Each of us has our own emotional Achilles Heel, those certain buttons that people can press to make us cave in to their demands. One of the toughest emotional attacks to endure is the ever popular guilt trip. Most of us hate to be wrong, and we really dislike feeling that we have failed or let someone down in the process. Someone at work or in our family that is set on getting their way can use these things against us by making us feel guilty (even when we've done nothing wrong). If you have a boss, co-worker, friend, or family member that loves to send you on a guilt trip, there are 2 important things to remember, that will allow you to battle back and retain your sanity: ask and avoid.
1)Ask yourself this question: Have I done something that is morally wrong?
Guilt trips owe their power to false guilt. False guilt is the feeling of guilt that comes to us even when we haven’t done anything morally wrong. Many of us have come to believe that it is our job to make everyone happy. We don’t tend to say this out loud, but we believe it nonetheless. Add this to our tendency to blame ourselves first when things go wrong, and you have the recipe for a crushing guilt trip.
It's not your job to keep the people you love or work with happy.
Not only that, it’s impossible, so let it go! When feelings of guilt arise after a talk with someone, stop and ask yourself, “Have I done anything morally wrong?” If the answer is “no”, then remind yourself that these feelings of guilt are just feelings and are not actually true. Before long those feelings will fade away, as feelings often do. As an example: it’s morally wrong to steal money from your co-worker when they are out of the office, it’s not morally wrong to say no when they ask if you can work their shift for them next Saturday.
2)Avoid long, drawn-out conversations with the guilters in your life.
People who are trying to guilt you into doing something for them love to have long conversations with you about how hard their life is, and how much they need you to come to their rescue. The longer the conversation, the more chance they have to find the chink in your armor that will allow them to flood you with guilt. The more they can get you to talk, the better able they are to trip you up!
When your realize that someone is not accepting your polite refusal to work over today, but is continuing to push, the conversation has stopped being relational and started being manipulative.
The best way I have found to deal with this sort of manipulation is to become a good politician (is that an oxymoron?). Good politicians are not drawn into conversations they don't want to have. They do this by having set talking points that they repeat often during their campaign that highlights their strengths and minimizes their weaknesses. It doesn’t matter what you ask, they stick to the talking points. This tactic also works when dealing with the people in your life that try to guilt you into submission. Here is an example of what one such conversation might look like, and how you can handle it:
Your supervisor: Can you please stay later today and pick up the extra work that needs to be completed, no one else is able to, and I’m not feeling well. (you know that she probably hasn’t asked anyone else…)
You: I actually worked over some last week, but am unable to today.
Supervisor: I only ask you because I know that you are such a good worker and care so much about our clients.
You: Thank you, I really do take my job seriously, but I can’t work over today.
Supervisor: Well, I know that you wouldn’t want your co-workers to think that you aren’t carrying your weight….
You: I can’t do it today, but I hope you are able to find someone to pick up the extra hours.
Supervisor: Well, I guess I’ll just have to do it myself, maybe my migraine won’t get much worse…..
You: Ok, I hope the rest of your afternoon goes well.