The Relationship Of Anger To Guilt

Conventional wisdom insists that in order for us to survive successfully, it is necessary for others to like us. If you believe in this myth, then you become easy prey for manipulation through guilt. In order to secure the approval of others, you may agree to do things that are not in your own best interests, but are rather what others want you to do. As a result, you feel aggravated and angry when you do what others want and guilty and angry if you do what you want to do. It is a no-win situation.

Manipulation through guilt actually gets you to beat up on yourself.  People have also said that manipulation through guilt is like being beaten with a rubber hose because it leaves no marks.  You, however, are miserable and totally demoralized.

It is easy to see that manipulative criticism is an aggressive act. Our experience of it is that we are being attacked. What is not so easy to see is that guilt inducing comments are also an aggressive attack.  It is not so subtle attempt to control our behavior.  It is a time-honored method that mothers have been using for years.

Mom:  How come you never call?

You:    Mom, I’m on the phone right now.

Mom:  Your brother John calls me every day.

You:    Gee wiz, Mom, my job requires me to travel into different time zones and it’s not always convenient to call you. I call when I can.

Mom:  If you were really concerned about me you’d call much more often. You know, I may not be here much longer with my condition and all.

You:    Mom, the phone lines go in both directions. You can call me.

Mom:  If you’re not there, I have to talk to a machine? A fine thing! Telling your

mother to talk to a machine.  That’s not right.

You:    Just leave a message. I’ll call you right back – well, as soon as I can.

Mom:  It’s not the same. A son should call his Mother.

In the work setting, the most common form of psychological attack is criticism whereas at home, and especially with relatives and family, the more common form of attack is manipulation through guilt.

Let’s take a look at one very common form of manipulation through guilt – a request that you donate money to some cause or other.

Stan: We’d like you to make a donation to theUnited Way.

You:  Thank you, but I’m not interested in making a donation at this time.

Stan:   Do you realize that you’re the only person in the department who hasn’t

made a contribution?

You:  I wasn’t aware of that and I’m still not interested in making a donation at this time.

Stan:   But this is money to help people who cannot help themselves. Don’t you

care about the poor, the handicapped and the homeless?

You:    I do care about those people but I’m not interested in making a donation.

Stan: Everyone in the department will be aware of your lack of generosity. You are going to be very embarrassed.

You:  I’m still not interested in making a donation.

Stan: Without your contribution, we’re going to be the only department that doesn’t reach 100% participation. And it will be because of you. How can you do that to us?

You:  I’m sorry about that but I am still not interested in making a donation.

Stan: You know, you are letting everyone down in the department. All of us were counting on your participation.

You:  Sorry about that. I’m still not interested in making a donation.

Stan: You don’t have to give a lot, a few dollars will do just fine. Surely you can afford to give two dollars.

You:  Let me put it to you this way, I-am-not-interested-in-making-a-donation!

Stan: Not even two dollars?

You:  No.

Stan: Will you at least think about it?

You:  In the unlikely event I change my mind, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I would appreciate it if you did not ask me again.

The design of the manipulation is to make you feel so bad that the only way to relieve your guilt is to donate the money. If you give in and donate, you will be furious (enraged) at yourself.

The strategy for dealing with guilt inducing, manipulative criticism is to stick to your guns, repeating over and over what it is you want or don’t want to do.  Stand your ground.  Avoid explanation and justification. Not only does that strategy leave you sounding weak, it provides the critic with much too much information with which to continue the manipulation.

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