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What Is a Guilt Trip?

By Kate Monteith
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A guilt trip is a feeling of deep regret or remorse that can be conveyed to another person or self-generated. If you have successfully made someone feel guilty, you have put that person on a guilt trip. It is also possible to put yourself on one if you let a guilty conscience get the best of you. A certain amount of guilt is healthy for our society as a whole, but when the guilty feelings are too much to bear, it is said the person is on a guilt trip.

An expression probably coined in the late 1960s, the idea was hatched at a time when many people in the Western world were examining their inner conscience and emotions. The discipline of psychology entered its heyday as each citizen was expected to take responsibility for his/her own emotions and feelings of guilt. People began to understand that other people’s motives for trying to make you feel guilty are irrelevant. The expression went something like, “Hey man, don’t lay a guilt trip on me!”

There are many levels of guilt trip. That fleeting feeling of shame when your spouse asks you for the third time to take out the garbage could meet the classification. Or, a dangerous secret that you dare not tell could make you feel guilty. At the other end of the spectrum, it can be the crushing sadness and remorse of having caused a fatal accident, or the deep regret of having cheated on someone you care about.

Some people are experts at making other people feel guilty in order to gain control. The classic example is a mother who manipulates her child’s behavior by inducing guilt. She might tell her little boy that he hasn’t lived up to his best self and she is disappointed. The emotion of shame can also play into the mix of feelings, and inducing shame can be a very persuasive way to make someone feel guilty.

Survivors of a traumatic event, such as a plane crash or natural disaster, can be filled with such emotions that the guilt can last a lifetime. They may obsess over the event and wonder why they were worthy of being spared. It can take many years of psychological counseling to begin dealing with guilt of this magnitude, and some people are never able to overcome a guilt trip with such deeply rooted emotions.

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Discussion Comments
By anon175444 — On May 12, 2011

I know a man who is on a guilt trip because they got caught cheating; however, the female pushed him away by lying and cheating herself. She would manipulate the children in her favor against him. She stole money out of the bank account which caused the mortgage to foreclose. To add insult to injury she was always slapping him around verbally saying he was stupid. I see why he cheated. He needs to run away because life is too short.

By Sunny27 — On Aug 30, 2010

Oasis11- Guilt trips should be avoided at all costs because everyone makes mistakes and should be given an opportunity to redeem themselves.

Children especially need to understand that their action was bad, not their character. I always tell my son that he is a good boy that did a bad thing, so that he understands that I still love him even though he disappointed me.

Guilt trips take the option away of learning from the mistake which even ends up hurting the relationship and it does not offer the opportunity to repair it.

By oasis11 — On Aug 30, 2010

Sunshine31-I agree with you. I think sometimes people inflict guilt trips because they seek attention and it is like a little form of psychological revenge.

I don’t think that people actively think about how to guilt trip someone or make them feel guilty about a past action.

I think they go to the guilt trip as an automatic response. The term, “Guilt trips sinks ships” means that they are an unnecessarily damaging and can cause harm to the other person with the undo burden.

Children that grow up with guilt trips from their parents, actually grow up in resenting them, not giving their parents the additional attention that they seek.

They often say that words sometimes hurt more than anything else because they always stay with you.

By sunshine31 — On Aug 30, 2010

Guilt and shame are powerfully negative emotions that affect one psychologically. Sometimes the guilt shame is brought upon oneself because of a nagging feeling or remorse that does not subside.

Other times it is guilt that is inflicted by another party. This is usually considered guilt tripping, or a guilt trip. A guilt trip never makes anyone feel better and often makes the other party feel worse by a manipulative measure.

For example, a mother telling a teenager that because she did not clean up her room that one day she will regret the day that the mother will no longer be with her and that she will also regret that moment of not cleaning up her room is manipulative.

It is far better to offer a consequence for undesirable behavior and lack of compliance to the teenager than to effect the teenager’s psyche like that. A simple punishment would allow the teenager to see that there are consequences to the noncompliant behavior and as a result the teenager will be unlikely to make the same choice again.

In addition, the teenager does not suffer any damage to her self-esteem which is usually fragile during the teen years.

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