Guilt Tripping – How it Works and How To Avoid it

Guilt tripping or guilt appeal is one of the most common manipulation techniques. It involves making somebody feel guilty about something to cause or prevent certain behavior. If done correctly, it is very effective. While it is used in a variety of fields, guilt appeal is very common in personal relationships. In this article, I will explain how it works, who uses it, why it is effective and how to easily detect if somebody using the method against you.


How does guilt tripping work?


Guilt is a negative emotion caused by realizing we did something we shouldn’t have done. It is a feeling that develops after we realize that we went against our moral standards. It comes fast but does not go away easily. It makes us feel terrible. Remember last time you felt guilty? Imagine what somebody is willing to do when he feels guilty. It is easier to persuade him to do something that will help him get rid of the negative feeling.


Example of guilt: You’ve got a promotion at work after taking credit for others who did a good job. Ay, one point getting the better position was good enough of a motivator to do something morally wrong. However, after contemplating fou start feeling bad and thinking that you should not have done it.


In this situation, without any intention of manipulation, you would change the attitude towards the people you took credit for. The changes would go up that you’d start wanting to do something for them in order to ease the feeling of guilt. It could be a favor or a gift. Doing it would be easy as the inconvenience is nothing compared to the feeling of regret you are trying to kill inside.


Now imagine, without your awareness, you feel guilty about something and instead of an innocent coworker, there is a manipulator ready to use the guilt to make you do something he wants.


Example of guilt used for persuasion: Your manipulative mother-in-law wants to move in with you for no justifiable reason. She’s lazy and terrible with kids. Both you and your husband dislike the idea. You are against it, but still, you could not say no. How did it happen? Before asking, she started telling you how miserable her life is and how much she needs her son’s support. You can still refuse, but the guilt won’t allow you to do so. You both start feeling bad and accept to do the favor. She could have also sad how you ignored her over the years and never showed attention or how a person should always take care of parents.


Guilt trip in an advertisement – It is also very common in marketing. Have you seen all the animal right ads? They show sad puppies, scared kittens and other cute animals with the messages like “how can you not adopt them?”. I think of adopting a puppy every time I see one of those ads! The guilt is a powerful emotion and the companies are well-aware of it.


Who uses guilt tripping?


Guilt tripping can be used anywhere around you. It can be anybody trying to make you feel bad about something so he can make you act in a certain way. Most common guilt trippers are:

  • Family members
  • Friends
  • Companies for marketing
  • Salespeople
  • Coworkers / bosses

How to protect yourself against guilt trippers?

  1. Be mindful of the feeling of guilt. When you start feeling guilty about something, make sure you don’t take impulsive action. Think first about what makes you feel guilty and if you should be feeling it.
  2. Before doing something for someone out of guilt, ask the following: “Does this person really deserve it? Is there a chance he/she is manipulating me?”
  3. Make sure you say no and get rid of a guilt tripper. Be polite, but persistent. If you won’t reject them, they will keep trying to manipulate you and most likely will succeed sooner or later.

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