Warning Signs Of A Guilt Trip

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated June 11, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

A “guilt trip” may be an attempt by someone to cause another person to feel guilty for something that may not be their responsibility. Guilt tripping may be a form of coercion or psychological manipulation, or it may be self-inflicted. While there are methods to overcome and resist guilt trips, you might want to have a complete understanding of all that a guilt trip entails in order to avoid them.

Do you think you are being guilt tripped?

What are guilt trips? 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a guilt trip involves an attempt to manipulate or control others by causing feelings of guilt.

People who attempt to cause guilt in others through guilt trips may do so out of an urge to get revenge, cause an emotional response, or remove responsibility from themselves for an action or behavior. 

A guilt trip is often unhealthy and unreasonable. Anyone may be on the receiving end of a guilt trip. If you wonder if you have been guilt tripped, there are several warning signs to look out for. An awareness of the signals might help you set, and keep, healthy boundaries. 

Signs you are experiencing a guilt trip 

Dealing with people who use guilt-tripping tactics honestly requires understanding their intentions to make someone else feel responsible for a complaint or behavior. These tactics can include nagging, refusing to let up on the subject, or blaming the victim outright. A study of these behaviors reveals that they often cause emotional distress, making it easier for the manipulator to gain control over the situation. Thanks to increased awareness, it's possible to recognize and avoid such scenarios.

One example of guilt-tripping includes someone visiting a new city and being approached by an individual trying to sell wares. They might tell you no one wants their product and that you’re the only one who can help them while refusing any attempts you make to set a boundary. Or they may physically put their product in your hands and tell you that you must buy it now that it was touched. This behavior is an example of a guilt trip being used to induce a response. 

Guilt-tripping behaviors may include isolation, silent treatments, or explicit antagonism. The behavior often upsets the target enough that the individual may gain control over the situation. Individuals employing this tactic may bring up past occasions to stir feelings of guilt. They could make statements like, “look how much I did for you;” “if it weren’t for me, where would you be?;” and “remember when I was there for you.” 

You might feel tempted to support them to pay them back for previous support, or to get them to stop asking. On the surface, it could appear that the individual is being reasonable. However, they may not be. A person who supports you with pure intentions is not likely to later bribe/threaten you with that occurrence for personal gain. 

When do guilt trips happen? 

Those who are the target of guilt trips may be families, close friends, or partners. An attachment with someone may cause them to feel they can manipulate you. The target of the manipulative individual may catch on and feel conflicted. Guilt could turn into resentment or unease in a relationship, which could cause a subject to want to retaliate or end a relationship. 


Children may experience a guilt trip from their caregivers because they are often defenseless and might not recognize signs of psychological abuse. A parent may ask their children to care for them, ignore mistreatment, or behave in unhealthy ways to reward them for basic needs, such as food, water, or care. Children who are the targets of a guilt trip from parents may grow up struggling with their mental health and avoid their parents. They may suffer from low self-esteem and other emotional issues. 

At times, a guilt trip may be rooted in a desire for attention or reassurance, and it's true that an individual might try to make another person feel guilty if they feel bad about their own actions. Over the course of several weeks, one may observe how these words and actions can transfer blame and responsibility through a guilt trip, even when it's misplaced.

How to avoid guilt trips

Below are a few methods of avoiding a guilt trip from others and setting firm boundaries. 

Maintain high self-esteem 

Vulnerable individuals who suffer from low self-esteem, or difficulty saying “no,” may face guilt trips throughout life. They may doubt themselves and ignore their intuition when an unhealthy behavior occurs. If you feel an intuitive sense that a situation is unhealthy, it might be. Maintain self-esteem by surrounding yourself with healthy individuals, learning to set boundaries, and caring for your mental and physical health daily. 

Stand up for yourself 

If you’re being pushed to feel bad for something you didn’t do, stand up for yourself and tell the individual that what they’re doing is unhealthy and you aren’t going to accept the guilt trip. Tell them “no” if they’re making a request that feels wrong. If they persist, leave the situation when possible.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Do you think you are being guilt tripped?

Distance yourself 

Promptly and permanently ending contact with someone trying to manipulate you may be valuable. If a relationship feels unhealthy, one-sided, or controlling, it might be detrimental to your mental and physical health. In some cases, it may be considered emotional abuse.* 

If you believe you have been the target of a guilt trip or feel you may be in the company of someone who is manipulating you, expert advice tailored to your situation may make a meaningful difference. 

*If you are facing, or witnessing, abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat.

Counseling options 

People can find their way to therapy through a number of avenues. You may talk to a doctor about your mental health struggles so they can offer their professional medical advice. Diagnosis or treatments for mental heatlh conditions may be suggested and your doctor may be able to help with those options. They may also refer you to psychiatrist for official diagnosis and to prescribe any medications to help manage symptoms of a mental health condition. You may also receive referrals to a therapist to talk to a professional about your mental health challenges or for help managing difficult situations such as how to handle someone who regularly guilt trips you.

You may also consider online therapy if you’re looking for a discreet and affordable option. With online counseling, you can speak to a counselor through live chat, phone calls, or video calling. 

Either in-person or online therapy can be beneficial, although they are equally effective. Additionally, studies show that online counseling can be especially effective for those healing from, or experiencing, abuse or unhealthy relationships. If you’re interested in trying an internet-based treatment method, consider a platform such as BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples.

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 realizations about past experiences, and 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.”


Several warning signs may indicate you are experiencing a guilt trip from another individual. Learning to set boundaries, stepping away from unhealthy relationships, avoiding individuals who might be prone to guilt-tripping you, and reaching out for help can be beneficial ways to reduce the likelihood of experiencing a guilt trip. If you’re struggling in a relationship, or want further professional guidance, consider contacting a licensed counselor for support. 
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