Are you guilt-ing?

A benefit of applying choice theory/reality therapy in your life is that you can gain personal freedom—the freedom that comes with understanding what you can and cannot control.

In previous columns, we’ve looked at situations where people attempt to coerce others into action using guilt. If you have ever been on the receiving end of that behaviour, you know it’s not a great feeling. Perhaps you do what’s wanted, perhaps you don’t; either way, it’s not pleasant to feel that someone is trying to control you.

This article is one in a series on guilt.
You can find the first article in the series here.

Now here’s an uncomfortable question: Do you ever use guilt in an attempt to control or manipulate others?

In his book, Choice Theory, Dr. Glasser says, “Think of how much time you spend trying to get others to do what they don’t want to do and how much of your time is spent resisting others who are trying to get you to do what you don’t want to do.”

While Dr. Glasser points out the waste of time; there’s also a potential for wasting good relationships. Wherever there’s manipulation, bad feelings are not far away.

Do you ever have a responsibility to set others on the right path? What if you know someone who is simply too “insensitive” or “uninformed” to realize what they should be doing? It’s especially tempting to direct others when we think their behaviour might reflect badly on us, for example, spouses or children.

Sometimes guilt-ing might seem like a good way to motivate those folks into doing what you “know” is best. However, consider these two questions before you draw on that excuse to justify spreading guilty feelings.

1.  Will this make the relationship better or worse? For example, you have good reasons for wanting your child to be generous. You could use guilt: “Little Johnny gave all his toys to charity; don’t you feel selfish about keeping yours?”

Or, you could trust your relationship enough to simply offer information. “It might feel pretty good to give some of your toys to charity; would you like to give it a try?”

2. Remember the golden rule and ask, “How would I feel if someone did this to me?” If you wouldn’t like it, then you have your answer about how to proceed, don’t you?

Even if you are able to coerce someone and get some measure of satisfaction (Your will has prevailed! You’ve won!), what is the long-term consequence?

TV sitcoms sometimes portray mothers as skillful guilt-trippers, and even imply that manipulating children with guilt is a behaviour that works well! But a TV script is not real life, and undeserved guilt can be a heavy burden. When we realize that we can choose to accept or reject that manipulation, it frees both parties to make better choices.

We regularly give other people information. According to choice theory, everyone benefits when guilt-ing behaviours are taken off the table. What do you think?

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