If someone displays these 11 behaviors, they’re trying to guilt trip you

by Brendan Brown | August 23, 2023, 11:41 pm

Guilt can be our internal compass, guiding us towards righting wrongs and realigning with our values. It’s nature’s way of keeping our actions in check. 

But what happens when this moral GPS gets hijacked by others to serve their agendas? 

Suddenly, your guilt isn’t a gentle nudge towards introspection but a manipulative tool. 

Let’s unearth these guilt-tripping tactics so you can spot them before they take control.

1) They never let you forget your mistakes

We all mess up. It’s part of the human experience. 

But if someone’s keeping a mental (or verbal) tally of every misstep you’ve ever taken, that’s not just them having a great memory. It’s a tactic. 

By continuously reminding you of past mistakes, they’re subtly saying you owe them. 

Just the other day, I ran into an old acquaintance who somehow remembered that time (years ago!) I borrowed a book and returned it with a bent cover. 

It was a simple error, but the way they brought it up felt like I’d committed a cardinal sin.

2) They’re the eternal martyr

Ever met someone who always seems to be sacrificing something for someone else? And they never fail to remind you of it? 

There’s being selfless, and then there’s parading one’s sacrifices to make others feel indebted. 

If every conversation circles back to their many ‘sacrifices’, it’s likely not just them being open. 

Making you aware of their every hardship or sacrifice is their way of saying, “Look at all I do for you!” 

It’s a guilt trip in disguise, a ticket you didn’t even know you’d purchased.

3) They always find a way to make it about them

You know, I once shared some good news with a friend, only to have them respond with how my achievement made them feel inadequate. 

Suddenly, my moment of joy was overshadowed by their feelings

If someone habitually pivots the conversation to center their emotions or experiences, especially when it dampens your spirit, they might be pulling your guilt strings. 

True, everyone has moments of self-focus, but there’s a difference between sharing feelings and consistently making someone else’s story about oneself.

4) Subtle jabs wrapped in ‘jokes’

Ever been around someone who fires off little sarcastic remarks or “teasing” comments, only to follow up with a “Just joking!”? 

While playful banter is all fun and games, sometimes these ‘jokes’ can be passive-aggressive digs intended to make you feel guilty. 

It’s like they’re planting tiny guilt seeds, hoping they’ll grow into full-blown remorse trees. 

If you find yourself constantly questioning if they were “really joking”, that’s a red flag.

5) The silent treatment

Ah, silence, the loudest of all communication tools when used with intent. Someone giving you the cold shoulder can be more potent than a barrage of words. 

Why? Because the silence is often pregnant with unspoken accusations, judgments, and (you guessed it) guilt. 

If they retreat into a shell, hoping you’ll chase after them, decipher their silence, and appease their unspoken demands, you’re being taken on a guilt trip without even leaving the room. 

Sure, we all need quiet moments to process emotions, but prolonged silence as a weapon? That’s manipulation in action.

6) They overplay their emotions

You’re probably familiar with those who wear their hearts not just on their sleeves, but practically on billboards. 

Every emotion is amplified. If they’re upset, it’s never just a simple frown; it’s an Oscar-worthy display of anguish. 

And guess who’s meant to be the audience? You. 

Their goal is often to make you feel responsible for their heightened emotional state. 

While it’s essential to respect everyone’s emotions, it’s also crucial to distinguish between genuine feelings and dramatic exhibitions meant to make you feel guilty.

7) “After all I’ve done for you.”

This phrase or its many variants is a classic. 

It’s a not-so-subtle reminder of their ‘kindness’ or ‘sacrifices’, expecting some sort of repayment or behavior in return. 

True acts of kindness don’t come with strings attached. 

But if someone’s continually hanging their deeds over your head, it’s a sign they’re not just recounting memories; they’re sending you a bill.

8) They frame themselves as the constant underdog

Everyone loves a good underdog story

But when someone consistently portrays themselves as the downtrodden hero battling endless adversities, it can be a tactic to elicit your sympathy and, subsequently, guilt. 

It’s like they’re subtly nudging you to ask, “Did I contribute to their struggle?” 

Recognize this narrative and ensure you’re not being emotionally blackmailed into playing a scripted role in their story.

9) They constantly seek validation

We all have moments where we need a bit of reassurance or validation, especially from those we trust. 

But when someone’s need for validation becomes a daily ritual, it can signal deeper issues at play. 

You’ll see this when you find that they’re forever seeking your approval or fishing for compliments.

Then they’ll throw a guilt-laden remark about how you “never notice” or “don’t care enough” when you don’t immediately provide that validation. 

It’s as if they’re setting a trap, waiting for you to fall in. 

I remember a college friend who’d routinely doubt her decisions and seek validation. One day, I was swamped with assignments and couldn’t reply immediately. 

She responded with, “You never have time for me.” It took me a while to realize this was her way of guilting me into prioritizing her needs.

10) They make you feel like you’re they’re only hope

While it can be flattering to feel needed, be wary when someone perpetually places you as the lone savior in their narrative. 

By setting up scenarios where you’re their ‘only hope’, they’re tapping into your empathetic nature, hoping to guilt you into action. 

Genuine cries for help are one thing, but repeated situations where you’re cast as the sole lifeline? Careful with that.

It’s essential to differentiate between someone truly in need and someone spinning a tale to ensure you’re always at their beck and call.

11) Emotional blackmail through threats

This is a more severe form of manipulation. 

When someone uses threats (like saying they’ll harm themselves or end the relationship) unless you act in a specific way, it’s blatant emotional blackmail

These threats are designed to prey on your fears, making you feel so consumed with guilt that you’ll bend to their will. 

It’s crucial, in these situations, to prioritize both your well-being and theirs, seeking professional help if necessary. 

Guilt should never be the anchor that holds you hostage in any relationship.

Why do some people resort to guilt-tripping?

Understanding the reasons behind guilt-tripping can provide valuable insights into why some people employ this tactic. It’s not always about malevolence; sometimes, it’s about survival, insecurity, or past trauma. Recognizing these motivations can help in navigating such situations with more empathy, patience, and wisdom.

1) Fear of losing control

For many, control provides a sense of security. The unpredictability of life can be unsettling, and by guilt-tripping, some individuals feel they can manipulate outcomes to their favor. This perceived control, in their eyes, reduces uncertainty and unpredictability.

Counter it by: Standing your ground, setting boundaries, and assuring them that control isn’t always synonymous with safety or happiness.

2) An upbringing filled with manipulation

Sometimes, people don’t even realize they’re guilt-tripping because they grew up in an environment where this was the norm. It becomes an ingrained method of communication, passed down through generations.

Counter it by: Open communication. Kindly point out the behavior and its effects, allowing room for self-reflection.

3) Low self-esteem and insecurities

Guilt-tripping can be a defense mechanism against feelings of inadequacy. By making others feel guilty, they can temporarily elevate their own status or importance.

Counter it by: Affirming their worth separately from their manipulative behavior, showing understanding but not endorsing the tactic.

4) They’ve learned it works

Quite simply, some people have found success with guilt-tripping. If they’ve repeatedly observed positive outcomes from their perspective (like getting their way), they’ll continue to employ this method.

Counter it by: Not giving in. Once they see that it’s not effective with you, they might reconsider their approach.

5) Desire for emotional connection

This may sound counterintuitive, but for some, guilt-tripping is a twisted way of seeking emotional intimacy. It forces a reaction, even if negative, which may be preferable to indifference in their eyes.

Counter it by: Fostering healthy avenues of emotional connection and communication. Let them know that there are better ways to establish closeness.

6) Self-preservation and defense

At times, guilt-tripping can be a last resort strategy for those who feel cornered. It becomes a shield, a way to deflect and defend against perceived threats, ensuring their emotional or physical survival.

Counter it by: Offering assurance and creating an environment where they don’t feel the need to be always on the defensive.

Building a healthy relationship with guilt

Throughout my journey, I’ve learned that navigating the intricate web of human emotions isn’t a walk in the park. I’ve been on both ends—guilt-tripped and the unintentional guilt-tripper. 

But with time and understanding, I’ve recognized the power of setting boundaries while being compassionate. 

Everyone is fighting a battle we may know nothing about, but it’s vital to remember our worth and protect our emotional well-being. 

To anyone reading this: trust in your journey, your feelings, and your intuition. 

I’ve found that embracing authenticity and mutual respect is the compass that guides us towards more meaningful connections.

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