Parents who give you a guilt trip may display emotionally immature behavior. Finding healthy ways to deal with this behavior can help.

Guilt-tripping, put simply, is when someone tries to make you feel guilty and control your future behavior.

The tactic is used to manipulate your feelings so they get what they want. It also involves a lack of respect for your boundaries.

If you have a parent who guilt-trips you, there are some ways you can cope.

Dealing with a guilt-tripping parent can be exhausting and cause challenges to your overall mental health. Here are seven signs you might have a parent who’s guilt-tripping you.

1. They become passive-aggressive

If someone tries to make you feel guilty, they may try every trick in the book to get you to do what they want. Sometimes, this takes the form of passive-aggressive comments. Research from 2021 suggests that passive aggression occurs when someone is harmful without taking overt aggressive action.

For example, let’s say your dad invited you over to watch your favorite sports team, and you tell him you can’t come over. Your dad responds, “I’ll just have to cheer them on myself. I came over last time you invited me.” Instead of your dad telling you he’s upset or downright being aggressive, he responds by making a passive-aggressive comment and then guilt-tripping you.

2. They give you the silent treatment

The silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse, and parents who engage in guilt-tripping may give the silent treatment until you give in to their demands. The silent treatment is a clear sign of guilt-tripping and manipulative behavior.

For example, let’s say one of your parents wants to borrow money from you, and you say “no.” They may ignore you or avoid responding to you — a form of the silent treatment.

3. They remind you of your past mistakes

A guilt-tripping parent may remind you of your past mistakes and use that against you to prove that you owe them something. These reminders could make you feel guilty and like you must do what they ask.

According to a study from 2014, parents may use manipulation tactics to steer their child’s decision-making with a potential partner. The study suggests that, in this circumstance, daughters are more likely to experience guilt-tripping than sons. In addition, mothers are more likely to exhibit these manipulative behaviors than fathers.

This may likely be presented as simple advice given to the child. For example, your parent may say, “I’m only trying to help you. You remember how your last relationship turned out when you didn’t listen to me?”

This is an example of guilt-tripping. It reminds you of what may be perceived as a past mistake, potentially causing you to consider future consequences that may result from not listening to your parents’ input.

4. They remind you of all the things they’ve done for you

Parents may also remind you of everything they’ve done for you as a form of guilt-tripping. If you say no, they might mention all the times they’ve helped you out or done favors for you in the past. If this sounds like your parents, it may be a time for clearer boundaries.

An example of this would be your parents asking you to watch their dogs, but you’re already planning to go to a concert.

You may tell them, “I’m sorry I can’t. I’m going to a concert that weekend.”

Your parents may respond, “You are so ungrateful; we watched your dogs last time you were on vacation.”

5. Lashing out

If you have a parent who engages in guilt-tripping, they may lash out when you say or do something they don’t like. They may respond to your boundaries with:

  • yelling
  • aggression
  • name-calling

6. They disagree with most of your decisions

Guilt-tripping parents can be judgmental, especially about your life decisions. They might make you question your decision-making skills, even if you know what’s best for your life.

They may openly express disagreement or call you names if you set a boundary. Your parents may be overly vocal about their criticism of you.

7. They become emotionally distant

If you’re engaging in dialogue with your parents, and they begin to guilt-trip you, they may emotionally remove themselves from the situation and appear distant.

Emotional distancing is a form of manipulation, and in order to get it to stop, they may stay distant until you do what they want.

Guilt-tripping can have various adverse effects on a child’s mental health. If you have parents who guilt-tripped you, you may have trouble setting healthy boundaries. You may also deal with low self-esteem and depression.

A 2020 study found that the feeling of guilt was high among depressed children. Guilt was also more likely in children in the following circumstances:

While the guilt expressed by children in this study doesn’t necessarily mean it’s coming from a guilt trip; it does show that parents shutting down or rejecting their child can cause guilt, which is a typical response in a guilt-tripping parent.

Mental health challenges may also be present in children who have parents who put them on a guilt trip. However, further research is needed to determine the direct impacts.

When you’re dealing with parents who resort to guilt-tripping, it may be hard to know how to cope. Guilt-tripping parents can negatively impact child-parent relationships. If you have a parent who guilt-trips you, here are some ways you deal with it.

1. Set firm and clear boundaries

Setting clear and firm boundaries with parents who try to guilt-trip you shows that you’re sticking to what you want. Boundaries can also signal that you won’t give in to their desires if they don’t suit you.

It’s also healthy to have boundaries with family members; otherwise, you may experience enmeshment or have porous boundaries, neither of which is a healthy parent-child relationship.

2. Validate their feelings

When parents are guilt-tripping you, they may have unheard feelings. Do your best to validate what they’re feeling without compromising yourself or your boundaries.

To learn more, consider visiting our resource page on the importance of validating others’ feelings and practicing emotional validation.

3. Seek the help of a therapist

Seeking professional help can:

  • alleviate feelings of guilt
  • boost your self-esteem
  • help you learn strategies to manage depression

There are many unhealthy family dynamics present when you’ve dealt with a guilt-tripping parent. A professional can help you sort it out.

If you need help locating a therapist near you, you can use the FindCare Tool to search treatment providers in your area. You can also visit PsychCentral’s Mental Health Resources and Support page to locate a provider.

Guilt-tripping from parents can take many forms. Guilt-tripping is a manipulation tactic where the person doing it tries to control your behavior.

If you grew up with parents who guilt-tripped you, this can cause mental health challenges such as depression and low self-esteem. Setting boundaries, validating feelings, and finding a therapist can help.