Stop Your Drama: How to Avoid the Guilt-Trip Trap
Stop Your Drama: How to Avoid the Guilt Trip Trap
Nothing creates more drama for women than committing to do something they don’t want to do or don’t have time to do. From a recent survey of 177 women I found out that women juggle way too many responsibilities, wish they had more time for themselves, want more balance and still feel guilty for all the things they aren’t getting done. Yet, these same women continue to make commitments to things for which they feel very little energy or passion.
In a seminar or in self-help books the answer is easy; just say “no.” However, in real life most women avoid the “n” word like the plague. Most women would rather feel guilt than to disappoint someone or facing a confrontation with someone else that won’t “no” for an answer. I call this getting sucked into the guilt-trip-trap.
The guilt trip is that little mental vacation of negative self-talk you take right before get manipulated into saying yes when you’d rather say no. In contrast, the Guilt Trip Trap is when you stick to your guns and say “no” but lose a relationship in the process.
The distinction between the guilt-trip and the guilt-trip-trap is microscopic but important. The guilt trip is that little mental vacation of negative self-talk that you take right before get manipulated into saying yes when you’d rather say no. In contrast, the guilt-trip-trap is when you stick to your guns and say “no” but lose a relationship in the process. Either way you feel like a loser. The manipulator, (those who extend the invitation to the guilt trip) use shame-producing statements in an attempt to force you in to doing what they want, or trapping you into a no-win power struggle so that you learn never to say “no” again.
The manipulator can be your mother, your neighbor, your co-worker or your boss and their success with tripping or trapping you is dependent upon the power they hold over you: your need for their approval. The invitation to take the guilt trip can take the form of a question or a statement or a combination of both. The reason we get tricked or trapped is because most us don’t recognize “the invitation” until we have already packed our bags and jumped on the guilt train.
I’ve known highly successful grown women who simply can’t say “no” to their mother because their mother is so good at inviting them to the guilt trip. When mom says something like, “you mean I went through 24 hours of painstaking labor just to give birth to you and you can’t spend fifteen minutes more on the phone with me?,” the same woman who was dying to end a phone conversation packs her bags and stays for an extended visit on the phone so as to alleviate the guilt that has just been triggered.
For some women it’s their co-workers who are the master at the invitation. The manipulating co-worker says things like, “I have two kids and a husband to take care of and here you are single with no obligations. It won’t hurt you to do your fair share and chair the committee this year.” Because you see the small kernel of truth in their statement, you go ahead and accept the invitation and comply with their request even though you feel guilty for not being true to yourself.
Or maybe it’s your single neighbor who does the inviting. You get asked to head up the neighborhood barbeque and when you say no, the invitation to the guilt trip goes something like this: “Well, I always get stuck with it and I’m a single woman who has to mow my yard, pay all of my own bills and work full time. At least you have another income and your son mows the yard. Would it hurt you to help out just this one time?”
Although this kind of statement makes you boil inside, once again you see the logic and you go ahead with the request. By now you’ve probably noticed a pattern, but if you want to avoid the guilt-trip-trap you must know about the five levels of consciousness and the stages you will go through before learning to give a clean clear “no.”
Level one is when you say “yes” when you want to say “no” simply because you don’t want to be judged as one who doesn’t pull her fair share and because you want to avoid the invitation all together. The outcome is that you feel taken advantage of and you feel guilty about not being true to yourself.
At level two you are able to say “no” but then you get pressured (invited to the guilt trip) so you change your answer to “yes” to alleviate the guilt. Initially you feel good because you avoided conflict but when the time comes to fulfill your commitment you seethe with resentment toward the person who pressured you and now you try to avoid that person so you don’t get tricked into saying “yes” again.
Internal conflict is the benchmark of level three. Level three is when you say “yes,” but know deep down inside that you aren’t going to comply. At level three you are just trying to cope. You are confused by your commitment to be true to yourself and to make sure you don’t make someone else mad. You compensate for your confusion by making up a last minute excuse like being sick or having a wreck so you can wiggle out of the commitment. If you are truly conflicted you actually do get sick and it has become a pattern to the point of others viewing you as undependable. When you get sick it’s just your internal guidance system paying you back for betraying yourself.
The worst part of level three is you feel guilty for lying and you feel weak for not having the guts to stand up for yourself. Most of us waver between levels one, two and three depending upon the circumstances and the dynamics of the relationship. Very few of us get to level four or level five. We are scared to death of level four because that is the angry take-no-prisoners level.
The one good thing about level four there is no more confusion. You are clear that you can and will set the boundary, be it your mother, your co-worker, your neighbor or your boss. You are able to say “no” and you are willing to shout it loud and clear should anyone misunderstand. The problem with level four is that the pendulum has swung too far to the right. The anger that gives you the courage to voice your own boundaries is also the unmanageable force that threatens the relationships you worked so hard to build.
At level four you are primed for the invitation and you are determined not to let yourself get sucked into the invitation to the guilt trip. At level four you are good at identifying the invitation, however the anger you feel from actually noticing the manipulation is enough to momentarily make you lose consciousness. So when your manipulator says something like, “I have already spent two weeks on this project and I’ve had to deal with blah blah blah, and the least you could do is blah blah blah,” Your response is as spontaneous as a volcano: “Well then you win the crown the scepter and the robe!”
Immediately you feel a surge of power instead of the guilt you have become so used to. You have successfully traded guilt for anger. Then when the lava begins to cool down you realize is the guilt-trip-trap that you were so afraid of to begin with.
The manipulator is mad because the manipulation didn’t work and you are mad because she won’t listen to your boundary. Even though you feel justified by sticking to your guns, you are preoccupied with the conversation that just took place so you spend your time obsessing about it trying to convince yourself that you really don’t care and that you had every right to blow up. The only problem is that you do care and now you have an even bigger mess to clean up.
There is a way to Stop Your Drama™ so that you don’t get sucked into the Guilt Trip Trap. All you have to do is say a clear clean “no.” No excuses, no justifications, no explaining, whining, comparing or power struggles. The challenge is that you have to quit hoping the other person will agree or understand.
When you notice the invitation (You are reminded about your mother’s labor pains, or your single friend’s dilemma of mowing her own yard, or your married friend’s problems of having too many responsibilities, and so on,) let the initial waves of guilt wash over you. Then you can either smile and say “I’m sorry” and let go of your need for their approval.
Or if you need to extend the dialogue, you can say any combination of the following: “Yes, I see your point of view. I don’t know how you do it. I hope you will respect my answer. I hate to disappoint you but I would hate more to disappoint myself.”
Then even if they do stomp off angry, remind yourself that you don’t have to play tit-for-tat. You are big enough to handle their anger and to forgive them for the error of their ways. When you need a little encouragement here is a quote from author Neale Donald Walsh: “Betrayal of yourself is betrayal nonetheless. It is the highest betrayal.”
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