One journey we’ve all gone on at one time or another in life is the guilt trip. It’s a road to perdition that we usually travel unwillingly, driven by a friend, relative, or co-worker who manipulates our emotions so that we do their bidding. Falling for this classic HeadTrash behavior more than once is a recipe for a relationship marred by feelings of resentment and anger.
This dynamic seems especially common in families. Parents guilt their children into attending their own alma mater for college because, well, they are the ones paying for it. Or perhaps they impose not-so-subtle pressure on their children to settle nearby after graduating from college, because, “Well, you know, we’re not getting any younger.”
Guilt is also ever-present in the work environment. Poor performers on the job who consistently fail to deliver, reduce overall office productivity and damage morale often stay in their positions because their boss can’t bring themselves to fire them. The issue here isn’t just with the guilt-ridden boss. The slacking employee in this case is the guilt-wielder, and he or she knows exactly what they are doing.
This is the biggest issue with Guilt: it’s a double-edged sword. Both parties involved in the guilt are at fault in some way. It’s common to know people “guilty” of both sides, but there are specific tips that can help you identify someone guilty of the HeadTrash of Guilt.
A guilt-wielding person gives you every reason to feel sorry for them. Whether they always seem to be ill, or short on cash, this person makes you want to pity them. The same can be said for those who say if you don’t do what they want, then horrible things will happen. You feel guilty for something that may happen—but more than likely, will not—as a result of you not complying with what they said.
Take the example of a teenage daughter who falls in love with the $600 prom dress, twice her allotted budget. Using guilt as a weapon, she may argue that settling for a more affordable gown will transform her into a social pariah with her friends, each of whom will be wearing haute couture.
Parents who can’t or won’t confront this behavior may cave in and purchase the dress. However, by acquiescing to her unreasonable request, they may have unintentionally laid the groundwork for a lifelong relationship marred by regular guilt-ridden demands. The best approach when faced with a situation like this is to evaluate the reality of what the person is saying and make your decision based on the facts.
As the guilt-ridden person in this situation, one way to refute this type of Guilt is to just say no. Treat the person like you would treat a car salesperson trying to manipulate you into buying a more expensive model. Be direct, definitive and composed and keep your answer as is: No!
On the other hand, being in the presence of a guilt-ridden person can be just as problematic as a guilt-wielding person. Take the boss who refuses to fire the chronic underperformer. He or she needs to understand what a powerful message they are sending by their inaction. By helping them understand why the workplace will be made stronger by this difficult decision, they can learn to overcome their guilt. Once they recognize that they have the power to remedy the problem, they can usually move forward to make the change and not feel guilty for doing the right thing.
No matter which side of the coin of guilt you may find yourself on, there are plenty of ways to identify and avoid falling victim to the HeadTrash of Guilt. Read more about recognizing and addressing Guilt in our book, HeadTrash2, available online and in select Barnes&Noble stores.