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How To Limit The Guilt Trippers Emotional Manipulation

emotional manipulation


How To Limit The Guilt Trippers Emotional Manipulation

The emotional manipulation used by guilt trippers is very damaging to relationships. Find out how you can set limits on this form of emotional abuse.

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. Instead, we see them as things some mothers say to get their kids to have another bowl of soup (“I slaved over a stove for three hours for you to have only one matzo ball?”), or something some fathers do to get their children to conform (“Fine, don’t come to your niece’s confirmation. I guess your family and faith aren’t important to you anymore.”).

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. Guilt trips occur most often in close family relationships (or close friendships) because if the target didn’t have strong feelings of caring and affection for the guilt inducer, their resentment and anger at having their feelings manipulated would likely override their guilty feelings and cause them to resist the manipulation.

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.

7 Ways to Set Limits with Guilt Trippers

The best way to limit the damage guilt trips cause to our relationships is to set limits with the guilt inducer and ask them to change their habits. Here’s how:

  1. Tell the person that you do understand how important it is for them that you do the thing they’re trying to guilt you into doing.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.g., “I would love it if you had another bowl of soup. No? No problem, here’s the brisket,” or, “It would mean a lot to me if you came to your niece’s confirmation but I’ll understand if your schedule doesn’t permit it.”).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and their Everyday Hurts (link is external)(Plume, 2014).

Watch my TEd Talk here(link is external)

Join my mailing list and receive an exclusive gift: How to Recover from Rejection(link is external)

Follow me on Twitter @GuyWinch(link is external) and Like The Squeaky Wheel Blog on Facebook(link is external).

[Guy Winch]

Guy Winch, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, keynote speaker, and author whose books have already been translated into thirteen languages. His most recent book is Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries (Hudson Street Press, 2013). The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem (Walker & Company) was published in January 2011. Dr. Winch received his doctorate in clinical psychology from New York University in 1991 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in family and couples therapy at NYU Medical Center. He has been working with individuals, couples and families in his private practice in Manhattan, since 1992. He is a member of the American Psychological Association. In addition to the Blog on this site, Dr. Winch also writes the popular Squeaky Wheel Blog on Psychology, and blogs for Huffington Post.

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