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The Emotionally Abusive Mothers’ Playbook: Guilt Tripping

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

“A hard thing that isn’t talked about enough is not having the love you needed in childhood and accepting that the adults in question still aren’t what you need today.” - Nedra Glover Tawwab

Today on the blog we’re talking about another classic in the emotionally abusive moms’ playbook: guilt tripping. We’ll go over what guilt tripping is, how to recognize it, why moms who cause the mother wound do it in the first place, and how to best respond to it.

Whether you’ve experienced guilt tripping by your mom in the past, you’re currently dealing with it, or you’re trying to break the cycle of emotional abuse and be the best parent you can be, this blog post is for you. Let’s get started.

What is guilt tripping?

Guilt tripping is an attempt to emotionally manipulate someone by causing them to feel guilty. It is a form of emotional abuse that’s extremely common amongst emotionally abusive mothers (and emotionally abusive parents of any gender). Moms who guilt trip do so to manipulate their children into feeling guilty so they (the mom) can get their own way. Here’s how guilt tripping works in a nutshell:

The opening scene: It’s a Friday night. Charity has plans to go to a friend’s house for a bachelorette party. On the way out the door she tells her mom her plans.

The guilt trip: Charity’s mom was hoping her daughter would keep her company so she doesn’t have to feel lonely on a Friday night. After learning about Charity’s plans she says, “And here I thought that after everything I sacrificed for you that you’d make more of an effort to spend time with me. We could have gone to see that movie but I guess not. I’ll just go by myself.”

The guilt sets in: After hearing her mom’s guilt trip Charity begins to feel exactly how her mom wants her to feel: guilty. “Mom did so much for me as a kid. She sounds depressed. What kind of daughter leaves her mom when she’s sad and lonely like this?” she finds herself thinking.

The change of plans: Feeling sorry for her mom, Charity quickly texts her friends saying she won’t be able to make the bachelorette party after all. “The party’s no big deal. I can go with you to the movie,” she tells her mom. A big smile on her face, her mom says, “Good. That’s my girl.”

What are the signs of guilt tripping?

If you grew up being guilt tripped by one or more emotionally abusive parents, guilt tripping will likely be difficult for you to spot at first. This isn’t because there’s anything wrong with you. It’s simply because you were raised in a family system where guilt tripping was normalized. As you learn the difference between emotionally abusive communication and healthy communication this will get easier. One way to do this is by learning the signs of guilt tripping. Signs your mom is guilt tripping you include:

  • Feeling obligated to do something for your mom that’s not your responsibility to do.

  • Feeling guilty after an interaction with your mom even though you did nothing wrong.

  • Feeling responsible for your mom’s feelings.

  • Changing important plans, beliefs, or decisions in an effort to appease your mom (and stop feeling guilty).

What does guilt tripping sound like?

Guilt tripping comes in all different shapes and sizes. Emotionally abusive moms who guilt trip sound like:

  • “I guess I’m just the worst mother in the world.”

  • “After all I’ve done for you this is how you treat me.”

  • “If you really loved me you would...”

  • “How can you speak to your own mother like this?”

  • “Maybe you could care about someone besides yourself for a change.”

  • “I just thought that since I sacrificed so much for you that you’d make more time for me.”

Real-life examples of guilt tripping moms

My favorite way to teach my counseling clients how to identify guilt tripping is by walking them through how it shows up within the context of actual conversations. Let’s do this together here. Below you’ll find eight mother-child conversations where the mom’s response to her child is a guilt trip:

Guilt Trip Example #1

Child: Mom, it hurts me when you make homophobic comments.

Mom: I guess I’m just the worst mom ever.

Guilt Trip Example #2

Child: Lunch together on Labor Day works great. I’ll just need to leave your house by three because I have plans that evening.

Mom: Never mind. I know you’re too busy for me. I guess I’ll just spend the whole day by myself.

Guilt Trip Example #3

Child: I can’t drive you to the post office today because I’m taking care of the baby.

Mom: I thought that since I sacrificed so much for you that you’d make more of an effort to help me.

Guilt Trip Example #4

Child: I know you want me to stop nursing my baby in public because you’re uncomfortable. This is my decision to make though, and I won’t be stopping.

Mom: If you really loved me, you’d do this one thing for me. Maybe try thinking of someone besides yourself for a change!

Guilt Trip Example #5

Child: Thanks for the invitation, Mom, but I’m an atheist now so I’m not interested in going to church with you.

Mom: None of my friends’ kids speak like this to them! The Bible says to honor your mother!

Guilt Trip Example #6

Child: I’m getting divorced because monogamy just isn’t the right fit for me.

Mom: A divorce?! What about what I want? I thought you cared about me more than this, but I guess not.

Guilt Trip Example #7

Child: Mom, when you said that to me as a kid I felt shamed.

Mom: I was just having fun, but clearly my feelings don’t mean anything to you. You wouldn’t be dredging up the past like this if they did.

Guilt Trip Example #8

Child: That’s not something I feel able to help you with. I think it requires a professional.

Mom: I’ll never ask you for help again since I’m such a burden to you. You’ve never so much as lifted a finger for me!

Why would a mom guilt trip her own child?

Emotionally abusive moms guilt trip their children for a variety of different reasons. These reasons include:

Whether conscious or subconscious, the overall goal of a guilt tripping mother is to make her child feel guilty for their needs, boundaries, thoughts, feelings or choices so they’ll “give in” and do what she wants. This might look like the child changing their plans, their religious beliefs, the amount of contact they have with their mother, whether or not they become a parent themselves, etc.

How to respond to your mom’s guilt trips

You can’t stop your mom from guilt tripping, but you can choose how you respond to her guilt tripping. Remember, guilt tripping is a form of emotional abuse that’s damaging not only to relationships but to your self-worth and mental health as well. As an adult one of your options is to end your relationship with your mom entirely. This is what’s known as estrangement or “going no contact,” and it’s a valid choice. If, however, you want or need (say if you’re a minor) to stay in the relationship with your mom, there are things you can do to care for yourself.

Remember its not your fault

How your mom chooses to behave is her responsibility. Full stop. You are not at fault for her guilt tripping, no matter how guilty she may try to make you feel.

Validate your feelings

It’s okay to feel sad, angry, frustrated, or hurt whn your mom guilt trips you. Feeling upset about emotional abuse is a normal reaction, even when the person being abusive is your own mom. Acknowledge your valid feelings.

Seek support from others

Don’t suffer with your mom’s guilt tripping alone. Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or mental health professionals who will believe you and offer tangible support.

Set boundaries

If you can set boundaries with your mom around guilt tripping, do so. The next time your mom tries to guilt trip you, consider saying things like:

  • “Guilt tripping me is not okay. Please stop.”

  • “I know you want me to change my mind on this, but I’m not going to.”

  • “You don’t have to agree with me.”

  • “I won’t be made to feel guilty for wanting something different than you want.”

  • “It’s not fair for you to try to make me feel bad for doing what’s right for me.”

  • “I’m allowed to make a decision you don’t like.”

  • “Stop trying to make me feel guilty for having this boundary.”

  • “My answer is still no.”

  • “It sounds like you don’t like my answer, but that doesn’t change my decision.”

  • “I won’t be changing my mind.”

1 Comment

Feb 11

This is fine for an adult that has a mother who still guilt trips but a minor is still a child and it is up to the parent to guide the child till they can walk on their own as an adult.


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