Do you ever feel like people in your life are trying to plow you over with guilt trips? Some blame this on their religious upbringings (though I have personally heard members of almost EVERY religion mention guilt trips, so I think they have more to do with human nature than a specific faith structure)! I have found that guilt trips have been a part of my life for my entire life, and have come at me from many angles (family, friends, co-workers, bosses, etc.) Guilt trips can be very challenging to manage, as they are often emotionally laden. In fact, the guilt trips often seem to be more about the emotions of a given situation, rather than the particular content of the situation.
What sort of circumstances spark guilt trips:
- There is always the standard, “call your mother!” We have ALL heard this one!
- “How dare you forget to invite aunt Bertha to the wedding, she is obnoxious, but she IS family!”
- “You did not take out that trash, again?!?”
- “How many times do I have to ask you to clean your own dishes?”
- “This weekend was supposed to be for ME, not for your work!”
More often than not, there is one main theme attached to these guilt trips, disappointment. The disappointment often stems for a lack of performance or a performance choice the person is not happy about. Some guilt trips are valid (like many of the ones above) and the person who is being guilt tripped would serve themselves best by quickly admitting their wrongdoings and making a concentrated effort to be more respectful.
However, sometimes guilt trips are NOT appropriate:
- “Why didn’t you invite me along too???” (It IS okay to have alone time with a friend or family member.)
- “Where is my fancy gift?” (Do not let someone guilt trip you into spending money you do not have on their momentary happiness.)
- “You have to work AGAIN, what about me?” (If you really have to work, then it is not fair of a family member to guilt trip you, particularly if this is what is supporting your family.)
- “Why won’t you visit more often?!?” (This can tie into many circumstances. It may be that you should visit more often – it may also be that you cannot afford it, there are psychological stresses associated with visits, etc. You need to know what category you fit into.)
I think it is important to either own (take responsibility) and apologize for a guilt trip when it is truly your fault, or to be able to walk away and not assume guilt that is unfairly placed upon you. I have found that when people attempt to unfairly place guilt trips on me, I get angry or shut down, so it is not at all an effective mode of communication or getting the results a person may want. There are ways that are more effective in getting the message across without provoking negative feelings between you and another person. Here are some examples:
- I really love you and want to spend time with you, I know that you have work to do at night, so can we work something out so that you are able to get it done early somehow so I can be with you?
- I really want fancy earrings, but I do know you cannot afford them. Could we save up over the next few holidays so that perhaps I can have them, or would you be willing to contribute to my purchasing them?
- I miss your visits, how can we work something out so that we can spend more time together without it being a burden on you?
- I was so sad that I was not invited to go with you and your other friend, but I understand your need to have alone time. Perhaps we could all hang out together sometime?
As they say, sometimes it is not the message, but the delivery. The way a message is shared can completely change the reaction to the message.
I have rarely found guilt trips to be an effective way to communicate wants and needs. Today, 346 days ’til 40, I want to challenge myself to remember to NOT use guilt trips as a way to communicate my needs or desires. I will also gently remind those around me that guilt trips are not the most effective way to communicate their desires and needs to me.
Ah, if we can live guilt free lives, this will bring tremendous emotional liberty to us all!