A guilt trip is a form of indirect communication that creates feelings of guilt or discomfort in the recipient. They are common in close relationships where each party cares about the other’s emotions. The manipulative tactic can be performed in other, more distant relationships but are less likely to incite guilt in either party successfully.

For many, guilt trips are accidental. We naturally feel guilty when we worry that we’ve hurt someone we care about or think we haven’t done our fair share of something. As such, someone pointing that out can be sufficient to create a guilt trip, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

But some people use guilt trips as a means of controlling others. These toxic people resort to this and other forms of emotional blackmail to coerce others into doing what they want. If you’re unsure if someone’s doing this to you, look for these five signs that someone’s using the classic guilt trip to get their way.

1.      Someone Who Uses A Guilt Trip Will Bring Up Your Past Wrongs

To guilt trip someone, a person may opt for emotional blackmail by bringing up previous wrongs from the person they’re guilt-tripping. They’ll act as if the other person is constantly doing bad things and that they’re innocent and undeserving of that treatment.

This abuse often involves talking about past mistakes and referring to them calculatingly to get the other person to feel bad and do something to compensate for that. You’ll notice that playing the victim is ubiquitous among guilt trippers and toxic people, and it’s certainly true here.

guilt trip

Of course, we’re not talking about pointing out common issues in a relationship that need work. This isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t talk about complicated negative patterns you’ve noticed. But there’s a time and place for such discussion. Furthermore, there’s a way to do this respectfully and productively.

Specifically, a guilt trip that involves bringing up past wrongs means talking about things that:

  • Were already resolved and moved on from
  • Were never brought up as an issue by either party, to begin with
  • It occurred differently than the way they’re being presented for the guilt trip

2.      They Bring Up Their Past Rights

This reinforces the previous point. In addition to bringing up the wrongs of others, a guilt tripper will often bring up the things they’ve done right in the past. They’ll list their actions for you or a group and contrast your behavior to theirs. They may say things like:

  • I’ve done so much for you, and you do this to me?
  • I have never forgotten an important date, but you couldn’t even greet me happy birthday?
  • I’ve been putting in lots of extra hours at this job, and it’s discouraging to work so hard when everyone else keeps taking time off.

Again, there’s some nuance to this. There are respectful and productive ways to bring up problems of this kind. But someone using a classic guilt trip for the sake of control will amp up these discrepancies to paint a picture of their innocence and your cruelty.

If you start to feel like everything nice someone does will eventually be thrown back in your face and used against you, this is a sign of a manipulative guilt-tripper.

3.      A Person Employing A Guilt Trip Will Avoid Conflict Staunchly

Direct conflict can often kill the severity of guilt because the people involved will be hashing out their emotions and thoughts. Someone using a classic guilt trip will not want this to happen. They need to continue to make themselves appear innocent and as a martyr, so they can’t be involved in any form of aggressive conflict.

As such, classic guilt trippers will find a way to avoid conflict while conveying their message. These avoidance tactics will irritate, infuriate, and confuse you into experiencing guilt. Most commonly, someone may do this with the following methods:

·         Silent Treatment Goes Along With a Classic Guilt Trip

The goal of silent treatment in a classic guilt trip is to fill in the blanks yourself. The guilt tripper can opt for complete inaction, ignoring and stonewalling you, so you feel confused and desperate. You’ll do anything to determine what’s wrong and appease them.

·         Denial Of Emotion as a Manipulative Tool

When you directly ask a guilt tripper if something’s wrong, they may lie and say everything is fine. While their mouth says one thing, their actions will say another. After telling you everything is fine, they will visibly act as if it isn’t. This makes you feel uneasy and uncomfortable and can cause you to try and please them to avoid any issues that you feel brewing.

guilt trip

·         Body Language Only

Human beings naturally pick up on a lot of body language in most cases. This means that a guilt tripper can avoid direct conflict by communicating non-verbally. They’ll shake their head, cross their arms, or adopt a disposition that makes it clear they’re upset with you.

Indeed, some people will try to keep their emotions to themselves to avoid conflict. But a guilt tripper will not hide their feelings – they’ll find alternative ways to communicate it. That way, you’ll feel the pressure of their emotions and experience guilt while they get the plausible deniability of being able to say they’re not doing anything to inflame you.

4.      Somone Using A Guilt Trip Will Appeal To Emotions

Appeals to emotion aren’t unusual in any form of interaction. Most people know that it’s easiest to convince others to do things by making them feel something for the cause. Someone trying to guilt-trip you will utilize this to its fullest. They may do this by:

·         Amping Up Their Emotional Reactions

Someone using a classic guilt trip may exaggerate their emotions to make you feel bad. They may burst into tears or act as you’ve entirely broken their heart, even when they don’t think that severely about this. Sure, it’s important to remember that not all emotional reactions are manipulative. But someone who amps up their emotions to a false degree is just trying to get you to do anything you can to stop them from continuing their reactions.

·         Making You Feel Something Negative

No one wants to deal with bad feelings. If you feel something negative, you’ll likely want to make it go away as quickly as possible. Guilt trippers know this and will use it against you. They’ll talk about how your actions make them feel unloved, thus making you feel sad enough to do anything they want to help them feel loved again. They’ll say you never do what they ask, so you’ll feel like you have to do what they want to assuage the discomfort.

·         Eliciting Sympathy in a Manipulative Way

Someone who wants to guilt trip you will try to prey on the natural sympathy for them. When you’re sympathetic, you’ll want to do things for them!

5.      Somone Using Guilt Trip Tactics Will Act Like They’re On High Ground

A manipulative and controlling person will guilt trip you by acting like they’re on some form of high ground. They may act morally, intellectually, or physically superior to you to make you feel smaller, say studies.

These people may frame their actions as a form of moral education. They’ll act like they’re teaching you something you’re not wise enough to know. They’ll insist that the behavior they want out of you is somehow the “right” behavior and that your current behavior is inferior.

There’s a lot of difference between guiding someone with genuine wisdom and simply framing yourself as superior. Someone using a classic guilt trip doesn’t want you to learn the truth or be better. They want you to fall in line according to their desires. They may make this happen by:

  • Referring to the harsh words they use as “tough love,” framing it as if it’s for your good
  • Acting like they have automatic authority over you or that they need to be responsible for you in some way
  • Intentionally using things you’re most sensitive about to get you to fall inline

This also means that they’ll often deflect any accountability or responsibility to you. It is manipulative! When you try to explain your side of the story or point to something harmful they’ve done, they’ll completely deflect you. They may turn everything into your fault by:

  • Saying that their negative behavior is only being performed because of your negative behavior
  • Justifying their manipulative actions by jumping through numerous mental hoops
  • Insinuating that you’re rightfully deserving of the negative actions that they perform while they don’t deserve anything that you’ve done


Final Thoughts On Signs Someone Uses Guilt Trip To Get Their Way

Guilt is a very complex thing. This emotion has some positive purposes, and it’s acceptable and healthy to feel guilty about some things. This is especially true if you use that emotion to fuel positive change, improvement, or accountability.

On top of that, a guilt trip isn’t always born out of manipulation. Because of how easy it is to trigger guilt in others in our close relationships. Indeed, it can happen accidentally or through genuine communication. Someone might mention that you’re not doing your part in a relationship – whether platonic, professional, familial, or romantic – and supplement that with evidence that they have done their part.

The topic of guilt-tripping is nuanced. It can be a part of someone’s genuine efforts to inspire a good, necessary change. However, even well-intentioned guilt-tripping can backfire. And, of course, people use this trick to get what they want from other people.

Ultimately, if someone uses a classic guilt trip to get their way, you must examine the situation with nuance and understanding. This will allow you to discern toxic people doing this as a form of manipulation so you can push back or disengage. Keep an eye out for the signs of a guilt trip, and learn to respond productively for each manipulative tactic!