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Is it okay to make someone feel guilty?

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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?

Is it okay to make someone feel guilty?

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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

Is it okay to make someone feel guilty?

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

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2018). Is it okay to make someone feel guilty?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 25, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
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