8 classic tactics manipulative people use to make you feel guilty

Ever felt a heavy knot of guilt in your stomach, even when you know you shouldn’t? Like you’re always the bad guy in someone else’s story? 

That lingering sense of guilt might not be your conscience talking; it could be someone else’s puppet strings pulling at you. 

Manipulators are masters at using guilt as a weapon, making you question your actions and feel indebted to them. 

In this article, we’ll uncover 8 classic tactics people use to make you feel guilty, so you can spot them and regain your emotional freedom. Let’s dive in.

1) Playing the victim

Ah, the classic “woe is me” act. Playing the victim is one of the oldest tricks in the manipulative person’s handbook. 

It’s when someone portrays themselves as the innocent party, with you as the heartless villain, all to make you feel like you’ve wronged them in some monumental way.

Picture it: You decide to spend your evening focusing on self-care or catching up on work, only to have a friend text you saying, “Guess you’re too busy for me. I thought you cared about me.” 

Suddenly, you’re drowning in guilt for not being available.

What to do when this happens? First, take a moment to assess the situation. Are you really at fault, or is this person twisting the narrative to make you feel guilty? 

Remember, it’s okay to prioritize your own needs. 

A possible response might be, “I value our friendship, but I also need time for myself. Let’s catch up soon when I’m less swamped.”

By identifying the tactic of playing the victim, you’re taking a crucial step in dismantling the guilt trip and maintaining your emotional well-being.

2) Emotional blackmail

Emotional blackmail is a tactic that makes you feel like you’re walking on a tightrope of guilt. Imagine you’re planning a fun weekend getaway with friends. 

Just as you’re packing your bags, your partner drops the bomb: “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t go without me.” Ouch. That stings, right? 

They’ve just latched onto your emotions, using love as a bargaining chip to get you to cancel your plans. They make you feel as if choosing to spend time with others is the equivalent of betraying them.

The key here is to untangle your emotions from the choice you have to make. It might be tough, but assert your boundaries. 

You could say, “I love you, but it’s unfair to make me choose between you and my friends. I can love you and still have time for other people in my life.”

Recognizing emotional blackmail for what it is — a tool to control you — helps you make choices that you are truly happy with, rather than led by guilt. 

3) Silent treatment

The silent treatment is a passive-aggressive masterpiece in the world of guilt manipulation. One moment you’re having a disagreement, and the next, you’re met with icy silence. No calls, no texts, no acknowledgment. 

It’s as if you’ve been erased, and the message is loud and clear: “You’ve done something wrong, and now you’re being punished.”

What’s cruel about this tactic is that it preys on your natural desire for resolution and communication. 

The silence amplifies your insecurities, making you think that maybe you are to blame, nudging you toward desperate acts just to get a response.

Here’s how to combat it: Take a step back and breathe. Don’t let the quiet unsettle you into conceding or apologizing when you’ve done nothing wrong. 

You could send a message saying, “I see you’re not talking to me right now, and that’s okay. When you’re ready, we can discuss this.”

This actually puts the ball in the manipulator’s court, making it apparent that they’re the one acting immature and refusing to communicate here. 

4) Overwhelming with kindness

Imagine you’re showered with compliments, gifts, or help, and just when you’re basking in the warmth of these kind gestures, the other shoe drops. 

Now, you’re suddenly expected to return the favor in a big way or make a choice you’re uncomfortable with. Welcome to the manipulator’s tactic of overwhelming you with kindness to make you feel indebted.

Let’s say a co-worker generously helps you with a project. Later, they ask you to cover for them in a way that compromises your ethics, adding, “After all I’ve done for you, this is the least you could do.”

The guilt sets in. They were so nice; how can you say no? But here’s the thing — you can and should if the request crosses your boundaries.

You might respond, “I appreciate your help earlier, but I can’t assist with this particular request. Let’s find another way to work things out.”

You should never let any amount of manipulation make you forget your integrity. 

5) Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a devious tactic that’s all about twisting reality to make you feel guilty for things you didn’t do. 

You might hear phrases like, “You’re too sensitive,” or “You’re making a big deal out of nothing,” when you express your feelings or concerns. 

The aim is to plant seeds of doubt in your mind, making you question your own judgment and, consequently, feel guilty for doubting the manipulator.

For example, if you confront them about a hurtful comment they made, they might deny it ever happened, or insist those are not the words they used and you misunderstood. 

This throws you into a spiral of self-doubt, thinking maybe you are the problem.

The first step to countering gaslighting is trusting your own perceptions. If you have to, you could even keep a record of incidents or conversations that felt manipulative. 

Share these with someone you trust if you need a third perspective. Just stand your ground and reaffirm your experiences.

6) “I thought you were different”

The “I Thought You Were Different” tactic is a guilt-inducing classic. Imagine you disagree with someone or set a boundary, and suddenly, they’re throwing their hands up, shaking their head, and saying, “I thought you were different. Guess I was wrong.” 

They suggest that by failing to meet their expectations, you’ve personally let them down.

This strategy is particularly damaging because it challenges your self-image. The unspoken message is, “A good person — the person I thought you were — would agree with me or do as I say.”

Your first instinct might be to prove them wrong, to show that you are the “good” and understanding person they thought you were. 

But hold on. Don’t let this emotional blackmail steer you off your course.

A balanced response might be, “I understand that you’re disappointed. It’s okay for us to see things differently, and that doesn’t make me a bad person or you a bad person. Let’s find a way to work through this.”

This way, you dispel the guilt they’re trying to heap on you, remaining true to yourself and your boundaries.

7) Praising other people in front of you

Say you’re in a group setting, perhaps at work or a family gathering, and someone starts lavishing praise on others while conspicuously ignoring you. 

Phrases like, “Sarah is so reliable; she’s a lifesaver!” or “Tom is a genius at this stuff!” fill the air. 

You can’t help but wonder, “What about me? Am I not good enough?” The manipulator knows this will make you feel left out and, subsequently, guilty for not measuring up.

This tactic is all about creating a hierarchy where you find yourself at the bottom, compelled to work harder for the manipulator’s approval, often at your own expense.

If you notice this happening, it’s important not to let your self-worth be dictated by someone else’s selective compliments. 

A healthy way to respond might be to join in the praise of others, thus showing you’re confident and generous in giving credit where it’s due, or simply choosing to not engage in the game at all.

It can take some time, but you must recognize this tactic for what it is to help you maintain your self-esteem and not fall into the trap they’re setting for you. 

8) Exaggerating faults

Exaggerating faults is another way manipulators seek to make you feel guilty

For instance, if you make a minor mistake at work, they might start talking about how the project is suddenly falling behind — “Things were on such a good track before! Now it’s such a huge inconvenience.”

Even though deep down you know it’s an exaggeration, the guilt starts to seep in.

The best way to deal with this is to stick to the facts. Acknowledge the mistake you did make, but don’t let them blow it out of proportion. 

You might say, “Yes, things aren’t going completely perfect, but there is no significant delay to the project and it’s easy to get things back on track. Mistakes are bound to happen, every team member makes them.” 

By calmly calling out the exaggeration, you can prevent the situation from escalating.

Reclaim your emotional freedom

And there you have it — 8 common tactics that manipulative people use to make you feel guilty and control your actions. 

Remember, guilt is a powerful tool in the manipulator’s arsenal, but it doesn’t have to be your kryptonite. 

The more you understand these tactics, the better you can safeguard your well-being. 

Keep your self-worth at the forefront and don’t let anyone’s manipulation tactics define who you are or how you feel. 

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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