July 14, 2020

Guilt-Tripping – An Attempt at Control.

Throughout our daily lives we often contemplate the various promises, rewards and consequences of our actions.  Quite often we might be able to make use of our own experience as our guiding compass.  But what happens when life reminds us that we may have little control on what we must go through? What goes through our minds when the same happiness, fulfilment and ease of mind we’re striving towards depends on another person’s actions? Despite our conscious effort not to impose or act as a burden onto others, our reactive behaviour might instil a sense of guilt and a threatening failure of responsibility.  This strongly ties with our own expectations, dependence and sense of control. Guilt-tripping is when someone is reminded of something that person has done or might do, with the intention of influencing that person’s choice through guilt. “If you don’t help me out it will really show me how much you care!” “What about me, how am I supposed to do this?” Guilt escalates doubts and insecurities. Sometimes we might not even be aware that we’re experiencing a guilt-trip, or that we’re guilt-tripping others ourselves.  Unlike anxiety which despite its negative connotations reinforces focus and awareness, guilt may raise insecurities and escalate doubts. Often you hear children being promised rewards for doing well in academic tasks, “If you get a good mark, I will reward you.” We might initially feel that should the child do well, the reward might serve as a form of encouragement, but what is the actual message being sent? Could it be that such a statement imposes how praise will only follow a positive end-result and a refusal to acknowledge and appreciate effort? If a child fails, might this discourage the child from trying hard again?  Or even, push the child to experience a guilt of ‘not having done enough’, despite one’s own best efforts?  The threat of having your carers love you less might be more than intimidating. Face value this might seem trivial, but I encourage us all to look back to when we were children and young adults.  Reflect upon how frustrating, upsetting and even unjust it all felt when others expressed their disappointment and disapproval towards our actions, and how easily it was for us to interpret such actions as a harsh judgment on us as individuals. And some of that same hurt may still weigh us down presently. The more we experience this passive aggression the more we adapt towards an option that may help us escape or ignore this imposed guilt.  And escaping and ignoring might lead us to live our life with self-imposed limitations. Guilt-Trips make us lose touch with our needs. Do we presently strive towards a form of success that we intend to make others happier than it will make ourselves?  Is there a present goal you might be complying with, to be granted another’s approval? This doesn’t mean that we should all live selfishly and ignore other people’s needs; certainly not, but just as other people’s needs are important, our own are just as essential. The child who guiltily worked towards success in academic tasks might grow up and accept the same guilt obligations in various relationships: “Others might take my place if my success isn’t noticed.” “My loved one will leave me if I don’t deliver; financially, emotionally etc…” These thoughts might be so profound in our subjective world that they root themselves in how we interpret and make sense of the world; our own life scripts. This way of managing life may have functioned and helped us in the past, but presently, the same approach might be limiting us from recognising what we’re losing out on, refraining us from living life on our own terms. “If my kids are unhappy that means I am a bad parent.” “I am not good enough if someone at work doesn’t like me.” Freeing oneself out of Guilt It is difficult if not impossible to avoid disappointing others; not because we’re bound to fail, but because everyone has their own subjective world-view. Another person’s actions may affect our mood and state of well-being; but regardless.  These same actions do not define who we really are; only that which you feel towards yourself defines. We might be able to process the haunting of such difficulties on our own, but there at times when external support can help us propel ourselves forward.  It is important to acknowledge how we’re feeling and how not doing anything might leave us feeling as stuck. Therapy is one option that can guide us towards regaining the breath we require; a space to process what we’re going through and what more we can do in our present circumstances. After all, you are important, and your self-care is necessary.

William Hayman, Counsellor
William provides support with issues that relate to bereavement, relationship difficulties, change, overwhelming sadness and other familial concerns.
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