How Do You Deal With Guilt-Tripping?

FeMOMhist writes:

The piece that resonated the most with me was predictably Tom Lutz’s that began,”As an academic, I’m in a profession renowned for its apparently minuscule workweek, so I’ve been the butt of plenty of slacker insults, many that hit my inbox as I worked late at night.”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “so you’re getting half salary to do nothing this year?”

I hear a version of this quite often. My strategy of dealing with this kind of comment is to light up in a huge smile and announce brightly, “Yes! I have TONS of free time to do absolutely anything I want. It’s the best job ever!” And then I proceed to describe gleefully how I can sleep and watch reality TV all the time while getting a good salary in the process. Even if it’s not true, it teaches folks who work for “Guilt Trips Unlimited” a lesson.

The same strategy works with people who see you with a plate of food and say, “Are you going to eat all of that? You obviously don’t watch what you eat at all.” My response is the same super happy, “Yes, I love food. I think I’m going to get two desserts after this one. I HUGE piece of cake and some ice-cream. It’s so great to just eat whatever you want, don’t you think?” It’s a good idea to belabor the point until you see some genuine misery on the interlocutor’s face.

This might sound cruel but remember, such guilt-trippers will dump their aggression on somebody who might be less resilient to this kind of comment. I believe I perform an important public service when I teach them than attempts to guilt-trip or shame can backfire.

It’s crucial not to respond to a guilt-tripper by becoming apologetic (“Oh no, I really work a lot, it’s just that today. . .”) or aggressive (“And what business is it of yours what I eat?”). Remember, a guilt-tripper is a vampire who feeds on the negative emotions s/he manages to awaken in you. Don’t give guilt-trippers what they want. Treating their words as a huge compliment, on the other hand, really makes them shut up and simmer in impotent anger.

If there is something people try to shame or guilt-trip you about on a regular basis, compose a response along these lines, practice (it’s very important to be able to deliver it with a huge happy grin and in an assertive unapologetic voice), and try it. I promise, it will be fun.


13 thoughts on “How Do You Deal With Guilt-Tripping?

  1. I don’t have an answer to those who are experts in guilt tripping, because somehow they can generate a mood that causes others to get involved in guilt tripping, too. At the same time, perhaps the majority of people who speak in an accusative manner don’t intend to guilt trip. They’re just adopting a common cultural pattern of speech. In the case of those people, you just need to change the mode of discussion from an emotional to a factual one. There is no need to be defensive, instead redirect attention to the lifestyle patterns of the one doing the observing. How do you spend your working day? Do you enjoy your working life? What do you do on the weekends? Oh, that is very interesting! Do you ever vary the pattern, or is it much the same?


    1. I’m not sure this strategy would be as useful, though. It will allow the guilt-trippers to go into a didactic mode which is another way of directing aggression at an interlocutor. As a vindictive person, I want them to turn their aggression inwards. 🙂


      1. Well, I use this strategy with Zimbabweans, many of whom are religiously purified Westerners in the making. It works because they’re diverted off the track of puritanical reasoning that had not been firmly established enough, yet, in their minds. Zimbabweans, I have found, often come up with guilt-tripping reasoning, but most are very easily diverted.

        Westerners who have established this guilt tripping behaviour as a deep pattern are harder to deal with. I just avoid dealing with them, because they are too sure they are right. Mostly, they love to guilt trip me about my origins as a white Zimbabwean, which they feel gives them an advantage in terms of intrinsic superior, since I was a “white colonial” in what would seem to be the most direct manner of being one, whereas they are only indirect colonials and presume to know better about right and wrong than I.

        My strategy in dealing with these assumptions is extremely long term. It’s my life goal. I plan to undermine and destroy the credibility of identity politics, so that nobody can hide behind it to proclaim their moral superiority. It’s astounding how rude and stupid the people are who try this. They’re convinced they have access to facts about my life that I do not myself possess. This enables them to be extremely callous, puerile and idiotic. I can’t change that, but I can remove the scaffolding that justifies this kind of low brow arrogance.


  2. Yet another thing we have exactly similar responses to. It also helps that I have a dimple — when I smile brightly, it’s a really bright smile 🙂

    I have to say though, Jennifer above encapsulates the gist of what people abroad have always told me about this tactic, and not necessarily because they’ve seen me in action. During a student orientation that dealt with diversity, the speaker said, “And remember, a campus is a mixed group of people. Someone might walk up to your table and lunch, and come across as aggressive about the life choices you sometimes make [this, I later realised, was PC-speak for “You have too much/kosher/halaal/vegetarian food on your plate]. The best way to deal with the situation in a positive way is to smile politely at them and include them in your experience. Tell them, “Hi. I hope you’re having a good day. What do *you* like for lunch?”

    I cite cultural difference for my reaction, but I thought that a singularly fluffy, fruitless, and probably even incendiary approach best left unpractised.


    1. If a goal is to be friendly and open to everybody, then this might be a good strategy. My goal, however, is different. I see myself as a person who can teach guilt-trippers a valuable lesson and possibly prevent them from further nastiness to people.

      The only thing that lies behind such comments is aggression. I think that people should decompress on their own time and not at my expense.
      Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T


  3. Yes, but I can imagine someone that stupid just saying to themselves: It’s really true, a professor even confessed to me that all she does is watch t.v. and goof off.


  4. My responses tend to be a confident, happy/proud assertion to the affirmative, such that it conveys a solid rejection of their unspoken you-should-feel-guilty subtext.

    “Yes, I am eating all this food; it’s delicious and nourishing, which is the whole point of eating.”
    “Yes; it’s wonderful—I’ve been doing a lot of hiking and rock climbing and taken up glassblowing since I don’t have to work so much.”

    And then immediately go back to what I was doing, because they’re not very interesting.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.