We all have those people in our lives…You know the ones who make us feel guilty on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s your mother, a friend, or a spouse. Whoever it is, it makes you feel miserable.
Would you like it to stop? Here are some tips on how you as the “guilt trippee” can deal with those people in your life that conduct the Guilt Trip train, as I call them in this article “guilt trippers”.
1. Recognize your feeling of guilt (anger, sadness) when it comes on.
During an encounter with your friend or loved one do you feel like you’ve been coerced into doing something you did not want to do in the first place? Do you feel that if you say “no” it will damage the relationship?
2. Understand that you are being manipulated.
More than likely this guilt tripper has done this to you (and probably others) before. They have not been called out on it and get what they want if they lump on the guilt. Unfortunately, the guilt tripper has learned how to manipulate others rather than going about getting their needs met in a healthy way.
3. Acknowledge that this feeling of guilt means that a boundary needs to be set in place.
4. Clearly express your feelings and put up your boundary.
Here comes the meat and potatoes of Communication 101 in counseling…You are going to have to “confront” your guilt tripper. Many struggle with the concept of confrontation.
Before you begin talking, make sure that you are calm and relaxed as possible. Maybe pray beforehand to yourself. Make the atmosphere as mild and inviting as possible. Use a neutral tone (not too harsh, but not too mild) and make you body movements casual.
You may want to start with some positive allying statements if you feel that it may help the atmosphere. If not, begin with an “I statement”. “I feel __________ when you ___________.” This way you are owning your feelings. You are not coming off as accusatory.
If the guilt tripper does not respond positively to your feeling statement, continue with putting your boundary into place: “I will not be able to __________ the next time you ask me to ______________.” Here comes the hardest part of all for the guilt trippee you will have to enforce your boundary.
5. Enforce your boundary
Because guilt trippers are well-practiced, you will have to be firm and unrelenting with the new boundary you have created. Once again, this means stating your boundary without malice.
Understand that you do not have to explain yourself, only put up the boundary. The more words you use the more likely the guilt tripper will focus on something you said and try to manipulate it to their advantage.
Let’s Look At the Bible
Jesus Handling a Guilt Trip
Luke 10: 38-42 is a classic example of a guilt trip. Here’s the passage:
“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”
Wow, Martha puts a guilt trip on Jesus! But Jesus does not take that guilt trip. He addresses it directly, gently, and firmly.
Jesus says her name twice to let her know that he hears her and to calm her. Then he used an allying statement to show that he knows where her heart is – “…you are worried and upset about many things…”
Jesus addresses her guilt trip directly by saying “…only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better…” He tells Martha that she is focusing on all the wrong things in the moment. She is not focusing on bad things, but just things that are less important for that moment.
At the end, Jesus sets a boundary firmly by saying, “…it will not be taken away from her.”
Of course no one can be as eloquent as Jesus, but here are some examples where we can try to be…
The Response: “I am really glad to see you, and I hope that your back gets to feeling better. But I cannot visit today. I’ll call you Thursday evening, and we can plan a visit.”
The Breakdown: You are respectful to the older person, but you are direct. The first sentence is an allying statement followed by your direct response. Note that you do not give them excuses or too many details.
The last statement is a way of letting them know that you do want to visit, but it needs to be planned. Do not use this statement unless you really would like to visit them another time. Leave it off and just say “Take care!”
The Response: Set your wife down together with you on the couch. While holding her hand, say something like this, “I feel uneasy or guilty when you say things like – ‘You used to…’ It makes me not want to be around you as much. I feel like you are holding me up on a postal and putting all of these expectations on me. I appreciate you wanting to improve our relationship, but next time you mention this, I will point out the it is making me feel guilty.”
The Breakdown: You are setting the mood or atmosphere by setting your wife down beside you and holding her hand. This is a way to ally with her. (Of course, you are not squeezing her hand like a WWF wrestler.)
You are direct about how you feel, but not in a harsh way. Women need to be spoken to gently. You are articulating your feelings honestly and genuinely as possible.
Lastly, you are laying down a boundary. You will address it each time it happens on a continuous basis. (Note that this does not have to be a long drawn out conversation each time. It can be just a short gentle mention. Of course, your wife may do it on purpose just to get you to hold her hand, if you use this method each time.)
The Response: “I understand you would like to spend time with your new friends, but I don’t appreciate you trying to put a guilt trip on me. No, you may not go out with them today, but you may have your new friends over to our house to hang out and watch a movie.”
The Breakdown: The first phrase was an allying statement showing that you understand what he wants. Next, the guilt trip was addressed directly and firmly.
The last phrase was a compromise where you allow him to have his new friends over to the house. This accomplishes a few different purposes. You’re still allowing your to have social time. You have an opportunity to get to know your son’s new friends.
Lastly, this is a good test of the new friendship. If they come over, then they do care somewhat about your son. If they do not, then maybe the friendship is not as strong or healthy as your son may have thought.
A final note…
Please understand that people who are guilt trippers are not all “bad people”. Most of the times these people have not had healthy communication modeled to them. Or they have had controlling people in their lives that has forced them to get their needs met in more subtle ways.