Make Someone Feel Guilty for Hurting You

Edited by Kathy McGraw, Maria Quinney, JADE

Cognitive theory states that guilt is an emotion people feel when they believe they have harmed another person, will harm the other person or might have harmed another person. It is an emotion along the sad axis which includes other negative feelings such as agony, grief, and loneliness.

It's important to distinguish guilt from shame because while guilt can be useful in cultivating healthy relationships, shame is not. While someone may feel guilty about causing harm to someone else, a person feels shame if they feel that their actions negatively reflect on who they are as an individual. Put another way, guilt is about how your actions affect others, while shame is about how your actions reflect on you. Shame is corrosive and eats at a person's self-esteem and rarely has a positive influence.

While we have always known that guilt is a good motivator to act in positive ways toward others and to refrain from negative actions, a study out of La Trobe University in Australia confirms this belief. It turns out that people who are prone to feel guilt are more attuned to the emotions of others, and to act in a more prosocial manner. Someone who is prone to feeling guilty will curb behaviors that might cause harm, such as acting aggressively or engaging in risky behaviors.Therefore, feelings of guilt may be helpful in maintaining a balanced and positive relationship.

What Do You Want Your Guilt Trip to Accomplish?

Before you decide to try and guilt someone, it is helpful to first determine are your reasons. Obviously, they have mistreated you in some way, but what do you want them to do about it.

  • Do you just want an apology and what kind of apology will suffice?
  • Do you want them to promise you that it will never happen again?
  • Do you want to punish them, to get back at them for hurting you?
  • Is there a specific behavior that you want them to change?

The person will likely ask you what they can do to make up for their error. If they do what you ask, then you have to agree to forgive them and move on. There is nothing more damaging to a relationship than unrelenting resentments and guilt.

Confront the Guilty Party

Although we'd like to think that the people we interact with on a daily basis, whether they are our spouses, siblings, parents, friends, or co-workers know us well enough to realize whenever they've done something hurtful to us, they're not mind readers. Obviously, there are some actions that are flat out wrong, such as cheating or lying, but for other actions, such as a perceived slight or offhand remark, it may not be so obvious.

It's very important for you to be specific: spell out for them what they did and how you felt. Use "I" language when you are talking about your feelings and try to avoid accusing the other person. Accusations will only anger the other person, put them on the defensive, and ultimately, shut down the conversation.

Some examples of what you can say include:

  1. 1
    I felt very hurt the other day when you were late for our date. I felt like I wasn't as important to you like other things in your life.
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  2. 2
    It hurt me when you said that Superman sucks. Superman is my favorite superhero, and it made me feel bad that you don't like him.
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  3. 3
    I was hurt when you returned my PS4 damaged without getting it fixed first. I felt like you didn't respect me enough to bother with it.
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Engage the Other Person's Empathy

Unless the other person is a psychopath, they are able to vicariously experience your pain as if it were their own, which is a crucial element in the feelings of guilt and shame. If they are a psychopath, well, this article isn't going to help you, because psychopaths feel no empathy and therefore can not be shamed or guilted into doing the right thing.

Assuming that there is no psychopathy involved, ask them to remember a time when they felt hurt by something you had done. By asking them to remember their own hurt feelings, you are putting them directly into your shoes, which will encourage them to empathize with how you feel right now.

Another way to encourage empathy is to cry in front of them. Humans are the only species of animal verified to shed emotional tears. Emotional tears signal the presence of strong emotion and need, and most people naturally feel bad when they see someone crying and get the urge to comfort the crying person.

Some examples of what you can say, tears are optional, include:

  1. 1
    Remember the time when I showed up late to your presentation? You were so hurt that you didn't speak to me for a week.
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    How did you feel when I said that Wolverine is a second-rate superhero?
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  • 3
    Remember when I got stains all over your favorite jeans? It made you feel better about it when I bought you a new pair, didn't it?
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  • Punish the Other Person

    Generally, punishing someone is not conducive to getting them to change their behavior; in fact, it may just make them angry and push them away. However, if you are hurt enough that you want some space from the other person, and you want to inflict a little pain, then punishment may be a good option for you.

    If you have to interact with the person on a daily basis, one way to punish them is to ignore them, even when they try to talk to you. It works best, especially for making someone feel guilty if you do it in front of other people. During the Regency period in England, such a public snubbing was known as the "cut direct." It works just as well today.

    You can even take it a step further and institute a no-contact period with this person for at least a month. This works best for romantic relationships. Staying away from someone will make them curious about how you are doing, who you are seeing, and what you've got going on in your life. As they say, the best revenge is success.

    Reason with the Other Person

    Along with perhaps not understanding how they hurt you, you may have misinterpreted their intentions or not understood why they were acting as they did. Perhaps a way to resolve the situation is to ask them for an explanation.

    Everyone has reasons for the things they do, even if those reasons may not seem clear. Let them talk and listen to their explanations without interrupting them. When they are through, ask them for clarification if there was something they said that you didn't understand. Try to use the technique of repeating what you heard them say back to them so that they know whether you understand them correctly.

    Preventing Misunderstandings in The Future

    The key to successful relationships, whether they are romantic, friendly, or familial, is to communicate with the other person. Effective communication prevents silly misunderstandings that can blow up into hurt feelings on both sides, or at least lessen the blow from them. Here are some ways that you can improve communication between you and the other person:

    1. 1
      Employ active listening. Often, when we are talking with another person, particularly when emotions are running high, we start to think about what we are going to say next instead of paying attention to what the other person is saying. Rather than thinking of your next rejoinder, focus on what is being said. One trick for active listening is to consciously listen with one ear, usually the right one.
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    2. 2
      Ask questions. If you don't understand something that the other person has said, ask them to explain it further. Ask enough questions to be sure that you have a full picture of what the other person is talking about.
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    3. 3
      Pay attention to your body language. The way we hold ourselves says much more about our state of mind than words ever can convey alone. In particular, try to use open body language to convey that you are willing to listen to what the other person has to say and take on board their feelings and suggestions. Examples of open body language include the following:  
      1. Sit with a relaxed posture. You don't have to slouch, but go ahead and lean back in your seat. Make yourself comfortable.
      2. Hold your arms in a relaxed position at your sides or on your lap. Try to keep your palms turned up and toward the person you are speaking to.
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    4. 4
      Use the sandwich method. The sandwich method involves "sandwiching" a negative comment between two positive ones. For example, you could say something like "Your hair looks nice today. By the way, would you mind keeping the volume on your computer down? I really enjoyed your presentation the other day."
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    If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.

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    Article Info

    Categories : Relationships

    Recent edits by: Maria Quinney, Kathy McGraw

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