Written by Amy Beecham
Guilt trip manipulation typically occurs in our closest relationships. Here’s how to spot it.
“You never make time for me anymore.”
“I just won’t enjoy myself if you’re not there.”
“I know you can afford it, so why won’t you?”
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of one of these phrases, it’s likely you’ve been guilt-tripped.
Guilt-tripping in a relationship tends to occur when one person wants to make the other feel bad, and in turn emotionally manipulates them using powerful guilt or shame emotions in order to get their own way.
“People often use guilt to express frustration or annoyance, usually when something prevents them from coming out and saying exactly how they feel,” therapist and coach Bobbi Banks tells Stylist. “It can be a way to express fear, irritation, hurt, sadness, insecurity, longing and so on. People who resort to this tactic may have a fear of conflict, therefore choosing to avoid talking about an issue directly.”
Nonetheless, Banks goes on to explain that guilt-tripping is often used as a manipulation tactic and can impact relationships negatively and lead to a build-up of resentment.
How to tell if you’re being guilt-tripped
According to Banks, people may also use guilt-tripping to shift a power dynamic where they feel unequal, powerless or helpless, meaning that it can often occur in the workplace as well as in our personal relationships. As such, some of the common signs that someone is guilt-tripping you are:
- Making sarcastic or passive-aggressive comments
- Giving you the silent treatment and ignoring you
- Reminding you of how much they have helped you in the past and that you ‘owe’ them
- Dismissing your efforts to communicate or make things better
- Using non-verbal communication to show they are upset with you such as crying, sighing, crossing arms
- Pointing out your past mistakes, even if they are unrelated to the situation
Even once you’ve recognised the signs, guilt-tripping can feel incredibly hard to navigate. It makes you question yourself, your values and your morals – similar to gaslighting – which slowly but surely takes its toll on your mental wellbeing.
To remain empowered despite attempts at guilt tripping, Banks suggests that one of the best things we can do in these situations is have firm boundaries and model healthy and open communication.
“Remind yourself that this behaviour reflects the other person’s difficulty to express their needs in a healthy way and it is not a reflection on you,” she advises. “The less personally you take it, the less obliged you will be to fix it.” Instead, you can start by acknowledging that you understand this is important to them and they may feel upset about your answer, however this may not be the right way to express it.
“State your boundaries clearly, then invite the person to be more direct and open about what’s going on under the surface,” she says. “Keep communication direct and firm, and walk away if the situation starts to escalate and your boundaries are not being respected.”
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