How to Recognize a Guilt Trip

Goda Brzozauskaite
  • Apr 26, 2022
  • 5 min read
teenage girl looking sad sitting on bed

Have you ever been in a situation where someone tries to make you feel guilty, bad, or stir a sense of responsibility so that they can manipulate how you respond to a situation? If yes, then you might have been a victim of guilt tripping at some point. 

Guilt trips can be described as passive-aggressive behavior. This is because one person will be unable to communicate and express their feelings in a constructive manner. Consequently, they use subtle and indirect ways to induce the feeling of guilt. 

Unfortunately, guilt tripping does not create an environment that allows for conflict resolution. Rather, it fosters feelings of resentment and frustration. 

Guilt tripping is a very common way of manipulation, and most people have encountered it, with or without realizing it. Narcissists and other toxic people have mastered the art of how to guilt trip someone for them to get what they want.

Signs of Guilt Trip

As humans, we are constantly trying to do the best we can to achieve what we want. Instilling guilt (guilt tripping) is one way we use to get what we want. However, this is a form of manipulation that does not entirely have positive long-term outcomes as it results in the person being guilt tripped feeling exploited.

Guilt tripping can be done consciously or subconsciously. 

Guilt trips can be from family, friends, colleagues, or anyone you interact with. They come in different forms, but these are some of the common signs that will help you identify a guilt trip. 

  • Silent treatment
  • Suggesting that you “owe” them because of something they did for you in the past
  • Making comments that make you dissatisfied with your progress
  • Bringing up mistakes that you have done in the past     
  • Reminding you of what they have done for you in the past
  • Using non-verbal communication styles such as crying to spark guilt
  • Assuming authority
  • Comparing you to other people
  • Acting annoyed or irritated but denying the claim when asked
  • Using body language to show annoyance and displeasure
  • Making passive-aggressive or sarcastic comments about a situation

Just because someone has shown one or two of these signs once does not necessarily mean they are guilt tripping you. Sometimes, it will just be because of frustration. It is therefore important to keep an eye on the behavior and see if there is a pattern. 

If anyone does this to make you feel guilty so that you can do something differently, then there is a need to be concerned and figure out how to get out of guilt trips. 

Types of Guilt Trips

Although with the same end motive, guilt trips come in different forms. These are some of the common types of guilt trips.

Moral education

This entails person A indirectly making person B feel guilty so person B can change their behavior to do what aligns with the morals of person A. In this case, there is no consideration of the morals of person B or what they would have wanted to do. 


Making humorous or sarcastic comments or statements about a situation is yet another way that is used to guilt trip someone. When the comments are made, they are intended to ensure that the person hearing these comments will make some adjustments that will be appreciated by the person making the comments. 


The American Psychological Association (APA) defines manipulation as behavior that is intended to influence, exploit, or control others to one’s advantage. While manipulation is not a synonym for guilt tripping, it is usually  the main reason behind guilt tripping. The goal is to unfairly convince someone to do something they would not normally do on their own.

Elicit sympathy

This involves putting others in positions where they feel sympathy for an individual. The individual will paint a story that portrays them as the victim. Once they get sympathy from others, it becomes easier to convince them to do what serves or benefits the individual. 

Conflict avoidance

When there is a conflict or clash of interests, people will avoid addressing the conflict directly. Rather, they will use guilt tripping in relationships to ensure they get what they want. This is not sustainable as it helps one person get what they want without properly addressing the conflict, which will be at the root of the problem. 

How to Respond to a Guilt Trip?

Once exposed to a guilt trip, we will likely do the best we can to ensure that the feelings of guilt get eliminated. Often that means doing what the other person wants us to do despite how we feel about it. 

Sadly, this leaves us feeling terrible as we would have been put in a position where we had to do something just to please the next person. 

These are some steps you can consider to effectively deal with your next guilt trip. 

Engage in an empathetic conversation

Speak to them in a manner that shows that you understand their request. Try to put yourself in their shoes so that you see why they want things done in a particular way. Once you have the conversation from their perspective, they will feel heard and validated. This validation will reduce the feelings of anger and resentment that might have built up. 

Once you have the conversation going, ensure that you figure out the roots of the guilt tripping behavior. From then, both of you can work out the best solution possible. Ensure that everyone feels validated before you move on to come up with new solutions. 

Learn how to say no and not feel guilty

Often, we tend to feel guilty for saying no to someone. We beat ourselves up because the other person is now disappointed or hurt by us saying no. Eventually, this guilt sometimes results in us doing what we didn’t intend on doing in the first place. Learning to say no and not feel guilty about it is an important skill that we should all learn and implement. 

In order to successfully do so, it is important to set firm boundaries. You should have a list of things you will never tolerate or agree to do no matter what. Once you have the list, you must communicate to let others know of your boundaries which they cannot cross. 

Express your feelings

Be comfortable enough to express how you feel about a situation and why you decided to make the decision that you made. When guilt tripped, you should also be able to state that you feel manipulated and you do not appreciate how the discussion is going. 

When you express your feelings, remember to make it clear that is how you feel and not what they are doing. For instance, you could use the statement, “I feel manipulated” rather than “You are manipulating me.” Remember, the way you communicate plays a crucial role in how your message is interpreted and accepted. 

When to Seek Help?

As mentioned earlier, guilt tripping can involve manipulation, which eventually becomes toxic. The best time to seek help is the moment you realize that guilt trips negatively impact your mental health, and the discussion with the person was fruitless. This will help ensure that the impact of guilt trips does not evolve into something that is even more psychologically damaging.

Individual therapy is a great way to deal with guilt tripping. It will give all the attention to the person who is experiencing it and teach a person who is using guilt tripping.

In cases where guilt tripping is happening in close relationships, relationship therapy can effectively foster healthy communication. Therapy is also needed in abusive relationships or when a person is suffering from excessive guilt. 

Therapy will help get to the root of the problem so that the solutions can ensure that the problem has been entirely eliminated. 

Online therapy is a more comfortable option as it is more flexible and confidential. The client and the therapist are able to come up with a flexible schedule that works for both of them. An online counselor can also help you identify signs of guilt trips so that you know how to effectively handle situations that involve guilt tripping. 

Bottom Line 

While not always consciously done, guilt tripping is part of our everyday lives. We are likely to experience it from anyone, from work colleagues to family members or even children. 

Once you feel like someone is trying to make you feel guilty so that they can get what they want, instigate communication and express how you feel. Put yourself in their shoes and work together to come up with the best and most constructive solutions. 

Should you continue having difficulties on your own, you can always seek help. For online therapy, we are here to help you. 

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