11 Tactics Manipulative People Use To Make You Feel Guilty

Have you ever felt like you’re the bad guy for simply setting boundaries? That’s often because someone’s trying to twist your arm with guilt. We all know someone who can make us feel guilty for the most basic decisions. It’s a skill they’ve honed, a strategy they use to get what they want, often without any obvious confrontation.

It’s time to start getting into the nitty-gritty of the sneaky ways some people can make you feel guilty, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. These aren’t over-the-top tactics; they’re the subtle, everyday kinds that slip under the radar. Let’s call them out. After all, recognizing these signs is the first step in not falling for them.

1. They praise you excessively before asking for a favor.

You know the drill: a barrage of compliments comes your way, and just when you’re basking in the glow, they hit you with a request. It’s like they’ve greased the wheels, so you feel too flattered to turn them down.

2. They compare you to someone else who “would do it.”

Suddenly, you’re up against an invisible yardstick, measured against a friend, a coworker, or even a past version of yourself. “Sarah would’ve lent me the money,” and you’re left feeling petty for not being Sarah.

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4. They bring up past favors they’ve done for you.

Remember that one time they helped you out? They do, and they’ll remind you of it whenever they want something. It’s like they’ve kept the receipt, and now they’re cashing it in.

5. They downplay the inconvenience to you.

“It’s just a small thing,” they say, minimizing whatever they’re asking you to do, even when it’s clearly not. They want you to feel petty for even considering saying no.

6. They question your loyalty.

To them, your refusal isn’t about boundaries; it’s a sign you don’t care. “If you were really my friend, you’d do this,” they say, putting your entire relationship on trial over one favor.

7. They play the victim.

When they want something, suddenly the world is against them, and you’re their only hope. Saying no makes you the bad guy who’s leaving them out in the cold.

8. They act like they’d never ask if they had any other choice.

They make it seem like this request is their last resort, and by not helping, you’re leaving them in a desperate situation. But somehow, they’re often in these ‘desperate’ situations.

9. They get emotional when you push back.

The waterworks start or the temper flares when you question them. It’s like an emotional fireworks display designed to make you back down.

10. They tell you how much they’ve sacrificed for you.

The list of their sacrifices rolls out like a scroll, and you’re left feeling like you owe them for their selflessness, whether it’s true or not.

11. They hint at how bad they’ll feel if you don’t help.

It’s all about how you’re going to ruin their day, week, or life by not doing this one thing. The guilt trip is booked, and they’re trying to put you on it.

12. They go radio silent after you say no.

The cold shoulder comes out in full force, giving you the silent treatment as punishment. It’s like they’ve cut the emotional lines of communication, hoping you’ll come crawling back with an apology.

What to do when a manipulative person tries to make you feel guilty

1. Acknowledge the tactic they’re using.

Notice the pattern. When they start laying it on thick with the compliments before asking for something, call it out. It’s like recognizing when someone’s buttering you up for a reason.

2. Be firm in your response.

Stick to your guns. If your answer is no, keep it that way. Consistency is key, like always wearing a seatbelt. It’s non-negotiable, for your safety.

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4. Keep your emotions in check.

Don’t let them see you sweat. Stay calm, even if they start with the waterworks or the anger. Think of yourself as a cool, still pond — no ripples.

5. Remember you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

Your decisions are just that — yours. You don’t need to justify your ‘no’ any more than you need to explain why you prefer coffee to tea.

6. Set and maintain clear boundaries.

Make sure they know where your line is drawn. It’s like setting up a fence; it’s a clear physical reminder that there’s a limit.

7. Limit your availability to them.

If they’re using your time against you, it’s time to pull back. Be less available, like that one friend who’s never around when you try to make plans last minute.

8. Reach out for support if you need it.

Talk to friends or family about what’s happening. Sometimes, just voicing it can be a reality check, like saying a word out loud to see if it sounds as weird as it does in your head.

9. Practice saying ‘no’ without feeling guilty.

Get comfortable with refusal. Practice with small things, like turning down a store credit card. Build up that ‘no’ muscle.

10. Don’t engage in arguments or justification.

When they try to bait you into defending yourself, don’t take it. You’re the owner of your decisions, not the defense attorney.

11. Take time to make decisions.

Don’t let them rush you. Take the time you need, like sleeping on a big purchase. Some decisions need a night to sit.

Sinead Cafferty is a writer who has authored four collections of poetry: "Dust Settling" (2012); "The Space Between" (2014); "Under, Under, Over" (2016); and "What You Can't Have" (2020). She's currently working on her first novel, a dystopian romance set in the 22nd Century, that's due out in 2024.

Sinead has an MFA in creative writing from NYU and has had residencies with the Vermont Studio Center and the National Center for Writing.