No weapon in the arsenal of the controlling person is as strong as the guilt message. It’s likely you even heard one or two before in your life.
Do any of these sound familiar?
“How could you do this to me after all I’ve done for you?”
“It seems like you would care enough about the family to do this one thing for us…”
“You know that if I had it, I would give it to you.”
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. People who say these things are trying to make you feel guilty about your choices. They are trying to make you feel bad about deciding how you will spend your own time and/or resources and about having a life separate from theirs.
Probably everyone is able to some degree to recognize guilt messages when they hear them, but not everyone is strong enough to not succumb to them. Here are a few tips to keep in your back pocket for when these situations arise.
1. Recognize they are guilt messages and are given in an attempt to manipulate and control.
2. Know that guilt messages are really just anger in disguise. The guilt sender is failing to openly admit their anger at you for what you are doing.
3. Guilt messages hide sadness and hurt instead of expressing and owning their true feelings.
4. If guilt works on you, recognize that this is your problem and not theirs. If you continue to blame other people for “making” you feel guilty, they still have power over you.
5. Do not explain or justify. Only guilty children do that. We do not owe guilt senders an explanation for our actions.
6. Be assertive and interpret their message as being about their feelings. For example, “It sounds like you are angry that I chose to …”
The main principle is this: Empathize with what distressed people are feeling, but make it clear that it is their distress. Remember, love and limits are the only clear boundaries. If you react, you have lost ownership of your boundaries.