Identify the trends and fight back.

How to Deal With Guilt and Manipulation

by Lauren Vork

The use of controlling tactics, or manipulation, is a toxic dynamic that can crop up in almost any kind of relationship. Many of the most common forms of manipulation center around instilling unfair guilt and shame in order to create a lasting method of influence. A great deal of the power in these methods comes from their invisibility and from your own fears and insecurities. To deal with and fight back against these kinds of tactics, learn how they work and how you can strengthen yourself against them.

Guilt vs. Regret

Understand the difference between manipulative guilt and genuine regret. With genuine regret, you will feel some shame about your actions, but it will genuinely come from your own ethics and standards of behavior. Genuine regret may make you feel sheepish, but fixing your mistakes and making amends will also feel like a relief, possibly even empowering. Manipulative guilt, on the other hand, is based on fear and internalizing someone else's criticisms and complaints about you. If the things you feel guilty for are things you would not judge others harshly for, what you are feeling is probably manipulative guilt. Learn to know the difference between guilt and regret and work on rejecting the former in your mind.

Conquering Fear

When someone in your life has manipulated you into feeling guilty, he controls your behavior by making you feel that you will not be loved and accepted unless you fulfill certain conditions. Understand that in healthy, loving relationships, changes of behavior may be requested, but love is given freely. Emotional manipulation begins when someone makes you believe that your failure to be or behave a certain way makes you fundamentally unlovable. You may develop guilt as a coping mechanism in these situations, especially if you feel dependent on the person and fear losing him. Guilt becomes a way to keep yourself behaving the way that person wants you to without being told to. This is why the key to conquering guilt lies in learning to see yourself as worthy and overcome the fear that you are not. Remind yourself daily that everyone is worthy of love, including you.

Spotting Invalidation

Many guilt-trip tactics center not on what the other person wants, but on making you feel guilty for your own emotional needs. When someone makes you feel shame about your naturally occurring emotions and needs, she is emotionally invalidating you. If she tells you it's wrong to feel a certain way, that you don't have a right to feel that way or otherwise insults your emotions, she is covertly training you to distrust your own feelings and be unquestioningly obedient. Fight this manipulation by understanding that feelings are not something you choose and thus, cannot be correct or incorrect.

Confronting Tactics

Learn to confront guilt manipulation tactics by understanding the mindset of the guilt-tripper. People who are emotionally manipulative feel deeply insecure and unlovable themselves and believe they must control loved ones to get what they need from them, practically and emotionally. If someone you love uses these tactics only occasionally, you can fight back by firmly calling him out while reassuring him that you love him and need him to trust you. Be wary, however, of a relationship that's beyond salvaging due to toxic levels of guilt and manipulation.


  • The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life; Dr. Robin Stern

About the Author

Lauren Vork has been a writer for 20 years, writing both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in "The Lovelorn" online magazine and Vork holds a bachelor's degree in music performance from St. Olaf College.

Photo Credits

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