Healthy response to guilt tripping?

organic_briceNovember 18, 2008

How do you respond to persistent guilt tripping in a healthy way?

When it is a kid asking for something inappropriate the answer seems simple, say 'no' and move on.

ex. "You don't love me! I only want ...! Everyone else has ...! I'll never talk to you again!"

I'd say "I'm sorry you feel that way. I do love you but I won't be getting that for you."

What are some other healthy ways to respond?

What about when it is an adult? Setting boundaries seems to be the best route but how about when they carry on? Saying how their problems are significant (unlike your own) and pressing how much you should be doing for them that you are not?

ex. "Well, you should be happy, I had it much worse." When you suffer a disappointment. And then turning the conversation back to what you should be doing for them. "You owe me! After all I've done for you..." "If you don't call me (do for me) I (and then making threats)." When they are quite capable of doing what they need to do on their own.

What about using the same response to a guilt tripping adult that you would give to a child? "I do love you and thank you but I won't be doing that for you."

Is there a better way?

What are some healthy ways to respond to guilt tripping in general?

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A disclaimer: I do not have adult children, my 4 are ages 6, 9, 12 and 15. So my 2 cents on resonding to adult children is worth just that, 2 cents. I do not have experience with exactly that situation.

Since you can't control other people, only your response to them, including your own children, I'd just keep saying, "I'm sorry you feel that way. I do try to do what is best for everyone, I'm sorry we don't agree on what that is."

If was an adult, and they continued, I think I'd just call it like I see it. "If you are trying to make me feel guilty, it's not going to work. I know my decision is the right one." Then flat out, and obviously, change the subject.

If that's how you respond, I think that's all you can do. If you try to reason with the unreasonable it will only get worse.

My own young'uns will occassionally try to the "you like him better than me... she's your favorite... you always give him what he don't treat her like this." They are full of beans and I tell them just that. If I can see that their feelings are hurt, I do try to soften it and say I'm sorry they feel bad. Otherwise, I just say "Even if this minute isn't equal, it all works out fair in the end. I do love you all the same, and I try to do what's right."

If the are just on a whiny self-pity trip trying to drag Mom into their game... I don't play nice. ;o) DS#1 has a way of seeing his life as harder than his younger brother's, homework's harder, chores are harder, yadayadayada. Well, yeah, life at 15 looks harder than 12, especially when you're 15 and have already succeeded at 12. If goes into the zone of "he is your favorite..." he knows quite well that he is being ridiculous, that he's letting the whine get the better of him. I play along. "Yeah, you're right, it's the freckles. How can you not just love those freckles more than anything? It's a fact of life, freckled people are favored. If you would just grow some freckles, I would not make you unload the dishwasher ever again." We've played that game so much now, I just call DS#2 "The Freckled One." DS#1 gets annoyed, but soon enough laughs it off. It's a family joke.

With 4 kids, there is bound to be sibling rivaly. I can take an oath that I love them all equally, argue, plead, up the ante on "love demonstrations." Or I can just keep doing what I know is right, love them each for who they are, and do what is best one choice at a time. I hope they'll figure it out in the end. I think they know, they just have moods, like everyone.

I don't know if that's the issue you have, I'm thinking it's more like you're dealing with a manipulative adult child (or two) and getting frustrated. Just do what you know is right, for the right reasons, and trust that the people around you will see that for the truth eventually.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2008 at 11:53PM
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Stephanie, I liked your response. It gave me some ideas for my own two kids (ages 4 and 5)!

Brice, for my own kids I also sometimes turn it around on them. For example if they say "You don't love me!" sometimes (depending on the situation) I'll say "Actually, I'm not letting you do that BECAUSE I love you". That kind of makes them stop for a second, and I can explain why that particular thing (staying up late, having another cookie, etc) isn't good for them. It tends to work quite well.

For adults...well I wonder if it's not better to just CALL them on what they're implying. "Saying how their problems are significant (unlike your own) and pressing how much you should be doing for them that you are not?" At this point I might say to them something like "What exactly is your idea of what our relationship is? Adult relationships are about give and take. If I do what you're asking me, what are you willing to give me in return?" This puts some responsibility on them. Obviously I'm not sure about the details of the relationships in question; I don't know if I would say this to my own parent but I would certainly say it to my adult child.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2008 at 9:29AM
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Thank you both for your responses. I think with my kids (I have 3, 5 yrs old and younger)I am prone to trying to reason and explain when sticking to a simple "Sorry you are upset but behaving that way isn't going to change my mind." might be better.

I liked the responses you both describe giving to your children when they are guilt tripping. "I do that BECAUSE I love you." "Sorry you feel that way. I am trying to do what is best." Those both sound like excellent approaches/phrases to add to my parenting tools set. Thank you.

I sometimes try humor and it helps lighten things and 'reset' the mood of the interaction. "We get what we get and we do not throw a fit." Is a phrase that sometimes helps turn the tables on the 'its not fair' complaints. I enjoyed reading the "Yes, its because he has freckles I just can't resist them..." comments. You seem to have a very good handle on diffusing the guilt tripping.

We had an episode with our five year old yesterday where she started screaming at the top of her lungs..."I WANT WHAT I WANT!!!!" My husband put her in her room and she just kept screaming.

The 'problem'? He said he was making her a sandwich but wouldn't make one with turkey AND peanut butter mixed together he just made a turkey one. It was a case of whining and 'guilt tripping' turning into an all out tantrum.

It can be so frustrating as a parent to have the behavior just escalate. She had her turkey sandwich after she finished screaming and apologized. Not rewarding the guilt tripping and really, really not rewarding the scream fest is important but waiting out the trying behavior is hard at times.

As for guilt tripping from adults I asked because we dealt with that from my husbands mom continually until we stopped having contact with her. We've tried confronting her, she just denys that she has ever been guilt tripping and continued to do it.

We are doing what is right for our marriage and kids. I don't know that she will ever be able to have a relationship with us without trying to emotionally twist peoples arms to get them to comply. You are right that reasoning only made it worse though, Stephanie.

I think having kids really made the guilt tripping she was doing more obvious. We couldn't keep excusing the fact that she did it when we were learning to parent and not let it be an okay way for our kids to behave. Who would want them to grow up thinking it is okay to relate to people that way? "Do what I say or you'll be sorry." is no prescription for a happy relationship.

Thank you both for your responses. I appreciate them.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2008 at 12:41PM
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A few times when they have said something like: Everyone has ________ and ________. I will respond: WOW! That means that you are special and unique! What can they say to that?

    Bookmark   November 29, 2008 at 7:58AM
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Mine are a little older now, but some of my most successful whine-enders are:

- "Ask me again." "Please" "no" "Please!" "no" "Please!?" "no. What will I say if you ask me again?" "No"

- "I heard you. You asked for ___; I said no. Will I change my mind if you ask me again?"

- "Why did I say no?"

Simple, but amazingly successful. Of course, the trick is never giving in to whining, guilting, tantrums. I will occasionally give in to a well-reasoned response, delivered respectfully, that brings up an angle I hadn't considered, along with the comment that "You brought up a good point, and handled yourself well, so you've convinced me to change my mind."

    Bookmark   November 29, 2008 at 1:59PM
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My SD10 has compiled a list of things she wants. Not a Christmas list just a list of things she has decided she has to have. It includes a blackberry, a laptop and an mp3 player. I thought that I was being smart by sitting down with her an showing her how she would be able to save for some thing like that if, for every Christmas, every birthday she got money and saved it. What does this child do? and do not try and tell me that this was innocent on her part....While she is speaking to her Grandmother and Aunt back in California for Thanksgiving she tells them that she is saving for a laptop. They tell her that they will send her money to help her save for it. I was pissed. My husband was a bit quite but not pleased. He would rather believe that she did not have an agenda in mentioning it to Grandma and Auntie....right....and the sun doesn't come up in the east!!!! At first he is like..."Well...what would be the problem. We told her she could have one if she saved for it?" My response is several different things.....You don't want to give her unlimited access to the internet, the expense of having one doesn't stop when you buy one, she isn't responsible enough to take care of one, it is not up to her relatives and she should not have said anything and lastly...I have a 16 year old son that I will buying a laptop for if his 10 year old step sister gets one. Besides...telling her that these are things that can be saved for is not the same as telling her that it's ok that she have them right now.

Just because it's out there doesn't mean they get it. Her friend's mom lets them play in the kitchen and mix together all different kinds of food and then throw it away. Not in my house.

My best answer to the young one is "We are responsible for you and sometimes that means saying no whether you like it or not." That goes for the older ones too. Our rules are different than other peoples. Period.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2008 at 5:24PM
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The message about whining brings up what my Dad did one time when he had "playground" duty. A couple of girls started whining so he bent down and said, "I'm sorry but I have trouble hearing high pitched sounds, can you lower you voice so I can hear you?' Sure enough they did, and then decided I guess it wasn't fun anymore and quit whining. I tried this several times and sure enough-they stop!
So, you might want to give it a try.
Also, believer-I agree with you, saving is not the same as asking for money, but she might not see it that way. In her eyes she might think it was ok to mention since she has gotten money in the past for her birthday and Christmas.
It's just so hard when you want Christmas to be less materialistic and other kids are getting big gifts. I guess even if we don't try to keep up with the Jones, our kids will try and keep up with their kids...I have an idea, you might want to think about one of her presents being an afternoon with you doing volunteer work say once a month or so? That way you can spend time together and also help others.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 7:39AM
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When I hear that everyone has something but them, I respond: "well that makes you special then". You are different than everyone else! (smile) It actually has worked pretty well.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 7:56PM
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My mother is a first class guilt tripper. I finally got to the point that I realized that even though I love my mother very much and would love to make her life easier or happier there is nothing I can do to achieve this. She is the ultimate "martyr" and believes playing the "poor pitiful me routine" will get her the attention she needs to be happy. For most of my life I bought into this and did my part to ensure it worked for her. Now that I am older and have gone through very trying times of my own I am less sensitive to her need for attention at the cost of everyone elses happiness. My sister and I often worry that we will turn into her one day. I actually think I have more of those traits, but unlike Mom I have sought help and will continue to look for ways to live a healthier and happier life. Like finding this website while trying to heal from the estrangement from my oldest son. Through counseling I have also learned that I am codependent which explains why guilt has such a powerful effect on me. Learning to recognize guilt and how to deal with it is an ongoing effort for me but there are times I see real progress. I have learned that by restating to my mom what she says to me has worked wonders. For instance when she makes statements about me not calling or visiting enough I have found if I say - she can call or visit me anytime she will usually change the subject. My husband says she wants me and my sister to come in and take care of her so she does not have to be responsible for own happiness. I am starting to agree because as I have learned happiness is something you choose to find for yourself not something that others can give you. We can help each other live happier lives but the decision to be happy or not is ours. My mom has waited her whole life for others to make her happy and never found it. Making her take responsibility for her own happiness has been freeing and now I feel more like spending time with her. How

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 8:44PM
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This little step daughter of mine is very talented at turning every situation under the sun to "her" situation.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend we rang bells twice for the Salvation army. The first night was cold but not bad. I managed to ring bells for the entire 2 hours. SD10 left with her dad to get take out food. Sat in the chair that was left by the Salvation Army and ate a little bit of her food. When we got home she ate the rest of it putting her about 1 1/2 hours past her bedtime. The next evening we rang bells again. SD had to be ringing the bell if she was outside. She spent a lot of time in the store with her dad and they went into the store this time to buy her food. It was colder outside this time but she was in the store most of the time so no big deal. When we got home she had to get into her food again for just a couple of bits. She has always done this, eat a couple of bits, leave, come back 5 minutes later and eat a couple of more bits. Drives me nuts and I try to stop it. DH doesn't. She is nearly in tears saying that her feet feel like they are going to break off. Not possible. I walk into the kitchen with 2 dogs in tow and find her sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, eating while dad rubs her feet. Give me a break. Sit on a chair, put some extra socks on, put the food away because it is past your bedtime and you had the chance to eat an hour ago.......She is a scene stealer and DH and his family encourage it terrible. I don't, can't stand it, never treated my children or anyone else's that way. I will now finish my bell ringing for this season alone. I have 3 more dates to do. When my kids and I did this when they were younger non of this drama was there. We had a wonderful time. I didn't set it up with the intention of making it a party for SD.

As far as her telling her family that she is saving up for a laptop......they will send her a check in excess of any Christmas or birthday present. That is how they do things. Her Aunt sent her $150.00 a couple of years ago for keyboard. We hadn't even talked about getting her a keyboard. I have convinced her dad that she does not need a laptop at the age of 10. We have a computer that is for her and my son and my son is rarely on it so she basically has a computer. When DH asked her why she wanted a laptop when she had a computer already she said that she wanted to take the laptop to her friends house......I'm sure I don't have to stress the dangers of a 10 year old having unsupervised Internet access. Plus the costs incurred when an item like that is not taken care of properly. DH said no. She was not old enough. She wants to play club penguin and webkinz on the laptop. I told her that when she started to depend on a computer for research for school, around 16, we could talk about it.

She is a wonderful little girl with a few very annoying habits that have been allowed to run rampant before DH and I married 3 years ago. I've never seen a family like his. The children completely run the show. What they want they get. No manners, no boundaries, no punishments, nothing. That is until she met me.

We are all going through our house and getting rid of stuff and donating a lot to charity. My DH and I have decided to implement the "Less is more" attitude in our family when it comes to what we live with. If the kids get new things the old things must go. SD has kept every happy meal toy, book, stuffed animal etc. that she has been given since she was born. I am not kidding. We are working very hard to have her let go of things.......I don't what this has to do with anything.....I'm off on a sorry!

    Bookmark   December 1, 2008 at 10:47AM
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