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How to Stop Laying Guilt Trips on Others

How to Stop Laying Guilt Trips on Others

Understanding the hidden feeling that fuels guilt tripping is the secret to breaking free.

In my first article for YourTango, I talked about how to stop being taken on a guilt trip.

In this article, I'm talking about how a guilt tripper can ditch the trips.

Of course, before we can let go of any behavior we first need to understand the purpose that behavior serves. When we understand this, we can then choose a more constructive behavior that's going to get us what we want--rather than backfire bigtime the way guilt trips always do.

I need to preface this discussion by letting you know that 99% of our behaviors are motivated by unconscious forces. And because the unconscious is driving the bus, we may not be aware of why we say and do what we do. Laying guilt trips is a good example of this.

Most guilt trippers don’t realize that laying a trip is an unconscious way of expressing buried anger!

Stay with me...

The guilt tripping pattern begins in childhood. Let's start with the premise that all kids feel angry feelings. We're born with anger. It's a natural reaction to threats, danger, pain, and to the frustration we feel when our needs aren't being met.

Even though anger is normal, kids are naturally terrified to admit anger, especially anger that is directed at our parents. This is because all kids' brains are ruled by magical thinking. One aspect of this thinking is the mistaken belief that thoughts automatically create reality. For example, I had a patient whose grandfather was dying of cancer and smelled funny. One day, while visiting him in the hospital, she wished that he would die so she wouldn’t have to visit him anymore and smell the odor. He died the next morning and she had a mental breakdown because she felt was convinced that her thoughts killed him--this is magical thinking to a tee.

Because kids think the feeling of anger is the same as committing an angry act, they can't take the chance of allowing themselves to feel angry toward their parents: If I feel angry at my parents, they will die. And since I need my parents to survive, I can’t allow myself to admit that I’m angry. So what do I do? I bury it.

Here's the thing: Buried anger sneaks out in the oddest ways: in the form of self-attacks, self-blame, self-destructive acts, and even in the form of laying guilt trips.

Stay with me. One of the ways that young children learn to vent their anger at their parents is by playing the victim by laying guilt trips. Anger is the secret message that’s hidden in the victims’ communication.

When the victim complains and suffers, he/she is indirectly pointing the finger and accusing the other person. The suffering victim is actually saying: you bastard, look how you harmed me and hurt me.

Here’s a good example of this. I had a patient who, as a young child, recalled repeatedly knocking herself unconscious by running full force into the wall. Right before going out, she remembered thinking: Now my parents will suffer when they see how badly I’m hurt. There it was; she was playing the victim in order to vent her anger at her parents and punish them.

As an aside, this is the mechanism behind suicide. The person who commits suicide often will secretly think: they’re really going to suffer when I’m gone.

Obviously, using a guilt-trip to express anger is a tactic that backfires big-time. Because when we induce guilt in another person, the guilty party hears the accusation in the guilt tripper’s whining, nagging and crying.

What happens next? The tripee responds with anger.

Now you have a mountain of anger coming back at you, and you're fighting instead of  getting heard or understood, which is what you wanted all along. 

To complicate matters, when the anger comes back at the tripper, he/she feels more victimized. Then what? The tripper lays more trips and gets more anger coming back at him/her. You can see the vicious cycle here.

The bottom line is this: Expressing anger in the form of a guilt trip doesn’t get us what we want.

I also need to point out that anger isn’t ever our emotional bottom line. Yes, we may feel anger, but anger is just a smokescreen for deeper feelings of sadness, hurt, fear and disappointment. Many people cover up these vulnerable feelings and convert them into the more powerful feeling of anger.

For example, just this week I saw a mother and a little boy of 6 years old. The boy had been biting his mother and kicking her.

Suddenly, I said to him, “I get it. You get mad at your mom to cover up your hurt.”

The little boy turned me and grinned in acknowledgement.

The mom then said, “OMG. I do that.”

The point is most of us cover up our squishy emotional center and transform our vulnerable feelings into anger--or guilt trips if that’s how we've learned to express our anger.

So we all must remember that beneath anger is the hurt, fear and sadness that comes from disappointment when our needs are not being met.

And, why are our needs not being met?

In many cases, we shrink back from directly stating our needs--perhaps because we were mocked for speaking up when we were young.

And, one way many women have learned to indirectly state their needs is by laying a guilt trip in the hopes of manipulating another person into doing what the tripper wants. You’ve seen young kids use this tactic. They’ll say stuff like: “But you’re so mean. It’s not fair…”  If this behavior worked for a kid and he/she got his way by doing it, now you have someone who’s going to continue this tactic into adulthood.

Women, especially, fall into the trap of guilt tripping after the fact, when their needs have been disappointed rather than directly saying what they want up front.

Let's say the guilt trip succeeds in getting the tripper what he/she wants. Guilt tripping is still a losing proposition in the long run because it leads to relationship friction and fighting. This is because it’s infuriating to be on the receiving end of a guilt trip. And even if the tripee gives in, he/she will be doing a slow burn and will likely pay the guilt tripper back, perhaps by refusing to respond to the guilt tripper’s wishes in another area, which only creates more guilt tripping and a major vicious cycle.

In order to maintain a healthy, thriving relationship, it’s vital to eliminate guilt tripping and substitute the behavior for a direct communication that states how you think and feel and what you want.

Most of us have not been taught how to do this. No worries. In my new Hay House book, Kiss Your Fights Good-bye: Dr. Love’s 10 Simple Steps to Cooling Conflict and Rekindling Your Relationship, I show you how to substitute guilt trips in favor of my X, Y Formula, which enables you to directly state what you want, so you can sent those guilt trips permanently packing! 

Owning and honoring your emotional reality AND speaking in a loving and constructive way about our thoughts, feelings, needs and wishes is your key to a lifetime of lasting love.


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