Jamie Turndorf Ph.D.
We Can Work It Out
How to Stop Laying Guilt Trips
Uncovering the Secret Payoffs that Guilt Tripping Provides
Posted Jul 08, 2014
In my first article on Guilt Trips, I explained how to stop being taken on guilt trips.
In this article, I am going to help you stop laying guilt trips on others.
If we want to ditch the guilt trip habit, we must first understand the motivations that fuel guilt tripping and the rewards that we obtain by laying them.
Most people don’t know that laying a guilt trip is a stealth way of venting buried anger.
A key aspect of magical thinking is the belief that feelings are the same as actions. So, if we feel angry at our parents that’s the same as killing them. Obviously, we can’t risk losing our parents, so we automatically bury our anger.
The buried anger morphs into self-attack. Buried anger can also cause us to play the victim role.
When a kid (or adult) plays the victim, he/she is indirectly pointing the finger and saying, “You bastard. Look at how you harmed me.”
In other words, a guilt trip is often a secret expression of anger!
I’ll never forget a patient who told me that when she was a young girl she frequently knocked herself unconscious by running full force into the wall. Right before going out, she would say to herself, “Now my parents are going to suffer when they see how they hurt me.”
By playing the victim, she was punishing her parents with guilt as a way of venting her anger toward them. This, by the way, is the mechanism behind suicide.
Obviously, the victim’s guilt tripping tactics backfire bigtime. This is because the receiver of the trip hears the unspoken accusation. When we feel accused, it’s natural to respond with anger. But, when the tripper is met with anger rather than understanding, the tripper gets angrier, and lays more trips. Now, we’re in a vicious cycle that ends in break ups, divorce and even domestic violence.
So how can we break this cycle and stop the trips once and for all?
First, we must be aware that our guilt trips are secret expressions of anger.
Next, we must realize that anger isn’t our emotional bottom line. Simply put, anger is a smokescreen that conceals the more vulnerable feelings of hurt, fear and sadness. It's common for humans to bury these vulnerable feelings and convert them into anger.
For example, I recently met with a young boy and his mom who complained that her son was attacking her. I watched him biting and kicking her in my office. Suddenly, I said to him, “I get it. You turn your sadness and hurt into anger.” He grinned from ear to ear, happy to be understood. Then, his mom said, “Oh my gosh. That’s what I do!”
When we realize that anger masks our more vulnerable emotions, the next thing we need to know is that these vulnerable feelings come from disappointment over our needs not being met. Our needs often go unmet because we don’t directly state what we want. And, many of us learned to shy away from stating what we want because we were mocked or punished for openly expressing our needs as kids.
As a consequence, many of us learned to “express” our needs through manipulation and guilt trips. And, if these tactics worked for us when we were kids, we continue these ploys into adulthood.
In the shortrun, we may get what we want by manipulating another person. But, remember, when we use guilt trips to get our way we are ultimately getting in our own way!
In the not very distant long run our trips create relationship friction and fighting.
For starters it’s infuriating, as I said, to be on the receiving end of a trip.
And, it’s not uncommon for the person who gives in to a guilt trip to do a slow burn. In which case, we will receive pay backs down the line, often in the form of another refusal of something else that we desire. Then, when we’re thwarted, we lay more guilt trips, and soon we’re caught in a major vicious cycle.
There’s only one way to eliminate the guilt tripping habit: substitute it with direct communications in which we state what we want.
Before I close, I want to mention one other reason we may lay guilt trips: to get another person to shut up.
How does this work?
If we’re sensitive and get wounded easily, we may have learned that acting insulted, crying and overreacting effectively shuts down another person’s communication to us.
But, what if the other person needs to tell us what we’re doing or saying that doesn’t work for him or her?
If we play the wounded victim and manipulate and guilt trip the other person into silence, we will manage to not hear what we don’t want to hear…
But our relationships get washed up when we use guilt trips to shut our partners up.
This is because our partners must be able to share how they are experiencing us and vice versa.
So now we’re in a ping-pong game. Our partners need to be heard. But to be heard, we need to communicate in a way that isn’t wounding. Otherwise, we’ll never break free of the guilt trips that are being used to shut the other up.
The bottom line is this. Learning how to properly communicate our thoughts and feelings is the secret to ditching the guilt trips. My book, Kiss Your Fights Good-bye shows you step-by-step how to adopt these healthier forms of communication.