“Guilt can prevent us from setting the boundaries that would be in our best interests, and in other people’s best interests.” ~Melody Beattie
Narcissists have this way of manipulating your emotions by playing the victim and holding little “pity parties” for themselves. They play the martyr. They make you responsible for their emotional well-being. Often, that means giving you guilt trips that are not only unfounded but also extremely unfair. However, since narcissists have no empathy (and often no sense of remorse), and since they seem to believe their own lies, they can seem very sincere – and you might find yourself believing that you’re to blame for whatever it is they’re trying to blame you for.
Unless you’re a psychopath, you’re going to feel guilty occasionally. It’s basic human nature. In most cases, guilt is the result of harming someone else on some level. But narcissists use your basic human nature against you in order to get you to do what they want – to achieve some outcome that is desirable to them.
Maybe they guilt you into staying with them, or into doing their bidding. Maybe they even guilt you into giving them your time, your money or your energy. In any case, let me reiterate: narcissists use guilt as a tool to get what they want from you. And if you’re an empath, chances are you’re hypersensitive to the effect you have on other people – which makes it much easier for the narcissist to use guilt to manipulate you.
Things Narcissists Say to Guilt You
Narcissists will say anything they can think of to guilt you into doing what they want. There are no limits to how low they’ll stoop. A few examples of things narcissists say to guilt you may include things like:
- I work so hard to pay all the bills. The least you could do is …
- I can’t believe, after all I’ve done for you, that you ….
- You really don’t love me. If you did…
- Well, my friend’s wife/husband always does _____. Why won’t you?
Why You Need to Stop Feeling Guilty
Narcissists are, by nature, sadistic and in addition to using guilt to get you to do what they want, they may also use it to punish you and to drive your self-esteem into the ground. Many survivors of narcissistic abuse are prone to guilt and to beating themselves up for even the tiniest of infractions. In fact, the nature of the abuse (and of the narcissist) leads many of us to turn the responsibility for the problems in our relationships to ourselves for a very specific reason: we KNOW we cannot change the narcissist, but we also want to resolve the issues. So if we blame ourselves, we can try to modify our own behavior to resolve the issue. In reality, if the narcissist remains abusive (which they nearly always will), we can actually further victimize ourselves and lose even more of our own identities by trying to bend over backward to keep them happy.
Ultimately, by living with and aligning ourselves with this narcissist-induced guilt, we are effectively giving up our right to be happy, to feel safe and to be ourselves in favor of keeping the narcissist’s ego in check. It’s time we stop doing this and start taking back our lives!
How to Stop Feeling Guilty
“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.” ~ Christopher K. Germer
Start by recognizing your own value and being compassionate with yourself in a way that you haven’t before. And, as you’re working through this, try to see the situation for what it is; put your emotions aside and look at it from a clinical, scientific point of view. And then, step by step, begin to pull it all apart so you can see what you’re really dealing with. Use the following techniques to get over your guilt and move forward with your life.
- Is the guilt legitimate, or not? Determine why you feel guilty. Be sure you understand why you’re feeling guilty. What did you do wrong? Did you really do anything wrong? Imagine you were supposed to meet your spouse at their work party, but you got a flat tire. Avoid feeling guilty for things outside of your control. If you missed the party because you forgot about it, fell asleep on the couch, or lost track of time, you should probably feel some guilt!
- Decide on a response. The first step out of guilt is responding appropriately. This might include an apology if you’ve actually done anything wrong. Maybe a detailed explanation is in order. Maybe you’ll lay out a plan to show the other person that your transgression won’t happen again. You might make it up to the other person in some fashion. Maybe you’ll agree to rub your spouse’s feet every day for the next month. Maybe you’ll take your daughter out to dinner. But if you’re dealing with a narcissist who has unfairly put you on a guilt trip, the best response is gray rock.
- Stop beating yourself up! Be willing to forgive yourself. Once you forgive yourself, the guilt is gone. If you actually did something that warrants guilt, try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Imagine that the error you made happened to you. You’d probably forgive the other person without too much fuss. You should treat yourself at least as well! Notice how much easier it is for you to forgive someone else than it is to forgive yourself. You should be the best friend you’ll ever have. Treat yourself like it.
- Write a letter. You can write a letter to yourself, to the person you harmed, or both. No one writes or sends letters anymore – that makes them especially meaningful. It’s also a great way to purge your thoughts and your guilt. The other person will be impressed, and you’ll feel a lot better. And when we’re talking about a narcissist, maybe your letter focuses on the truth of the matter (that, in many cases, you’re not actually guilty of anything) – and maybe you only write the letter to get it off your chest. Sending it may prove to be an exercise in frustration when the narcissist twists it and intentionally sees the worst possible perspective of what you’ve written.
- Do something positive that will boost your self-esteem. Volunteering can be great when you’re feeling guilty. Show yourself that you’re a good person. Make a donation. Help someone with a problem. Give away some of your stuff. Take some action that will allow you to feel good about yourself.
- Make changes instead of feeling guilty. Rather than feeling guilt, which helps no one, make some changes to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again in the future, if you’ve actually done anything to feel guilty about. Should you eliminate a bad habit, procrastinate less, or get more organized? Maybe you need to value others more than you do currently. What are some positive changes you can make that are related to the cause of your guilt?
- Move on. At some point, you have to let it go and get on with your life. There’s no value in holding on to guilt. Guilty feelings suggest that you did something wrong and need to learn from it. So, learn from it. Then, move on. And, if you’re dealing with a narcissist in your every day life, start considering the value of doing that. Can you leave? Can you minimize contact? Consider starting to PLAN for your future without the narcissist.
Everyone has felt the pain of guilt. Narcissists know this and use guilt to control and manipulate you. If you actually did something that warrants feeling guilty, it’s important to resolve the issue as well as you can, forgive yourself, make amends, and move on. There’s no value in punishing yourself for an extended period of time. You made a mistake, so do the best you can to fix it.
If you are just being manipulated by the toxic person in your life, you need to see it for what it is and release the guilt. It isn’t healthy and it is keeping you stuck! Now it’s time to set yourself free. Allow yourself to move forward from your guilt.
Feeling sorry for the narcissist? Watch this video to learn how to stop (and why you should).
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.