Going On A Guilt Trip

guilt tripTGIF, its finally weekend and a lot of us regularly go on weekend trips; you may think I am talking about a romantic getaway filled with candlelight dinners and star gazing; a city trip to some place where life hustles & bustles; a trip with your buddies to that cabin at the lake or in the mountains to spend some real men-cave time; the shopping spree with your girlfriends; or even the amusement park deal with your kids. In fact, I am talking about none of those.

What I want to talk to you about today is the GUILT TRIP that all of us go on every so often, courtesy of those around us that we care for; and about the guilt trips that we ourselves regularly send loved and liked ones on.

I know you are pulling a face, in- or outward, right now. You are convinced that you are neither prone to falling into the trap of being guilt-tripped nor WOULD YOU EVER try to guilt-trip anyone. Okay, everyone. NEWSFLASH. We are again entering the zone of the human psyche of which I, as of yet, presume everyone has one ;-). If you are human you have been guilt-tripped; if you are human, you guilt-trip others. Again, people – we ALL do it.

What is it then, a guilt trip – why do we do it, why are we susceptible to it, whats the use? Let’s take a look, shall we?

Guilt Vs. Feeling Guilty

In order to understand what a guilt trip is, I believe that it is absolutely necessary to first understand the difference between actual GUILT and FEELING GUILTY. They can ammount to the same, of course. Say you have done something you know is wrong or you have committed a crime – you may feel g u i l t y about having done that. However, most of the times when we are guilt-tripped or are guilt-tripping others it has NOTHING at all to do with actual guilt. We simply want the other party to FEEL guilty in order to achieve a certain goal. No crime has been committed. No wrong-doing against anyone.

However, in the minds of those who “make us feel guilty” that may be a completely different story! More often than not, if someone makes us feel guilty, they DO feel wronged. More often than not, though, that is also linked to having wanted something specific from you that you simply didn’t give them, in other words: a need they have hasn’t been satisfied and now they either need a scapegoat (blame) or they think if you feel guilty enough, you’ll change your mind and they get what they want after all. Look – I don’t care if that’s your spouse guilt-tripping you, your kid, your best friend or – very frequently – your own mother – I want you to realize that what they are doing is nothing short of EMOTIONAL BLACKMAIL – and that, my friends, is NOT okay.

I can tell that a LOT of you have examples coming to mind like hot little flashes of people in your close knit circle who have tried (and probably succeeded) to get something they want from you using guilt – and I can also tell that many of you will automatically jump to their defense or try to rationalize that maybe it may SEEM like they guilt-tripped you but IT REALLY WASN’T THAT BAD. I get why you would jump to their defense…. as would I! We CARE for those people. We like them, maybe even love them. Admitting to ourselves that those people would sink so low and potentially hurt us by guilt-tripping us into getting what they want isn’t a thought or feeling we’d like to entertain. And just as important – we all don’t very much like the feeling of being the naive sucker who got guilt-tripped. We like to believe we are smarter and more alert than that. Well, people – sorry. We really aren’t!

Let me stress this again – just because someone has successfully guilt-tripped us doesn’t mean that this is the work of a “bad person”, or that they don’t honestly care for us; remember what I said early on? We ALL guilt-trip. So, basically, we all sit in the same boat.

I will give you an example from my own life. I have a very, very good friend whom I have known for more than twenty years. I can honestly say that I love her and I know that she loves me, too. We have been through a lot together – individually and as friends, we have weathered all those storms. In the recent two years, roughly speaking, she has been having a hard time – a lot of changes in her personal life due to choices she made; among those things she has become a parent for the first time and that has put her and her relationship – as it does with so many of us – under an enourmous amount of stress. She has “changed” to a point where her behavior is hardly recognizable to anyone, even to herself. Luckily, she has been getting help and I applaud her for it. I can’t help but feel, though, that through all of this she has developed expectations of me that I simply cannot meet. She has just celebrated her birthday. A few days before her birthday she sent me a text inviting me to a picknick this saturday with just a few close friends. She didn’t word it as a “birthday celebration” nor was there any indication that this was meant as such; I have been having a hard time interpreting her messages and I have felt like I needed to tiptoe around her, careful not to do or say the “wrong” thing (which might be anything, really) – and seriously, her not mentioning that it was her birthday celebration could have simply meant that since she has been having a rough time with her family, she wants to avoid celebrating or even mentioning her birthday altogether.

Well, her invitation put me between a rock and a hard place. This weekend was one of our rare kid-free and work-free weekends and my wife and I usually try to keep these weekends as a sanctuary just for the two of us. We either have long-standing plans for those weekends or we just want to do whatever the hell we please with just the two of us without any social commitments. I love my wife. I am so grateful for those times when its just “US” and I will freely admit that I really n e e d those rare moments – a fact also well known to my friends. Needless to say – I texted back, thanking her for the invite, but declining. I told her the truth – that I was going to spend the weekend just with my wife, long planned, and really needed. What do you think happened? Come on, people, this post isn’t about guilt-trips for nothing 😉

She got back to me letting me know in no uncertain terms that IT WAS HER BIRTHDAY ON SATURDAY – as if I had a) forgotten for the first time in 20 years or b) as if that would warrant me changing my plans. So how did I react? I will be honest with you. My very first reaction, instinctive and heartfelt, was GUILT. I felt guilty. I love my friend. She had been there on my birthday this year even though we don’t live that close. I wondered if it makes me be a “bad” friend if I don’t accept. If I am letting her down, certainly with knowing that she has been having a hard time. If I needed to reciprocate. Guilt makes you feel bad, doesn’t it? It makes you feel negative and wrong and almost sick to your stomach. Now, I try to always reflect on my emotions and I try to look at whats behind them. I also have adopted the habit of trying to actually SEE it if someone tries to guilt-trip me. Well, I saw it. And my feelings of “guilt” changed to feelings of resentment and anger. How dare she try to guilt-trip me? How dare she try to USE my feelings for her into trying to get what she wants? Then I calmed down and I tried to look just at the facts.

I couldn’t blame her for wanting me there on her birthday. However, she put out the invite just a few days before simply EXPECTING me / us to drop all other plans, change all agendas to come to her. I believe her wish to have me there was true and honest; I also believe that her trying to guilt-trip me into coming sucked. So what did I do? We decided to go through with our weekend as planned. I sent her a text first thing in the morning, I sang a Happy Birthday Song. No reaction, although she was “online” quite a few times during the day. I tried to call her later, to no avail. Clearly, she is upset with me and now she is trying to make me feel even guiltier by not “accepting” my birthday wishes. I can almost hear her think: if Deb wanted to extent her wishes, she should have moved her ass and come here! So now what? Well, I have a choice here – as we all do in similar situations. We can either LET that person guilt-trip us – or we can just refuse to feel guilty. I haven’t committed a crime. I have nothing to feel guilty about. I love her, I have always been there for her and I always will be. I also have a life BESIDE her and just as her family is her first priority, my family is mine. I will not feel guilty, but I will also not blame her for trying to make me feel guilty. And here is an important lesson for all of us: those who try to guilt trip us more often than not cannot help themselves. Its not a premeditated action (although of course there are those cases as well) and it isn’t meant to hurt US. They do it because THEY ARE HURT. They feel lonely or down, they have some sort of emotional need they need to have satisfied. If anything, we should feel compassion.  Should we try to “make it up to them”? No! Because after all, there is nothing to “make up” for. Remember, I/you/we didn’t do anything”wrong”!

My advice? Approach the person who has tried to guilt-trip you and explain to them – preferably without blaming or finger-pointing – how their actions have made you feel. Tell them that you don’t like or love them any less and that you don’t hold it against them. But make sure they understand that they have made you feel bad because they did a very selfish thing. While you do that – be aware. Be aware of your own actions. Because the next time you try to guilt-trip someone? That next time is surely waiting just around the corner 😉

Guilt Explained

Guilt is emotional distress. It is supposed to have a clear role which is alerting us when something we did has done harm or could do harm to someone else – that can be on any level, really, emotionally, physically or any other way. If you have read one of my other posts explaining more in-depth the human psyche you will know that we as humans possess a whole range of “coping” mechanisms and thats true in this instance, too. We deny our feelings of guilt more often than not – and for a while, that may work. However, we shouldn’t underestimate the rather significant role “guilt” plays in our daily lives:

  • Guilt as a relationship-fail-safe: it helps you maintain “good relations” with others. How? It sets off alarm bells in your head until you take the socially acceptable “right” action – for example: its your Dad’s birthday, you must remember to call!
  • Guilt Time: you will be absolutely surprised to hear that we all spend an average amount of 5 hours per week feeling guilty … over little things, huge stuff – but it all adds up and can cause damage within us, it can be a source of negativity and it can control our actions.
  • Snooze Alarm: guilt, if not acted on and thus unresolved, is like a constant SNOOZE alarm going off. You are constantly reminded but is also messes with your focus, your attention and your positivity! Don’t let it! Face it, look at it and deal with it! Your work will suffer, as does school or life in general. Guilt is a strong emotion that, if in competition with other emotions, usually wins. It can make it really hard for you to function!
  • Guilt Depression: if you feel guilty over something you will most likely find it really difficult to enjoy life. Guilty feelings might make you choose to skip a party, not celebrate your birthday, or mope around during your vacation without being able to enjoy it. Again – don’t let it!
  • The Dobby Effect: a phenomenon named after the head-banging elf in the Harry Potter books—refers to a psychological tendency for people to employ self-punishment to ward off feelings of guilt.
  • Guilt Distance: guilt makes you avoid the person you have wronged; you only make matters worse by distancing yourself and not resolving the issue.
  • Guilt Trips: you feel guilty, but also resentful. We have learned by now that people who give guilt trips to others do so in order to control or manipulate their behavior, but they rarely consider the amount of resentment the guilt trip provokes in the other person. So while saying, “You never call me!” might get a person to call you in that moment, it will also make them less likely to want to call you in the future. This is why guilt trips are more harmful to relationships than most guilt-trippers realize.
  • Feeling guilty even when you are not: if you are prone to feeling guilty you may assume that you have harmed others even when in reality you haven’t. Its a misguided Pavlov effect: your trigger for feeling guilty is set off when it shouldn’t. As a result, you end up feeling guilty about impacting others adversely, when you actually haven’t. This is no minor issue; by over-interpreting people’s disapproval when it’s not there, you’re exposing yourself to constant and unnecessary stress and impacting your own quality of life.
  • Guilt Weight: Feelings of guilt don’t just make you feel heavier psychologically, you actually start feeling like any physical activity requires too much effort and thus you improve your chances to GAIN actual weight!

I hope that I have given a good, understandable explanation as to what guilt and guilt-tripping are. The quintessential message here is: realize guilt. See it, solve it, face it. Try not to let other people guilt-trip you and please, stop guilt-tripping others! If you want something, be HONEST about it and ask. Of course, that means “exposing” yourself and your feelings and makes you vulnerable – but in a circle of people you like, love and respect – that should not scare you?! Be aware of the fact that guilt-tripping causes damage all around. And if you have asked for something that the desired party simply cannot give to you – put on your big girl/big boy panties and deal with it! Remember: anything given freely is worth so much more than any stale effect of something you have blackmailed someone into or forced off someone.

I would absolutely love to hear your stories about guilt-trips, hear about your experiences and get your take on my analysis. Feel free to leave a comment below – I would really appreciate it! Thanks for reading, as always




3 thoughts on “Going On A Guilt Trip”

  1. Wow, this is a great article. As I’m reading it I’m going jeez that’s me. Those are the emotions I feel when people guilt trip me. What springs to mind is when people guilt trip each other in relationships especially when breaking it off. Obviously, one person will be more hurt. The person who is getting broken up with but many times that person will guilt trip the other person into feeling guilty for breaking it off. Depending on how bad the guilt trip is it can inflict some serious self-esteem and self-doubt in you. That’s from my experience at least.

    We definitely have to be mindful of guilt tripping people and being on the receiving end of it as well. How to deal with this will and can improve all our relationships at home, work and on a community level.

    1. You are absolutely right and thanks for this great comment! Yes, relationships – especially when they end – are the perfect breeding ground for guilt and thus also for one Party guilt-tripping the other; you also see it happen frequently in custody battles or if a couple with kids breaks up – the one who “continues” with his or her life FIRST often gets guilt tripped by the remaining parent (who is now single of course) into feeling that they actually abandoned their children. Human nature – sad, but true. THanks again for this spin!

    2. You are absolutely right and thanks for this great comment! Yes, relationships – especially when they end – are the perfect breeding ground for guilt and thus also for one Party guilt-tripping the other; you also see it happen frequently in custody battles or if a couple with kids breaks up – the one who “continues” with his or her life FIRST often gets guilt tripped by the remaining parent (who is now single of course) into feeling that they actually abandoned their children. Human nature – sad, but true. THanks again for this spin!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *