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How to avoid taking a guilt trip

Updated on September 23, 2012

I used to be able to get whatever I wanted, if I really wanted it, because I knew how to go about it. It was easy for me to talk to people and somehow end up on the winning end, but there was something about it that confused and discouraged me. It was almost like it was so easy that it was like cheating.

It wasn't until I was older, when I took psychology classes and made new friends, when I realized what this "trick" was: I guilt-tripped.

And where did I get it from? My mother.

My mother is the queen of guilt trips, and it took me many years to even understand the concept of a guilt trip and its power.

guilt trip (n. Informal) A usually prolonged feeling of guilt or culpability.

Idiom: lay a guilt trip on To make or try to make (someone) feel guilty.

When I understood more about guilt trips, I looked back on my past and realized how often my mother would take me on a guilt trip. When I got in trouble once, she dragged my brother along to get me help and said, "Look, now your brother isn't able to do your homework because of you!" There were several little episodes like this that affected me and encouraged me to do her bidding. She's also great at the silent treatment, another thing I didn't really understand until I started dating, and my boyfriends would have a real issue with the cold shoulder.

I am writing this Hub because of a more recent incident. Currently, I am battling between two options for my near future: join a community-organizing, non-profit organization across the country, or stay here in California for grad school. The community organizing group has more appeal to me because it's something new and something I would like to do in my life. Grad school has no real value to me because for what I want to do, I don't need a Masters degree.

But of course, my mother would like me to stay here. I've had several hour-long conversations with her over the phone about this, but no matter how good my reasons are, they're not good enough. It's to the point where I've countered every qualm she has brought up, so now she just says, "I have a bad feeling about it." There's nothing a daughter can really say against that.

Now she's taking drastic measures. She's talking about her health and bringing up concerns that a child can't really disagree with without looking like an ungrateful, heartless brat. However, I'm almost tempted to do it to break free from her grip.

I love my mother very much, and she can be very supportive when she wants to be, but there are times when a person just needs to look at the big picture and analyze what's going on and why.

How to avoid a guilt trip

  • Use their words against them. Sometimes what they say is just so ridiculous, it's hard for them to back them up when they actually hear them. Expose to them the situation so they might have a chance to understand what's going on
  • Don't show ambivalence. This just encourages them to go on with their campaign, and can undermine your confidence. Be able to say no, listen to what they say, and stand your ground. Sometimes this is enough to ward off guilt and guilt trips.
  • Analyze what their intentions are. Do they want the best for you? Does what they say have any sense in it? Or can you see something in what they say that would lead to a benefit solely for them?
  • Find a balance. Of course you can't have everything you want, but don't let them manipulate you into their desires.
  • Make sure that everyone understands the situation. Maybe things seem weird because the issue isn't completely out in the open and understood. Terms and conditions should be clear.
  • Analyze the relationship that you share. Is this something that happens a lot? Are you happy with the relationship that you share? This could be a great chance to make things better. Maybe even therapy is in order.


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    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Northern California

      Wow, that reminds me of something my mom would say. I think it depends on how she intended her words to mean. If she gives you the cold shoulder when she comes back, that is a clear sign. I personally try to break the ice, but I don't know if that actually helps anything - I just don't see the point in have two people giving the silent treatment.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I have the exact same problem with my mother. I am the youngest one and I was therefore the one that lived alone with my mother for 8 years. Then I went overseas to do uni and came back. Now I am leaving again to do my master program but she guilt trips me all the time saying "You're abandoning me" or " You better come back and raise kinds here" or "when you come back, we should move together".

      My parents got divorced when I was 7. I was the only one who moved back with my mother. She has always seen me as her "life partner", I love her so much but I am just 23 now, and I really want to make my own plans and achieve my goals, I do wish for her to be in my life but not living under ehr rules or her plans.

      I talked to her about the matter and she simply said "its not my intention to make you feel guilty, if you are feeling like that is because YOU are making yourself feel guilty" I was shocked at her response.

      She has left for a few days, I am not sure how to react when she comes back...should I still be upset or should I just let it go?

      I am leaving in two months so want to enjoy this time with her, but at the same time I hate pretending that everything is fine when it still hurts....

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Northern California

      Great point! Thanks for stopping by! I like your description of guilt trips :)

    • Lita C. Malicdem profile image

      Lita C. Malicdem 

      8 years ago from Philippines

      Guilt trip! I personally call that "upturning stones that buried issues a long time ago". Because every time somebody thinks you're not doing things their way, they will keep on saying things to make an issue. It isn't healthy, of course, but as humans, we often give substance to guilt trip when we should not. Love this. It's a new term for me.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I have the very same problem, expect my mom is talking about comeing to live with me! How do you tell her no. She is an expert and as I am the only single child left(I'm 32), she thinks it is my role to care for her (she's 58 not 88) She critizes all that I do and makes me dobt myelf, her over protive hand sent me to seek professioal help and talk about what I was feeling. To no avil because two years later she is still driving me nuts! She will not even let me drive my own car because she fears for my life.

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Northern California

      Wow... You all make it seems so easy, and it makes sense! Thanks G-Ma!

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 

      10 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Plain and simple my dear...follow your heart which will lead you back to your mother's heart...Mom's want what their children want, but have a difficult time letting go, no matter what the age or the desire...Love her and do what you need to do...time heals all...:O) Hugs

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Northern California

      Thanks everyone! Maven, the group is actually very similar to ACORN; it's called DART, and it works toward the same things :)

      I still feel very conflicted as to what to do next year!

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 

      10 years ago from The Ozarks

      Glassvisage, I agree with Teresa. Grad school can be a great experience -- but only if you want to be there. Follow your heart. In the long run your relationship with your mother will be stronger for your ability to say "no."

    • Teresa McGurk profile image


      10 years ago from The Other Bangor

      Grad school can be a really rewarding experience -- but if you are sure that it will not be a benefit to you then stick to your guns. Please just don't confuse what's morally right for the country with what's ethically correct for your own future prospects. And whatever you do, have lots of fun. T.

    • maven101 profile image


      10 years ago from Northern Arizona

      Useful Hub for those that need it...I found the sub-text much more interesting and informative...

      " Community organizing " as in Acorn...? Good luck in your pursuit of Obama's vision of America...and I mean that in all sincerity...If you have passion then you have richness in your life....Larry


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