How does family make you feel guilty about the life path you choose.

Families often guilt and threats as ways to control the choices that you make
Families often guilt and threats as ways to control the choices that you make

Families shape and mould your life and your choices. Some families encourage and allow you to make your own choices. Other families cross the line from shaping and molding to controlling and dictating the path you take and choices you make. They exercise their controlling in many ways.

One of the main ways they attempt controlling you is through guilt. Inducing guilt is often done in several ways. Spiritual teachings are often used to create guilt. The family cites religious writings and teachings in order to force you into the choice they want you to make. When you violate their will, it is not just family you are going against, they make it to where you are going against your religion and God as well. In times past, this method was jokingly called “Putting the fear of God” into you. The threat of supernatural intervention runs the full range from disappointing God, and eternal damnation in hell to death threats and fatwas against you.

When spiritual guilt inducement is too heavy, they may use dead family members to induce guilt. This is done by making reference to ‘the ancestors’ in a generic form or referring to a specific family member like ‘Aunt Elsie’ or ‘Uncle Abram’ to stop your choice. By using a dead family member or members, they can create internal tension as you consider the image they conjured of various family members rolling in their graves or looking down disapprovingly from their eternal resting places. Since the family members they refer to are not there to speak for themselves, they are used like ghosts to force you to do things. Since they are dead, you can not argue with them. This ploy is a way to pressure you and keep you from arguing with your family directly.

When using the ancestors and the dead no longer works, the family may claim that you are disappointing them as a whole or in a specific highly respected family member. They may use a whole range of emotions including sadness, anger, disgust, etc. The common theme is that they entice you to believe that you are making them feel that unpleasant emotion. By making you responsible for what they feel, they hope that you experience guilt at bringing a negative emotional state in your family members. This ploy often works when you are weak minded or commonly fall for their emotional games.

Your family may bring in the medical ploy. The medical ploy is often used when they consider your choice a ‘really’ bad one. In the medical ploy, the family claims that their medical condition is directly related to you and your choices. They make you believe that you brought on their migraine, high blood pressure, heart condition, breathing episodes, or some other malady. They hope to pressure you into believing that you and your choices caused the problem. Although the reality is that you did not, the emotional pressure of the medical ploy makes it highly effective.

Another family manipulation is accomplished through family dynamics. The family often uses older members of the family to double or triple team you. By bringing in the more experienced members of the family, they hope to persuade you to their way of thinking. This manipulation can be positive or negative. In the positive mode, they make you believe that you are being brought into the inner circle of the family if you choose well. In the negative manipulation, they threaten to ostracize you from the family if you choose wrongly. Since they often choose family members that you are attached to or respect, this is often a powerful manipulation.

Some families use “what if” manipulations. In the ‘what if’ manipulation, the family talks about a good potential future for you. This future is based on you making the good choice. Phrases such as “Can you imagine…” or “Consider what it will be like if…” or “You may be…” are often used in this manipulation. When this manipulation is used, it appears that everyone is having a shared vision of the future based on your choice. By making the wrong choice, you disappoint them, miss out on a good future and are ostracized from the family.

A variation on the “what if” occurs when the family literally curses the choice that you are considering. When referring to your choice, they add curse words and embellish references with curse words. This embellishment carries the message that your choice is ‘cursed’ and will bring all kinds of negativity if you follow through with it. They hope to discourage you from making the wrong choice by associating the direction you are considering with as much negativity as they can.

Since families are often creative, they come up with many original ploys to induce guilt. The wide range of creative alternatives make it difficult to cover every one. In terms of dealing with these manipulations, there are a couple of skeleton keys. One, is that each person is responsible for their own emotions. You can not make them feel some particular emotion. Shifting blame for emotions is a sure sign that manipulation is going on. Two, you can not cause medical problems, unless you made the family member take something. Three, ‘true’ guilt comes from realizing that you did something wrong. If you did nothing wrong, there is no reason for guilt. If you are experiencing guilt, when you have done nothing wrong, it is a manipulation. Four, you can not argue with the dead and corpses do not have feelings and thoughts anymore. Trying to win an argument with a corpse does not make sense.

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BritInTexas profile image

BritInTexas 4 years ago from San Antonio, Texas

Interesting article covering a wide range of scenarios. "Pack your bags, you're going on a guilt trip" - Mothers seem professionals at that one.

My Father doesn't give me any grief at all about my choices, but my Mother and younger sister do, although it is done in such a way that it always make me look like the evil so-and-so who 'tore the family apart'. We're not a religious family, nor are relatives/ancestors used as fodder, but my Mother especially has a way about her that will make onlookers think that she's only happy if I'm happy, but knowing her the way I do, for her to say, "I just want you to be happy" actually means, "I want you living in the house next door to me forever".

Great links too... just an idea, but you might also want to add a link to books about 'Co-dependency', because that is a medically-recognized trait in many people who put guilt trips on people they love. :O)

Sue St. Clair profile image

Sue St. Clair 4 years ago from I would rather be in Paris Author

I am glad that you found it interesting. Your question was worth a longer response. I learned many of them through experience. Mothers often have trouble when you leave them. In my case "I just want you to be happy!" meant she wanted me to take care of her when she got older. What was not said was that she wanted me to care for her and NO ONE else. Sadly, that leaves no room for husbands or family.

Some of the ones that I did not include were the sobbing episodes, the suicidal threats, the helpless act, etc. Perhaps I'll need to do a follow up on this one.:) Thank you for the inspirational question.

BritInTexas profile image

BritInTexas 4 years ago from San Antonio, Texas

I would be interested in reading more from people with the same kind of experiences. It's a topic TOO close to my heart, and one that I'm still, 5 years later, searching for answers to ease my guilt. So glad you wrote this.

Sue St. Clair profile image

Sue St. Clair 4 years ago from I would rather be in Paris Author


I suspect you may need to set up a forum on the topic. There are books I have come across that each give some examples like "The Wicked Witch Must Die", "Toxic Parents" and a few others. I will grant you that they deal with more extreme situations, yet knowing the patterns and games makes all the difference. I talk about my experiences with the guilt and head games in my own e-book about what I went through. I wish you well in this endeavour.

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Giselle Maine 4 years ago

Fascinating! I found this hub from the Q&A. I am glad I don't have any of these issues going on right now, but I know that the tips here would surely help if I did. I like the idea of the "skeleton keys" which help free us from what is ultimately very unnecessary guilt.

Sue St. Clair profile image

Sue St. Clair 4 years ago from I would rather be in Paris Author

Giselle Maine,

Thank you for the comments. We all need a little help in freeing ourselves from induced and unnecessary guilt from time to time.

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