6 subtle signs you’re being guilt-tripped, according to psychology

It’s really tough feeling like you’re always to blame, isn’t it? Sometimes, that guilty feeling sticks with you even if you haven’t actually done anything wrong. 

This sneaky move is called guilt-tripping. 

It’s a common tactic used by some people to sway others and get their way. 

Recognizing when this is happening is super important because it can mess with your self-esteem and make you feel pretty lousy.

Spotting a guilt trip isn’t always easy since it’s often subtle and can blend right into your regular interactions.

Today, we’re breaking down 6 signs that someone might be guilt-tripping you. 

Knowing these can help you see the situation for what it is and stop it from knocking your confidence. 

Ready to see which signs sound familiar? Let’s get started.

1) You always get the blame for things that aren’t your fault

Have you ever been blamed for something that totally wasn’t your fault? 

I experienced this firsthand going on a trip with a group of friends. At the airport, my best friend realized she’d forgotten her passport. 

Immediately, she turned to me and said, “Ugh, why didn’t you remind me to double-check I had it before we left?” 

At that moment, I felt awful. I even offered to go back with her to get it and catch a later flight. 

Looking back, I can see it was a clear tactic to make me feel guilty and her plan worked. 

I ended up missing part of my holiday just to keep her company, going back for her passport. 

Constantly being blamed for things clearly out of your control could be a sign that someone is trying to guilt trip you. 

It’s a common manipulation tactic people use to get their way.

This often goes hand-in-hand with the next sign. 

2) They play the victim in every situation

Ever noticed how some people always seem to find a way to make everything about how hard things are for them? 

Playing the victim is a classic move in the guilt tripper’s playbook.

Psychotherapist Robin D. Stone points out, “Guilt-tripping may take many forms, from criticism to passive-aggression to playing the victim.” 

Picture this: you say no to dinner and drinks with a friend because you’re swamped with work.

Instead of understanding, your friend responds with, “I guess I’m just not as important to you as your job is.” 

Now you feel guilty as if you’ve personally let them down.

This tactic is all about making you feel bad, hoping you’ll bend over backward to fix things.

When someone consistently uses the “poor me” routine, it’s important to recognize it for what it is, a subtle but effective way to manipulate you.

Next time you hear a hint of victim-playing in someone’s words, take a step back and pause.

They might just be trying to pull you into a guilt trip.

3) They compare you to others

They compare you to others 6 subtle signs you’re being guilt-tripped, according to psychology

Being compared to others has got to be one of the most disheartening ways to be guilt-tripped.

Seriously, is there anything worse than someone you care about pointing out how someone else is supposedly doing better than you? 

This tactic isn’t about giving you constructive feedback; it’s a classic guilt trip move to manipulate you into doing what they want.

Psychiatrist and author Judith Orloff M.D. explains, “They’ll talk about life being unfair and compare your efforts with others who’re doing it better.”

Hearing things like, “Why can’t you be more like Danny? He’s so good to his wife and is such a hard worker,” can make you feel pretty lousy. 

It’s a hit right to your confidence and self-esteem.

Being repeatedly compared to others apparently doing better than you is a huge red flag that you’re being guilt-tripped. 

4) They give you the silent treatment and refuse to tell you why

Back in college, I had this awesome friend who also had one big downside: she loved to use guilt trips to get what she wanted.

Let’s call her Laura. 

Laura was so fun and a great friend in so many other respects, but being friends with her was tough because she often made me feel guilty about things. 

And here’s the real kicker: half the time, I didn’t even know what I was feeling guilty about because she’d give me the silent treatment and not tell me why.

At the time, I didn’t recognize it, but I’ve since learned that this kind of passive-aggressive behavior is classic for someone who uses guilt-tripping to manipulate others.

And it always worked for Laura. I’d apologize and even offer to do “whatever she wanted” just to prove I felt bad for whatever upset her.

When someone genuinely needs space, they’ll usually explain the issue and then ask for time apart. 

If you’re just getting the silent treatment with no explanation, there’s a good chance they’re trying to make you feel guilty. 

The best thing you can do is stop playing into it and leave them alone, they’ll eventually see that their tactic isn’t working. 

5) They make their love or attention conditional

Another sign that you’re being guilt-tripped is when someone makes their love or attention conditional upon your actions. 

It’s as if their kindness comes with strings attached, only available when you’re meeting their expectations.

Imagine a scenario where every time you decide to do something independently, your partner becomes noticeably colder and less affectionate

They might not say anything directly, but their sudden lack of warmth speaks volumes. 

It sends a message that their love or attention is a reward, not a given.

As outlined by relationship specialist, Annie Tanasugarn Ph.D., signs of conditional love include high levels of indifference when expectations aren’t met, withholding, and stonewalling.

In genuine relationships, people don’t use affection as a bargaining chip. 

They don’t punish you by withdrawing emotionally whenever you step out of line with their wishes.

This tactic is one of the ways people can guilt you into conforming to their desires, steering you away from making choices freely and from the heart. 

6) They constantly bring up your past mistakes

Does it ever feel like no mistake you make is ever truly in the past? 

It’s like every disagreement brings up all those old slip-ups like they just happened. 

I dated someone who did exactly this. 

Every argument wasn’t just about the issue at hand, my old mistakes were always part of the mix. 

Despite my apologies and efforts to make things right, it was never enough. I kept paying for those mistakes again and again.

Eventually, I realized it wasn’t about the mistakes at all. It was a tactic, a way to make me feel guilty and manipulate my actions

If this sounds familiar, it’s important to recognize that you’re not just dealing with a long memory, but with someone who’s actively trying to guilt trip you.

Final thoughts

Guilt-tripping is manipulation, plain and simple, and it’s not something you should tolerate from anyone. 

If you’re noticing several of these signs consistently, it’s a clear signal that it’s time for a change. 

Standing up for yourself might seem daunting at first, but taking that step is always worth it for your long-term well-being.


Picture of Cat Harper

Cat Harper

Cat is an experienced Sales and Enablement professional turned writer whose passions span from psychology and relationships to continuous self-improvement, lifelong learning and pushing back on societal expectations to forge a life she loves. An avid traveler and adventure sports enthusiast, in her downtime you'll find Cat snowboarding, motorcycling or working on her latest self-development project.

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