upsets me."

Guilt tripping: "Oh, sure, I'll be fine when you leave. Just go on and move out and leave me all alone with no one to help me and nobody to talk to."
Not guilt tripping: "I'll miss you a lot when you go. Can you try to call me when you can?"

Guilt tripping: "Oh, no, I'm just fine with you off gallivanting everywhere, leaving me all alone with these obnoxious people all day. It's not like I ever matter that much anyway; I'm only just your girlfriend."
Not guilt tripping: "I miss having you around and doing things with you. In fact, it kind of hurts having you gone so much. Do you think we could work out something to do together?"

Guilt tripping: "I'm sorry, you think you've had it bad? You don't even begin to have room to talk until you've been through what I've been through!"
Not guilt tripping: "Oh, I'm sorry you went through that. I've gone through some hard times myself, so I can sympathize."

Guilt tripping: "You should buy this for me as a present, because you owe it to me after all those nights you had to work late."
Not guilt tripping: "Oh, here's something I like. If you ever need ideas for what to get me for my birthday..."

Don't guilt trip yourself!

People guilt trip themselves all the time. When someone has been rude or unfair to them, they tell themselves that they're the real problems and that they just need to be better people somehow. Here are a few examples - and why you should never tell them to yourself.

"Well, I haven't been the best person myself, either, so I don't have any room to say anything." Even if it's true that you're not the best person, it doesn't mean you don't have a right to speak up! For one thing, it's possible that what you're doing is small potatoes compared to what the other party is doing to you. For another thing, you can resolve to do better yourself, and make it clear to the other party that you intend this.

"But this person does so much for me. I should just be more grateful." The problem with this logic is that it implies that doing nice things for someone earns points to spend on being mean and nasty to you later - which it doesn't! No matter how many good things someone does for you, that person never earns the right to treat you hurtfully. Never. Whatever this person is doing needs to be dealt with regardless of anything else.

"This person has gone through so much. I shouldn't be so judgmental." Whatever someone has gone through in the past doesn't excuse that person's behavior in the present, and it doesn't mean that you're obligated to put up with this person treating you this way. If anything, it's on this person to make an effort to do better and to seek whatever help is necessary to deal with any unresolved issues or bad coping mechanisms. If someone refuses to do anything to address and rectify the behaviors or situations that hurt you, then that person is choosing to hurt you, and someone who chooses to hurt you does not deserve your sympathy or support. It's literally that simple.

"I know that person's reaction was really over the top, but this is my fault because I should have known better than to say/do that." Not unless you knew ahead of time that this is A: something that tends to upset a lot of people, or B: something that upsets this person in particular. Otherwise? Well, you're not a mind-reader, and you can't be expected to just know what's going to upset everyone else, and the other person should be able to recognize that and handle the situation more gracefully. Oh, and if someone acts as if you making a small or common mistake makes you the worst human being ever and/or means that you deserve severe punishment or humiliation? That person is being abusive, end of story. The problem is not you. It's the other person.

So I'm being guilt tripped. What do I do?

First of all, acknowledge that you're being guilt tripped. Secondly, acknowledge that this is not okay and that it's not right for this person to guilt trip you. Acknowledge that even if you're somewhat at fault here, it doesn't mean that you need to just surrender - yes, you do need to take responsibility for what you're actually at fault for, but it doesn't mean that you just let the other person off the hook.

(In any conflict, more than one party can bear some measure of guilt. In fact, it's actually pretty common. Denying this reality makes it easier for people to frame themselves as total victims and make you out to be the unilateral villain when that's not actually true.)

If you're legitimately partially guilty in this situation, you can say something to the effect of, "I know I've made my share of mistakes, and I'm open and willing to discussing them so we can get them worked out, too. But right now, we need to discuss this."

You can also say, "I'm sorry for the things I've done, and I intend to do something about them. We need to discuss this issue, though."

And hold yourself to your promise. Don't say that you're willing to talk about your own issues and then not. Don't say that you're going to do something about your problems and then don't.

If you're not at fault, you might point something out like...

Again, keep any promises you make. This is very important. Saying that you'll get around to addressing a problem and then not doing it makes you an asshole.

Also, start using your own self-check system. Ask yourself questions like:

Also take a look at How To Recognize A Moral Abuser and How To Recognize Gaslighting, because people who guilt trip are often these, too. And you can also look at How To Spot Abusive & Manipulative People.

You might also be interested in:

The Voice of Reason vs. the Control Freak - The Difference
How To Recognize Bad Creative Mentors
Signs You're In A Toxic RP Community
How To Spot & Handle Parasitic Roleplayers

How To Cultivate A Strong Internal Identity
Ways To Deal With Negative Emotions
7 Ways To Make Yourself A Happier Person
5 More Ways To Make Yourself A Happier Person

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