When it comes to our relationships, we often spend time trying to figure out problems (how can we get a spouse to listen more, how can we get children to be more obedient, etc.). But what if you are the problem? Might be a bit of an uncomfortable idea, but the truth is that often times it’s easier to spot shortcomings in someone else than it is to see them in ourselves. I encourage you to look in the mirror as we explore the following topic: Are you a guilt tripper? This involves using guilt as a form of emotional manipulation to get someone to think or act a certain way. It’s something that we’ve all done at times. Here are some questions to determine whether or not this is something you engage in in your relationships:
- Do you have a hard time asking directly for what you want and need?
- Do you believe that others won’t do what you’d like them to do?
- Do you think other people are responsible for your feelings?
- Do you mope, sulk, and use the silent treatment frequently?
- Do you often feel powerless to get someone else to take action?
Answering yes to all or most of these questions indicates that you may have a problem with using guilt as a passive-aggressive way to get your needs met. And while you may have some level of success getting what you want through this strategy, long-term it will harm your relationships, as it pushes people away. Now let’s get to the solutions! Here are some ways to stop guilt tripping others for good:
Identify Your Own Needs
The first step is to figure out your own needs before you even open your mouth to speak to someone else. This can be difficult, particularly for women, but you have to know what you’re actually feeling or wanting before you can express it clearly. In my private practice, I’ve often asked women what it is that they want in a specific situation, and they really have to stop and think for a while before they can give an authentic answer. Give yourself permission to have needs and desires, and also don’t shy away from painful emotions; instead learn from them and let them help you determine what it is that you need.
Make Direct Behavior Requests
Next, be brave enough to ask for what you’d like directly. For example, a guilt tripper might say something like, “if you really cared about me, you’d take me to my appointment.” This is an inappropriate statement, and it unfairly puts someone on the spot and makes the relationship conditional. Instead, try something like, “I need a ride to my appointment; would you be willing to take me? I would really appreciate it.” Be straightforward about what you need and what you’re hoping the other person will do.
Build Relationships, Not Expectations
Guilt trippers are usually thinking more about what they want than about who they’re asking. This kind of thinking is self-centered and damages relationships. It’s also not particularly effective in the long run. And you can actually be more successful motivating people to do what you’d like if they are doing it because they want to, not because you are shaming them into it. Others will want to help you! For most people, love is such a better motivator than fear, shame, or guilt.
Own Your Feelings
A person who guilt trips thinks other people are to blame for their negative feelings, and then uses that mindset to attempt to control someone else. For example, in a divorced family situation, a mother might say to her daughter, “if you go with your dad this weekend, I’ll be all alone.” This is unfair to a child, as it’s not her responsibility to alleviate her mom’s loneliness. The woman in this situation should instead own her feelings and seek out companionship in other ways. Remember that your feelings are your own deal; they’re not someone else’s job.
Explore the Emotional Undercurrent
If you find that you’re a chronic guilt tripper, if you do it more than just occasionally, there’s almost certain to be something at the root of it. Are you depressed? Are you trying to control someone in order to compensate for something in your past where you felt powerless? Are you replaying some memory of manipulation that you once experienced at the hands of someone else? Look a little bit deeper into your emotional current.
I’m excited to offer an e-course based on my book “The Burnout Cure” to help women identify and articulate their feelings and needs in order to strengthen their relationships. Stay tuned for it!