Say What You Wanna Say, But Don’t Say It Like That: Common Guilt Triggers

Image Courtesy of Pixabay

I had this professor once who was also my supervisor for one of my work studies during my undergrad. He always managed to finagle additional projects out of me that were well out of the scope of my job description. And I would always agree to them for one reason: guilt. (I couldn’t add the additional “work” to my timesheet because it wasn’t related to my job, so I wasn’t getting more money out of it. Silly rabbit.)

Anyhoo, I remember one of his (many) “big ideas” was starting a business on the side with his son. He asked me to create a website for their new business, for which he promised to pay me. (Still waitin’ on that check, ahem.) I agreed, thinking, if anything, I could add this little endeavor to my resume. 

By this point my schedule was already brimming over with responsibilities, as I had taken on far more than I could chew (which was typical for me). So when my professor asked me to, in addition to creating the website, take an underclassman under my wing and show him the ropes of web design, I was all like, “uh, hell to the no!” (Okay, so I didn’t say that exactly.) I told him I was already overwhelmed and didn’t have any time left to spare.

My professor, not used to me telling him “no,” stared at me blankly for a long moment. He waited, as if I would change my mind a second later. “I’m sorry, I just can’t,” I said again, trying my darndest not to waver. 

He said, “Oh,” and paused, feigning deep contemplation as if he was actually trying to think of another solution when he was really just waiting me out. 

When I didn’t cave, he took another swing. “Well, I already promised him he could help with the website.”

I took a breath, holding back my instinctive impulse to please. “Well, he’s welcome to work on the website on his own, if he likes.”

“But I want someone experienced like you to do it.”


“You know, just take him under your wing, see what the two of you can do.”


“And then let me know how he’s doing from time to time.”


“Great, thanks, okay I got to go teach a class now, we can talk about it later.”


And of course, I felt too guilty to say no to him after that.

Whether they realize it or not, when they want something, people naturally feed off of those who are most susceptible to guilty feelings. It’s like a mosquito drawn to light; they can’t help it. The only difference is that they aren’t the ones getting zapped. 

Them boogers can get real creative with their guilt-inducing tactics. Here are some of the most common guilt triggers that are aimed at me on a regular basis.

Common Guilt Triggers

“There’s No One Else”

This one’s sneaky because you’re being backed into a corner. If you say no, you’re a terrible person because you’re the “only one” who can allegedly make it happen. For example, someone asks you to watch his or her pet while they’re out of town, the trip’s already been booked, and no other friends or family are available to do it.

Really, Karen? Not cool.

“Oh…” (Followed By a Long Pause as They “Contemplate” What to Do)

For some reason, people think that if they wait long enough after you say no, acting like they’re having trouble coming up with a back-up plan, you’ll suddenly decide you don’t have a funeral to go to, a surgery scheduled, or whatever other reason you could POSSIBLY have for saying no. They want you to SEE their struggle, hoping you’ll have pity and change your mind about having your heart transplant on the day they want you to babysit.

This trigger also comes in the form of disappointed sighing followed by silence or “We already made the plans assuming you could do it.”

And dammit, it works…

The Wide-Eye Stare-and-Hold

You can actually SEE them trying to use their mind control powers. Or maybe they expect their eye laser beam powers to suddenly manifest, I’m not sure.

They Add a Child or Animal to the Mix

“But Tara is super excited to see you!” “I guess I’ll have to get a complete stranger to watch Mr. Flufferton…” Or my personal favorite: when they send you pics of the little tyke or furball looking absolutely adorable.


“You’re the Best at It”

Aw, shucks. In that case, it will be my pleasure to scrub the fungus out of your butthole. Gotta maintain that rep!

“I’m Just So Exhausted…”

You just sit back and relax. I’ll pluck your nipples for you; you don’t have to lift a finger.


Yeah, this one might just be my personal experiences, but it seems that whenever I get a simple “Hey” text, it comes with a shitload of guilt tied to it. “Hey” is often followed up with “Haven’t seen you in a while” or “So I was thinking… [insert favor request].” Sometimes it just sits there in empty space, as if to say, “You know what you did.”

“We Missed You Yesterday”

I’m sorry, KAREN, but there was no way I was going to miss Glenn’s eyes popping out of his head in the season finale of The Walking Dead, so deal.

“You Don’t Know What Real Pain Is”

Yeah, this one was thrown at me once when I literally couldn’t bend or turn my neck from chronic back pain…

I’m sorry, you’re right, I can shovel your driveway. No biggie.

“Well, Think It Over First, Because It Would Really Help Us Out”

Like dude, I already said no.

How does EVERYONE know the way my overthinking, second-guessing brain works??

“I’ll Buy You Food After”

I don’t know about you, but as soon as anyone offers to buy me food in exchange for a favor, not only do I feel guilty that they’re willing to feed me, but I also can’t resist a peanut butter cup ice cream cake or a Wendy’s Baconator. 


“You’re So Kind and Generous”

I’m being coerced, so am I really though? Come on, Karen.

“Ok, Nevermind…”

Great, see ya later! (As if.) I know I should walk away triumphantly without looking back, but the lingering cloud of guilt always gets the better of me. It follows me everywhere, poking at me with beliefs that I’m a terrible person. 

“Don’t Feel Like You Have to”

Aaaaand now I feel like I have to. 

Damn reverse psychology.

They Pretend Not to Hear You Say “No” or They Talk Over You

Something happen to your hearing there, buddy? In the words of Chandler Bing, “you have to stop the Q-tip when there’s resistance.”

They Walk Away After Asking and Thanking You Without Waiting for Your Answer

Get back here, Karen! Looks like your limp suddenly disappeared, so clearly you can take your own horse to the vet after all, huh?

Some people are unaware of the guilt triggers they’re using to make us feel bad. Others are fully aware and don’t care, as long as they get what they want. Unfortunately, people like you and me have to learn how to push passed the guilt and stand our ground; no matter how shitty it makes us feel at first. The more we do it, the easier it will get to say “no” when it’s best for us. We’ll then feel free to say “yes” to people without the coercion of guilt. 

I can’t speak as an expert at saying “no” to people who guilt me into things. I’m still figuring it out. But I think we can all take a lesson from Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation.