Warning Signs Of A Guilt Trip And How To Resist It

By: Tanisha Herrin

Updated March 08, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Martha Furman, LPC, CAC

A guilt trip leaves a person feeling guilty for something that may not be their responsibility or personal fault. It's guilt induced by another person. Guilt trips are a form of coercion or psychological manipulation-but they can sometimes be self-inflicted. Nevertheless, guilt trips are done by other people who have ulterior motives. While there are various methods to overcome and resist guilt trips, you must have a complete and thorough understanding of all that guilt trips entail.

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An Overview of Guilt Trips

Guilt trips are carefully crafted forms of psychological manipulation and abuse, as affirmed by Paired Life. Most people who attempt to inflict guilt upon others are incredibly calculating and conniving; they know exactly what they're doing and are used to wielding guilt as a weapon to get what they want from others. Many view guilt trips as a type of bullying.

Guilt trips are unhealthy and unreasonable. Anyone can be on the receiving end of a guilt trip. Friends, family members, associates, coworkers, and even employers can be targeted by a manipulative, yet crafty individual who harbors an agenda. Fortunately, there are several warning signs of an impending or current guilt trip. An awareness of the indicative signals will help save people from being misled and otherwise conned into doing what the particular bully wants.

Things to Know When a Guilt Trip Occurs

Guilt trippers have several tricks and giveaways. The unsuspecting or unaware individual may miss them; however, their more aware counterpart will be able to recognize the signs and act accordingly. Those who employ guilt trips make their targets feel responsible for the source of the complaint. It applies whether the complaint revolves around a loss, a disappointment, or something else entirely. Moreover, this person will likely nag, refuse to let up on their target, and make even the most simple matters as complicated and dramatic as possible.

Guilt trips are not always outright and easy to spot. Sometimes this particular form of psychological manipulation can take place in passive, passive-aggressive, or aggressive conduct towards the target. This conduct can include isolation, the silent treatment, or explicit antagonism. The purpose is to upset the target and consequently manipulate them into feeling contrite and ashamed of themselves, even when they should not be.

Other guilt trippers may bring up past occasions or instances when they were of aid (or at least appeared to be) to their current target. Common themes of this particular trick are "Look how much I did for you," "If it weren't for me, where would you be," "Remember when I was there for you," and other similar statements.

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Unlike the other giveaways, this tactic can be tempting and more difficult for the target to resist. On the surface, it may appear as though the manipulator is being reasonable and simply asking for a returned favor. However, this is false. A person who truly helps you out with pure intentions will not later throw that occurrence in your face for the sake of personal gain.

Common Situations Where a Guilt Trip Occurs

Common targets of guilt trips are people who are closest to the manipulator. The closer we are to someone, the likelier we are to feel emotional attachments which can consequently engender vulnerabilities to guilt trips. Any relationship where one or both parties are constantly waging guilt trips is bound to fail at one point or another. The target of the manipulative individual is likely to catch on. Guilt can eventually transform into resentment. This could prompt the target to retaliate.

Children are prime targets because they are the most defenseless and unable to recognize and shield themselves from craftily wielded psychological manipulation. Guilt trips aimed at children become even worse if the perpetrator is a parent, relative, or another authority figure. Children who are frequently the targets of guilt trips from emotionally abusive parents may in turn grow up to dislike their parents. They may suffer from low self-esteem and other emotional issues. Friends who are constantly targeted by guilt trippers may decide to end their friendship. The same applies to spouses who are married to psychologically manipulative individuals.

People have various reasons and motives behind their conduct. Besides personal gain and manipulation of others, guilt trips could be rooted in neediness and insecurity. By manipulating and mistreating others, the guilt tripper may get a rush or a sense of power. Deep down, they know feeling superior is also quite fleeting. Abusing other people never breeds genuine happiness.

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The damage and havoc which guilt trips cause are undeniable. There are several ways for people to resist and reject these crafted forms of psychological mistreatment which include the following points:

Maintain high self-esteem. Individuals who suffer from low self-worth or low self-esteem are some of the most vulnerable targets. Those who struggle with self-esteem are likely to doubt themselves and ignore their intuition. Your intuition may tell you something isn't right when you're around someone who tries to manipulate you; listen to it. Don't doubt yourself. People can often subconsciously pick up on warning signs.

Stand up for yourself. When guilt trippers become impatient or frustrated, they may resort to name-calling or threats. Stand up for yourself and let the abuser know you will not be bullied. Firmness, clearness, and directness are paramount. Weakness, uncertainty, or wavering signals are to manipulators what blood is to a shark. Don't allow yourself to be frightened or coerced into doing the bidding of a guilt tripper. It will not gain their respect or cause them to back down. They will simply become emboldened and confident in their abilities to bully and manipulate others.

Distance yourself and stop communicating with them. In most situations, promptly and permanently ending contact with a guilt tripper is the best and wisest course of action. The decision may seem extreme to some, but it is one of the most benign forms of self-preservation. Psychologically manipulative people have no regard or respect for the people whom they attempt to emotionally abuse. There is no good which can come from consistently associating with individuals who have no regard for you. At some point, the toxic behavior will begin to take its toll.

The target of the guilt trip is not responsible for their mistreatment. The behavior of the abuser speaks volumes about themselves and their character. Psychologically manipulative people are masters at projection and crafting an illusion that their targets suffer from certain problems. Most people will be on the receiving end of a guilt trip at some point. Hopefully, the guilt trip giveaways previously mentioned along with ways to resist the behavior will prove helpful.

If you believe you have been the target of guilt trips or feel as though you may be in the company of a psychologically manipulative individual, you are not at fault. Sometimes getting expert advice specifically tailored to your situation can make a meaningful and impactful difference.

Online guidance and assistance through professional counselors are available to help you deal with your situation. BetterHelp provides knowledgeable support to help you understand the actions and motives of others. Discuss your feelings and concerns to learn productive ways to maintain control. Counselors understand why people can be emotionally abusive and manipulative while working effectively to help people learn why these actions occur. Learn how online support has helped others by reading the following reviews.

Counselor Reviews

"Rebecca has helped me talk about very personal things I have pushed aside for years, in doing so I've opened up and have had realisations about past experiences and has lifted guilt off me."

"Loretta has undoubtedly changed my life. In my late attempt to deal with trauma she has shown me the light at the end of the tunnel. Through various strategies and methods she has provided me, I have become less paranoid, guilt-ridden, and anxious. I am so glad I decided to start using BetterHelp and was paired with Loretta."


Guilt placed on you by someone else is not your fault. It is unacceptable to be taken advantage of emotionally for personal gain. Understanding aspects of a guilt trip includes being aware of manipulative behaviors and related actions created by others. The advice and tips mentioned in this article show there are effective methods available to help you resist. Take the first step today.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a guilt trip?

A guilt trip is feeling guilty about a specific incident. Guilt tripping is not just a feeling that you have done something wrong, though. This guilt is excessive considering the circumstances or the part you played in the outcome. Or you may be guilt tripping over something that was not your fault or responsibility at all. If someone else is guilt tripping you, it is a form of psychological manipulation.

What's it like to feel guilty?

Feelings of guilt can be quite distressing. You may feel ashamed oreven worthless when you are obsessing about how you might have failed someone. You may begin tobelieve that you are the kind of person who always lets others down. Guilty feelings can make you feel paranoid if you imagine that you deserve for someone to retaliate against you. Guilt can make you feel sad, alone, and helpless. If these feelings persist, it's crucial to find a therapist to help you deal with the effects of guilt trips.

Why do I feel so guilty?

It is natural to feel bad when you have hurt someone intentionally or without considering their situation and feelings. It is appropriate to feel guilt when you have done something to harm someone else or do something that is against your own values. In fact, if you never feel guilty, you may have a mental disorder, such as antisocial personality disorder, also called sociopathic personality.

However, many people feel more guilty more often than is healthy. If you have guilty feelings, ask yourself if you did the best you could under the circumstances. If you did your best, you might be feeling guilty because someone else is manipulating you to make you feel that way. Or you might be imposing guilt on yourself.

Sometimes, guilt trips get started because someone is a people pleaser. Some people will take advantage of that fact if they want to manipulate you. They know you want them to be happy with you, so they use guilt to make you give them what they want.

What is a self-inflicted guilt trip, and why does it happen?

Self-inflicted guilt is a feeling of guilt that you force on yourself. You may do this because you are afraid of being lonely. Sometimes it can seem better to blame yourself before someone else can blame you. Or you might imagine that if you feel guilty enough, you will be a better person.

But feeling guilty when you have done nothing to harm someone or go against your values intentionally can sidetrack you from living a happy, mentally healthy life. If you find that you are always criticizing yourself for the things you do, you can find a therapist who will help you deal with and avoid your guilt tripping.

What should I do when someone wants me to feel guilty?

If someone is making you feel like you are a bad person, the first thing to do is think about whether you deserve their guilt tripping. If you are the victim of emotional manipulation, you may have a feeling of guilt evenwhen you have no justifiable reason to feel bad. Accept responsibility for your actions but recognize that you are a good person who is doing the best they can.

Do not feel obligated to do what they want or apologize for something that was not your fault. Instead, communicate with them assertively. Let them know you do not accept the blame for something that was out of your control or not your responsibility.  You do not have to accept their guilt trip just because they want you to feel bad. You have every right to protect your mental health from that kind of attack. If they do not stop trying to make you feel like everything is your fault, it may be time to find a therapist or pack your bags.

Do guilt trips make mental illness worse?

Because guilt is a powerful emotion, it can exacerbate any mental illness you already have. If you have bipolar disorder, you may feel incredibly guilty, especially during the depressed phase. But bipolar disorder is just one example. Guilt trips can increase emotional turmoil if you have panic disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, or any mental illness. If you know you have a mental illness or recognize signs that you might have a mental disorder, find a therapist to help you in coping with guilt as well as the other symptoms of mental illness.

What are the long term effects of guilt trips?

One guilt trip might not do too much emotional damage to you, especially if your self-esteem is high, and you deal with it well. However, in the long term, guilt trips can shatter your self-confidence. They can make you feel bad about who you are and the choices you make. In the long term, this can lead to depression and anxiety. The sadness and fear can affect your relationships with friends, family members, and your significant other. And when you are not mentally healthy, it's hard to get a new job or hang onto your current one. So, if you experience frequent guilt tripping, either internal or inflicted on you by someone else, find a therapist soon before your mental wellbeing declines.

How can I set better boundaries?

Setting boundaries can help you avoid the harmful effects of guilt trips. Set limits on how much time you spend with someone who pushes you to feel bad about yourself. Also, set limits on your responsibilities to others. It might feel noble to take on the burdens of the world, but it is not realistic. Know what is within your power, and recognize that you are still a good person, even if you make an occasional mistake.

Should I leave someone who is constantly trying to make me feel guilty?

It might be worth considering. No one has the right to make you feel excessively guilty for small things and things you cannot change. They can cause irreparable harm to your mental wellbeing. If you feel yourself being judged and denigrated no matter how hard you try to do the right thing, put some emotional distance between you and them.

And, if someone you live with is constantly guilttripping you, pack your bags and leave. Leaving might be the only way to protect your emotional health and feel good again. If you need help deciding what to do, find a therapist who can teach you how to assess your thoughts, deal with your feelings, and make the choices that are right for you.

How can you deal with guilt?

If you are having a hard time with guilttripping,determine whether it is healthy or unhealthy guilt.If it is healthy guilt that is appropriate to the situation, do the following:

  • Acknowledge what you did wrong
  • Apologize for your behavior
  • Do what you can to make it right
  • Make appropriate changes to your behavior
  • Accept what has happened and move on

Healthy guilt can be a pathway to higher personal growth. However, unhealthy guilt that is out of proportion to what happened or is undeserved can bring you agony, distress, and turmoil. So, if you have unhealthy guilt, it is critical to deal with it appropriately. You can find a therapist to help you, but there are some things you can do on your own.

  • Ask yourself where the guilt is coming from – from you or someone else?
  • Sort out what you are responsible for and what others need to take care of for themselves.
  • Recognize that you are responsible for your own happiness, and so is the person causing the guilt trip.
  • Check your standards to make sure you are not demanding too much of yourself.
  • Set and keep clear boundaries with others.
  • Practice meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing, or systematic muscle relaxation if the guilt feelings are intense.

How can a therapist help me with guilt?

When you find a therapist to help you deal with guilt, they can assist you in several ways. They can offer advice, diagnosis, or treatment, depending on your unique problems and situation. They can give you psychological tests, therapy, and support. They may use personality tests to help you determine if you are more vulnerable to guilt trips due to your personality.

They cannot provide medical help, but they may be able to suggest a psychiatrist if you might need medications or other treatments for a mental disorder. Also, your therapist may point you to support groups that can help you deal with unearned guilt. Finally, your counselor can help you achieve personal growth. In the end, you can discover what it is like to avoid guilt trips and feel good.

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