Have you experienced the narcissist in your life giving you a guilt trip or using the pity ploy to manipulate your feelings? The narcissist will use this to hoover, to get away with something, to deflect any blame and to play on your empathy to get their way.
Personality-disordered people can not and will not accept accountability for any issue they create and will project the issue in many ways, the pity ploy being one of them. By playing on your empathy to make you feel guilty and using that to manipulate a situation, the narcissist can gain narcissistic supply and control the delusional world they live in – as well as control of you.
The power of the pity ploy is in using your vulnerabilities and fears combined with your empathy against you through making you feel responsible for the feelings and emotional wellbeing of the toxic person. Pity ploys fill you with the mixed emotion of guilt plus compassion and that is the perfect way for the narcissist to gain supply, reinforce trauma bonding and basically suck you back into their toxic world.
Examples of Narcissists Using the ‘Pity Ploy’
Let’s look at some examples of how the pity ploy might be used. There may be many other ways but this may give you an idea and validation that what you experienced was indeed manipulative.
During a hoover attempt or during a relationship with a toxic person you may have a conversation, receive a text or email that is filled with what looks like sorrow and despair on the part of the narcissist. The pity ploy can be when the narcissist suddenly starts looking like the victim after they abuse you with toxic behavior. It can also be feigned or exaggerated illness or pain.
They may talk about how you are all they have and how much it hurts that you won’t talk to them. Words like,” if you really loved me then…” or “after all the love I give you …:” might ring through the messages they send.
They may project onto you the things they themselves are doing like silent treatment, devaluing or lack of emotional connection.
Things like this set you up to defend your love and caring of this person, the whole pity ploy ripe with supply. If you really look at it, the things said are all self-directed pity seeking attempts to pull you towards them. There is no room in the pity ploy attempt for any real conversation and your needs and feelings are certainly not considered.
How do you deal with a narcissist’s pity ploy manipulation?
If this is a hoover, the best thing to do as always is maintain no contact and ignore the attempt. No contact, as always means not even reading these messages. Delete, do not reply and block the narcissist, maintain your peace. Try to see this pity ploy for what it is – manipulation! Begin to free yourself by limiting the continued thinking about it and softening the guilt that may arise. Seeing the reality of the tactics used to gain your supply hopefully can help you to do this. Remember the narcissistic person has no empathy and is using yours against you.
For low contact situations, look at the real need of the situation and react accordingly with your own boundaries firmly in place. For example, during low contact with a toxic parent who you feel the need to help during this current COVID situation, you might ask if they have immediate needs like food or medicine and can those be delivered to them.
This is only if you should choose to help in that way. There is no need to respond to the emotional pity ploy for attention, only the basic need. If they write a long pity seeking message to you, simply reply to the immediate need and say nothing in response to the emotional manipulation they are using. Basically grey rock! Keep the topic to the topic of need only. You do not need to judge yourself based on the way this manipulation causes you to feel. Low contact is never easy and this is not your fault. You are being force-fed guilt!
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Lise Colucci is an intuitive healer and certified life coach, as well as a certified narcissistic abuse recovery coach. She is a long-time admin and mentor for the SPAN Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Group, actively helping survivors of narcissistic abuse in the expansive community to learn and heal.
“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?
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).
Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Resources
The QueenBeeing SPANily, Official – We consider this to be the best narcissistic abuse recovery support group on the web. Offers several subgroups and features a vigilant, compassionate admin team full of trained coaches and survivors, supporting more than 12k members. SPAN is an acronym created by Angie Atkinson that stands for Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.
Other Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups– We also have separate groups for each stage in your narcissistic abuse recovery, as well as some for those who have moved past recovery and are evolving into the next stage of their own life. Survivors have unique and individual needs, even when they’ve moved on – so we’re still here for you.
One-on-One Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching – If you prefer to get more personalized support in your recovery, you might like to schedule a session with one of our coaches to plan and execute your own narcissistic abuse recovery plan.
Find a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist – If you’re looking for a therapist for narcissistic abuse recovery, either because you cannot afford coaching and want to use your health insurance or because you have additional issues you need to address that do not fall within the realm of coaching, you will want to find the right therapist for you – and as far as we’re concerned, that therapist must understand what you’ve been through. This page offers assistance to help you do exactly that.
Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor 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 personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, 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.