Anatomy of a Guilt Trip

DirtyDishes1You start with the premise that you are doing or not doing something someone else wishes you were not doing or doing.  Never mind reasons why.  Never mind whether there is any definitive correlation between what you are actually doing or not doing and what they think you are not doing or doing.  Just start with that premise.


For the pure sake of hypothetical argument, let’s say it’s the dishes.  Someone else thinks you need to be more involved in doing the dishes.

So how do they go about sending you on your guilt trip? (I have never known the proper action verb for guilt trip.  Do you “go”?  Are you “sent”?  Do you “embark”?  Are you “invited”?  The world may never know).

This is what they don’t do.  They don’t ask you nicely.  They don’t approach the subject rationally or maturely.  It is not calmly discussed.  That’s not sufficient to launch you on your trip (how about “launch”?).

No, you are screamed at, or groaned at, or whined to, or maliciously accused.

And what do you do?  You might offer excuses, you might apologize.  But in the end, what do you actually do?  You do the freaking dishes.

Here’s why that’s wrong.  It’s like with children.  If you go and pick up a should-be-sleeping baby every time she cries (which I will admit I have done), then she is never going to stop crying.  And if you buy a toddler a piece of candy or a toy every time he throws a tantrum because he wants a piece of candy or a toy, even if you are internally only doing it because (1) you are in public and he is embarrassing the crap out of you, and (2) you just want him to shut up (which I will never admit to having done) (which I recognize is not the same as denying that I have ever done it), then every time he wants a piece of candy or a toy, he knows that all he needs to do is throw a tantrum, and he is getting what he wants.

We tolerate this in children because, even though toddlers, and even babies, are capable of manipulation, in the grand scheme of things, they don’t know any better.  They know what they want and they know a limited number of ways to get it, and they do what they have to do to get there.

Even in children, there is a danger in giving in to these ploys.  Because it is reinforcing bad behavior, which, though sometimes easier in the short run, is bad for both of you in the long run.  Parents need to learn to put their foot down, and children need to learn better ways to communicate their needs, discern between wants and needs, and properly go about getting their legitimate needs and reasonable wants met.

This does not just apply to children.

So assuming it is not a baby or a toddler giving you your guilt trip, or maybe even if it is, here is what needs to happen.  Next time someone screams or groans or whines or maliciously accuses, this is what you need to say:

“Look, I get that you want me to [do the dishes].  I get it.  But here’s the problem.  You just went about it in a mean, accusatory, rude, and intensely unpleasant way.  I understand that your pissed, and I understand what you want me to do.  But here’s the problem.  If, based on what you have just done, I go ahead and [do the dishes], then that plants in your head the idea that doing what you have just done is an effective way of getting me to [do the dishes].  So even if I [do the dishes], right now, which is what you want, the next time you want me to [do the dishes], you have no motivation to go about getting me to [do the dishes] in any manner other than the precise manner you have just gone about getting me to [do the dishes] this time.  And I don’t like the manner in which you have just gone about getting me to [do the dishes] this time.  So, though I know what you want me to do, and I know that still persisting in not doing it is probably going to make you even more pissed, particularly because you now know that I know what you want me to do and am still not doing it, here’s what I’m not going to do.  I am not going to [do the dishes] until you can figure out an appropriate way of getting me to do them.  I know you might not like this, but it is what’s best for both of us in the long run.”

This forces them to ask you nicely, or calmly discuss the situation, or politely make their needs and wants known.  Which, in turn, makes you want to do the thing they have properly expressed to you that they want you to do.  So you do it, which makes them happy.  Which gives them incentive to ask you nicely next time, which makes you happy.  It’s a win-win.

Logically, I think this a perfectly reasonable formula, and should be employed liberally.

Realistically…I will probably just stick to passive-aggressive posts offering (what I believe to be genuinely good) advice based on hypothetical hypotheticals.

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