Talk to an expert from Relationship Hero for personalized relationship advice

What guilt tripping looks like in the real world (+ how to respond to it)

Disclosure: this page may contain affiliate links to select partners. We receive a commission should you choose to make a purchase after clicking on them. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Guilt trips are spectacularly awful.

They’re one of the most underhanded and harmful ways that people try to manipulate others…

…and sadly enough, they can be very effective.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to stop them from happening.

Read on to learn how to recognize this form of manipulation, and how to get it to stop.

How to spot a guilt trip.

You’ve undoubtedly been on the receiving end of a guilt trip at some point in your life.

After all, it’s one of the most effective ways to manipulate someone else into doing something, and has been used by parents, partners, co-workers, and friends since the dawn of time.

If anyone has tried to make you do something you don’t want to do (or something they want you to do despite the fact that it makes you uncomfortable) by trying to get you to feel bad, that’s a guilt trip.

In fact, they’ll tap into something they know will upset you or cause anxiety or guilt in an attempt to modify your behavior, or force their will upon you somehow.

Examples can be things like:

“Do it for me. I do so much for you, I don’t think I’m asking too much of you to do this one little thing for me.”

Or, if you attempt to refuse:

“I’ll remember this, so the next time you ask me to do something for you, I’ll just be too busy.”

Yeah, that kind of thing.

They’re often accompanied by deep, gut-wrenching sighs, disappointed glares, and various other passive-aggressive markers until they get what they want.

And then they’ll try to guilt trip you for taking so long to sort it out.

They’re really nasty, multi-layered, and utterly unnecessary.

Sadly, they’re also most often used by those closest to us, which makes them even more despicable.

Why guilt trips are so effective.

Those closest to us are well aware of what hurts us most and makes us afraid. 

For example, most people are quite close to their parents and would feel very sad when they died.

A manipulative elder parent might use guilt to get what they want by saying that if they died suddenly and you didn’t do the thing they wanted, you’ll have to live with that guilt for the rest of your life.

I once knew a single parent who was manipulated into allowing his elderly mother to sleep in his child’s room, despite the fact that it made both him AND his daughter uncomfortable.

Why? Because his mother was old and sickly, and insisted that if they didn’t allow her to do what she wanted, they would be depriving a dying woman of her only real happiness in life, and they’d feel terrible about that after she was gone.


Of course it worked, because despite her manipulative nature, they did love her.

As such, they knew she was winding down toward the end of her life, and wanted to make her last years as comfortable and happy as possible.

And she knew it, and milked it for all it was worth, in every way imaginable.

Whatever the guilt trip – by whomever the perpetrator is – the underlying message will be: “If you don’t agree to do what I want, bad things might happen, and you’ll feel terrible if they do.”

How to stop someone from guilt tripping you.

As you can imagine, it’s quite difficult to stop this kind of cycle from continuing, but it is absolutely possible.

It’s not fun, and in simplest terms, there’s only one person who can intervene when it comes to guilt trips.

Can you guess who it is?

Yep. You.

If you’re familiar with the phrase “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission,” you can rest assured that the same goes for guilt tripping:

Guilt trips only work if you allow them to.

Let that sink in for a moment.

You might feel immense resentment toward another person for “making you” feel guilty about something so they can manipulate you into doing what they want…

…but they can’t actually make you do anything against your will.

If you don’t play along and let it affect you, that guilt trip is powerless.

You may also like (article continues below):

How to respond to a guilt trip.

The key to solving this issue is very, very simple:

Stop giving a crap. And call them out on theirs.

Seriously. That’s literally ALL it takes.

Recognize their childish, ridiculous behavior for what it is, and don’t allow it to affect you.

In fact, any time they start whinging at you because you won’t do what they want, picture them as the petulant toddlers they’re behaving like. 

Stand your ground, and make it clear to them that their behavior is unacceptable.

You can let them know that you understand that it’s important to them that you do what they want, but that their approach is so off-putting as to ensure that it’s not going to happen.

If they’d like you to do the thing, they need to learn how to ask you with courtesy and respect.

If you really don’t want to do something, say something like:

“I see how important this is to you, but it’s not something I wish to do, so as much as it might upset you, I’m not going to do it. And that is that.”

If it’s simply that their guilt-tripping ways make you want to resist, say something along the lines of:

“Listen, as much as you may want me to do this, the way you are going about it is not going to work. I won’t be guilt tripped into it. Ask me like an adult and I might treat you like one.”

But always…

Be prepared for ugly fallout.

Standing your ground isn’t going to be easy: the person who’s been guilt tripping you isn’t likely to change their ways any time soon.

In fact, they’ll likely go all out and triple their efforts to bring you back into line. 

This can involve anything from the silent treatment to verbal abuse about what a horrible, selfish person you are.

They might even try to poison friends and family members against you, playing the victim and going on about how you neglect them, abuse them, or otherwise refuse to “help” them.

Some may even go so far as to purposely injure themselves just to prove their point.

An example of this might be an older parent throwing themselves down some stairs because you went out on a Friday night and left them alone, instead of staying home to watch TV with them like they wanted you to.

Fortunately, this type of drastic action can be counterbalanced with equal measures.

If, to use the example above, a parent or spouse is self-harming in an attempt to manipulate you, then a trip to the psychiatric ward may be in order.

That may sound extreme, but the possibility of being “locked up” might be just the thing they need to snap them out of this kind of behavior.

A psych evaluation may also be incredibly helpful to them, if it diagnoses a chemical imbalance that can be treated with therapy and/or medication.

Either way, there’s going to be a good outcome. 


Realize that changing habits will take time.

If the person you’re dealing with was raised by guilt-tripping parents and/or grandparents, then they likely learned this type of behavior very early on.

As a result, their actions are going to be pretty ingrained and will need time – and repetition – to change.

If and when they try to lay a guilt trip on you again, stop them and point it out to them.

Sure, they’ll most likely deny it, or turn it around and try to gaslight you and say that you’re interpreting their behavior that way. But don’t let them get away with it.

Make it very clear to them that continuing to approach requests with guilt and manipulation will cause resentment, and distance.

Basically, if they keep it up, they’re going to destroy whatever relationship they have with you. 

Establish the need for them to ask you to do things directly, and to also accept that you may not be able to comply, for any number of reasons.

This could be anything from having other plans already, to really not wanting to do the thing for personal reasons.

And that’s okay.

Sometimes it seems as if many people really don’t understand that others don’t exist just for their benefit, at their convenience!

That doesn’t mean that it’s okay for them to bully or manipulate you into doing what they want, whenever they want it.

Be wary of labels.

Now, there’s another aspect that needs to be considered, and that’s whether you’re perceiving something as a guilt trip when it wasn’t intended as one. 

People are remarkably complex beings, and verbal communication can often miss the mark.

What one person means isn’t necessarily what another perceives.

If someone is hypersensitive to criticism, for example, any offhand remark could be misconstrued as an attack, when it wasn’t intended that way at all.

Similarly, someone may sincerely ask for your help with something in a manner that you interpret as being guilt-trippy, but that wasn’t how they meant it.

This is why clear communication is so vital. 

Try not to get defensive or argumentative, but talk to this person very clearly and explain how their tone is coming across to you.

Sure, dealing with any kind of conflict or confrontation can be uncomfortable, but it’s also the only way to learn one another’s communication styles.

And that leads to far healthier, stronger relationships in the long run.

About The Author

Catherine Winter is an herbalist, INTJ empath, narcissistic abuse survivor, and PTSD warrior currently based in Quebec's Laurentian mountains. In an informal role as confidant and guide, Catherine has helped countless people work through difficult times in their lives and relationships, including divorce, ageing and death journeys, grief, abuse, and trauma recovery, as they navigate their individual paths towards healing and personal peace.