By Guy Winch, Ph.D.
Guilt trips are a form of verbal or nonverbal communication in which a guilt inducer tries to induce guilty feelings in a target, in an effort to control their behavior. As such, guilt trips are a clear form of psychological manipulation and coercion.
However, we rarely think of guilt trips in such harsh terms. Instead, we see them as things some mothers say to get their kids to have another bowl of soup (“I slaved over a stove for three hours for you to have only one matzo ball?”), or something some fathers do to get their children to conform (“Fine, don’t come to your niece’s confirmation. I guess your family and faith aren’t important to you anymore.”).
Why Guilt Trips Often Succeed
Guilt trips might be the bread and butter of many families’ communications, but they are rarely as benign as we think. While they often “succeed,” in that the recipient indeed changes their behavior as a result, these “successes” always come with a price—one few guilt inducers consider: Guilt trips frequently induce not just strong feelings of guilt but equally strong feelings of resentment toward the manipulator.
What allows guilt trips to succeed despite the resentment they cause is the nature of the relationships that usually exists between the two parties. Guilt trips occur most often in close family relationships (or close friendships) because if the target didn’t have strong feelings of caring and affection for the guilt inducer, their resentment and anger at having their feelings manipulated would likely override their guilty feelings and cause them to resist the manipulation.
How Guilt Trips Poison Our Closest Relationships
In studies, people who induced guilt trips were asked to list the potential consequences of giving guilt trips, and only 2 percent mentioned resentment as a likely outcome. In other words, people who use guilt trips are usually entirely focused on getting the result they want and entirely blind to the damage their methods can cause. Mild as the poisonous effects of most guilt trips are, over the long term, their toxicity can build and cause significant strains and emotional distance. Ironically, the most common theme of familial guilt trips is one of interpersonal neglect, which means the long-term impact of guilt trips is likely to induce the polar opposite result most guilt trippers want.
7 Ways to Set Limits with Guilt Trippers
The best way to limit the damage guilt trips cause to our relationships is to set limits with the guilt inducer and ask them to change their habits. Here’s how:
- Tell the person that you do understand how important it is for them that you do the thing they’re trying to guilt you into doing.
- Explain that their using a guilt trip to make you conform to their wishes makes you feel resentful, even if you do end up complying.
- Tell them you’re concerned that accumulating these kinds of resentments can make you feel more distant from them and that is not something you or they wish.
- Ask them to instead express their wishes directly, to own the request themselves instead of trying to activate your conscience, and to respect your decisions when you make them (e.g., “I would love it if you had another bowl of soup. No? No problem, here’s the brisket,” or, “It would mean a lot to me if you came to your niece’s confirmation but I’ll understand if your schedule doesn’t permit it.”).
- Explain that you will often do what they ask if they ask more directly. Admit that you might not always conform to their wishes but point out the payoff—that when you do choose to respond positively, you would do so authentically and wholeheartedly, that you would feel good about doing so, and that you would even get more out of it.
- Be prepared to have reminder discussions and to call them on future guilt trips when they happen (and they will). Remember, it will take time for them to change such an engrained communication habit.
- Be kind and patient throughout this process. Doing so will motivate them to make more of an effort to change than if you come at them with anger and resentment, legitimate though your feelings may be.
By Guy Winch, Ph.D., Squeaky Wheel
If you struggle with this like I do, you will find some good suggestions here:
Some people get their daily dose of cardio by running into every meeting saying, “Sorry I’m late!” While it might seem like chronic lateness is just plain rude, time management can be harder than it looks—and often, lateness is rooted in something psychological, like a fear of downtime.
Luckily, there are simple habits you can tweak and others you can adopt entirely to turn you into that person—the one who shows up early and finishes projects with time to spare. Here, nine habits of those mystifying people who are always punctual.
1. When it’s time to get up, they get up.
Waking up is the first item of the day you can procrastinate. Whether you hit the snooze button and fall back asleep, or accidentally turn your alarm off and wake up 30 minutes later in a panic, getting out of bed is an easy thing to delay. Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, suggests an easy fix: Put your alarm out of reach. Physically moving out of bed to turn your alarm off is a surefire way to get out of bed—and not crawl back in.
2. They plan breakfast at dinner.
Everyone is rushed in the morning, says Gottsman—it’s the busiest time of day. Hyper-organized, punctual people tend to have their mornings laid out before they go to bed the night before. Their shoes and keys are by the door, their lunches are packed, and the coffee pot is set to start brewing. Some even lay out their outfits the night before—”first day of school”-style. A map for your morning routine eliminates the five minutes you spend searching for your keys, and sends you out the door right on time.
3. They end tasks on time.
Often, people who are late simply get caught up in moving from one activity to the next, says Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management from the Inside Out. People who are time-conscious, on the other hand, map out their tasks in advance, and understand how long they should spend on each project before moving on. By answering the question: “How long will this take?” ahead of time, you’ll find it easier to wrap things up.
“If you can see what success looks like for each item, it helps you stop working,” Morgenstern says.
4. They recognize patterns, and correct them.
If you’re always running back inside to grab your phone charger, keep an extra at work or in the car. If you’re constantly on the hunt for your sunglasses, train yourself to leave them by the door every day. “Timely people know what they need to do to stay punctual,” says Gottsman. “Know your idiosyncrasies.”
5. They embrace downtime.
Part of the psychology of lateness is typically a fear of waiting or being left with nothing to do, says Morgenstern. People who are perpetually behind are often subconsciously trying to make sure that they are always moving—the idea of sitting in a doctor’s lobby makes them anxious. Morgenstern suggests using this time to catch up on simple tasks, like networking emails or that book you’ve been dying to read. By having items permanently on your “to-do” list, you’ll always feel like you’re accomplishing something.
6. They’re immune to “Just One More Thing” syndrome.
You’ll rarely hear a time-conscious person say they need to squeeze in “one more thing” before they leave. That impulse can lead you off track, and suddenly it’s not just one more email—it’s an entire 15 minutes worth of emails.
“Train yourself to recognize that impulse when it happens,” Morgenstern says. “Resist the impulse to do one more thing and just leave.”
7. They schedule built-in overflow time.
If you glanced at the calendar of that woman in the office—the one who’s always on time and whose hair is somehow immune to humidity—you’d probably see large gaps in her day, and space between meetings. This overflow time is essential for handling anything unexpected that might arise and throw off your schedule. Morgenstern suggests setting aside a chunk in the morning and one in the afternoon to catch up on to-do lists and handle spontaneous crises.
8. They’ve mastered the skill of calculation.
Timely people are serious planners. They map out their days, often down to the minute—including elevator time, walking time, and even the traffic and weather, meaning they are rarely delayed. If you’ve yet to become this precise, Morgenstern has a fix: Time yourself completing routine tasks three days in a row. Find out how long it takes you to get from bed to out the door, and then from the door of your office building to your desk, with a stop at the coffee machine on the way. Soon, you’ll become a time master, too.
9. They know when they do their best work.
“People who schedule well are very aware of their energy cycles,” Morgenstern says. “They know what is the ideal time for different kinds of activities.” If you do your best thinking in the morning, save that time for your hardest work. By scheduling your day to maximize performance, you eliminate burning out or getting sucked into the Internet while your brain recovers from a slew of meetings.
by Samantha Zabell, Real Simple
Why do people complain? Not to torture others with their negativity, surely. When most of us indulge in a bit of a moan, the idea is to “vent.” By getting our emotions out, we reason, we’ll feel better.
But science suggests there are a few serious flaws in that reasoning. One, not only does expressing negativity tend not to make us feel better, it’s also catching, making listeners feel worse. “People don’t break wind in elevators more than they have to. Venting anger is…similar to emotional farting in a closed area. It sounds like a good idea, but it’s dead wrong,” psychologist Jeffrey Lohr, who has studied venting, memorably explained.
OK, so complaining is bad for your mood and the mood of your friends and colleagues, but that’s not all that’s wrong with frequent negativity. Apparently, it’s also bad for your brain and your health. Yes, really.
On Psych Pedia, Steven Parton, an author and student of human nature, explains how complaining not only alters your brain for the worse but also has serious negative repercussions for your mental health. In fact, he goes so far as to say complaining can literally kill you. Here are three of the ways he claims that complaining harms your health:
1. “Synapses that fire together wire together.”
This is one of the first lessons neuroscience students learn, according to Parton. “Throughout your brain there is a collection of synapses separated by empty space called the synaptic cleft. Whenever you have a thought, one synapse shoots a chemical across the cleft to another synapse, thus building a bridge over which an electric signal can cross, carrying along its charge the relevant information you’re thinking about,” Parton explains.
“Here’s the kicker,” he continues. “Every time this electrical charge is triggered, the synapses grow closer together in order to decrease the distance the electrical charge has to cross…. The brain is rewiring its own circuitry, physically changing itself, to make it easier and more likely that the proper synapses will share the chemical link and thus spark together–in essence, making it easier for the thought to trigger.”
So let’s boil that down–having a thought makes it easier for you to have that thought again. That’s not good news for the perpetually gloomy (though happily, it seems gratitude, can work the opposite way, building up your positivity muscles). It gets worse, too. Not only do repeated negative thoughts make it easier to think yet more negative thoughts, they also make it more likely that negative thoughts will occur to you just randomly walking down the street. (Another way to put this is that being consistently negative starts to push your personality towards the negative).
Parton explains how these closer synapses result in a generally more pessimistic outlook: “Through repetition of thought, you’ve brought the pair of synapses that represent your [negative] proclivities closer and closer together, and when the moment arises for you to form a thought…the thought that wins is the one that has less distance to travel, the one that will create a bridge between synapses fastest.” Gloom soon outraces positivity.
2. You are whom you hang out with.
Not only does hanging out with your own negative thoughts rewire your brain for negativity, hanging out with negative people does much the same. Why?
“When we see someone experiencing an emotion (be it anger, sadness, happiness, etc), our brain ‘tries out’ that same emotion to imagine what the other person is going through. And it does this by attempting to fire the same synapses in your own brain so that you can attempt to relate to the emotion you’re observing. This is basically empathy. It is how we get the mob mentality…. It is our shared bliss at music festivals,” Parton writes. “But it is also your night at the bar with your friends who love love love to constantly bitch.”
The takeaway lesson is, if you want to strengthen your capacity for positivity and weaken your reflex for gloom, “surround yourself with happy people who rewire your brain towards love.” If you’re looking to deflect others’ negativity, here are a few tips.
3. Stress is terrible for your body, too.
All of which sounds like a good argument for staying away from negativity to protect your mental health, but Parton insists that quitting the complaining habit is essential for your physical health, too. “When your brain is firing off these synapses of anger, you’re weakening your immune system; you’re raising your blood pressure, increasing your risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, and a plethora of other negative ailments,” he says.
The culprit is the stress hormone cortisol. When you’re negative, you release it, and elevated levels of the stuff, “interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease…. The list goes on and on,” says Parton.
by Jessica Stillman