Psych Central

Is it okay to make someone feel guilty?

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Psychologically, is it okay to make someone feel guilty? Why does a person do such a thing to others? What impact the other person has in a long run on her personality, living and growing up in such an atmosphere?

A: Guilt: The gift that keeps on giving.
Erma Bombeck

Guilt is a vehicle through which people become aware and change. It is not universally negative and has functional value in providing the impetus for corrective behavior. It is a natural byproduct of becoming aware of hurtful or inappropriate behavior toward others. In fact, it would be a lack of feeling guilty that would be the sign of true pathology. A sociopath unable to feel empathy for his or her victim is immune to guilt and continues his or her reckless behavior. Consider the case of Bernie Madoff, who swindled his investors out of billions of dollars and used his money for his own pleasure. His inability to feel guilty for what he was doing hurt many people and institutions.

One of the primary functions of anger toward someone is to make them feel guilty. But if the anger is used to make someone else feel guilty, rather than take responsibility for your own behavior, this is the classic form of denial. Those who tend not to take responsibility for themselves use anger and its many forms (such as passive aggression and manipulation) to get others to feel guilty so they don’t have to. I am imagining it is this situation to which you refer.

When this is the case, the best thing to do is recognize the situation for what it is. Once you are sure that this is an attempt at manipulating you — not a wakeup call for a necessary change in your own behavior — then I encourage you to listen, and assert the fact that you understand, but disagree what he or she has said. Tell him or her you don’t see it his or her way, and won’t allow yourself to be treated poorly.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

Photo

 

 

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 Aug 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). Is it okay to make someone feel guilty?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/08/24/is-it-okay-to-make-someone-feel-guilty/