There are many forms of psychological manipulation, some more subtle than others. One of the most dangerous is emotional blackmail, whose favorite weapon is guilt. The main problem is that blame is used precisely by the people closest to us, so it is difficult to understand that we are victims of manipulation. This generates a relationship of submission that extends over time with detrimental effects on our self-esteem and independence.
What is guilt?
It seems like a redundant question, but it's not. At the beginning the word guilt had only a physical and concrete meaning because it was intended as an inability to hit, it meant missing the target. Then it was given an intellectual meaning that referred to the error in giving an opinion and was related to a deprivation or disability. Finally, the sense of guilt took on the tones of moral judgment. That was when it began to be used to indicate the transgression of the norms relating to morality and religion.
From that moment, guilt stopped being a simple mistake to become a value judgment. This means that the guilty person not only behaves badly, but he is also evil himself, he is wrong.
Growing up with this conception of guilt makes us extremely vulnerable because, instead of making a distinction between our error and our worth, we identify them. Therefore, when we make mistakes, we not only consider the behavior wrong and inadequate, but we consider ourselves wrong and inadequate. We believe that something in us is not working as it should, that we are not as we should be.
Gradually what we know as "guilt" is formed, which is nothing more than the feeling of being guilty and, therefore, bad and inadequate. That feeling ends up permeating our entire life, making us feel uncomfortable with who we are. Manipulators rely precisely on the sense of guilt, which predisposes us to accept the value judgments that condemn us.
Using guilt to manipulate and nullify personal freedom
When a person makes us feel guilty it activates the sense of guilt that already exists in us. It's a widespread feeling that makes us feel inadequate, even if we don't know exactly why. That feeling makes us vulnerable, making us more inclined to take on a fault that is not ours.
This mechanism is based on what the philosopher Ayn Rand calls "irrational morality", a "morality that is opposed to human nature and the facts of reality [...] that forces man to accept the belief that there is an inevitable confrontation between morality and practice, that one must choose between being virtuous or being happy, but that one cannot be both at the same time. This vision creates a terrible conflict at the most intimate level of the human being, a dichotomy that shatters it ”.
Basically, we give others the right to judge us because we consider ourselves inadequate, because we already have the seed of guilt in us and we think that any decision or behavior classified as "selfish" is inherently bad.
When a person activates the sense of guilt, he automatically assumes the position of judge and we the role of the accused. Suddenly, we have to defend ourselves without having a clear idea of what we are accused of. And since we feel guilty in advance, we give up and give in to manipulation. We accept that we are guilty and that the other person is right.
In that moment we recognize him a moral superiority that gives him the right to dictate our decisions. We think that if we "make a mistake", the most natural thing is that the person who points out and corrects our mistake is also the most suitable to guide us. We put ourselves in his hands, sometimes without realizing it. At that precise moment we give up control over our life.
How to permanently free yourself from manipulation
Focusing on the person manipulating us, blaming them in turn, and setting a distance is the strategy everyone usually follows, but it's not the best solution because it's just temporary and won't stop the bleeding of a very deep wound. To avoid this kind of manipulation, we need to get rid of guilt. This way we will protect ourselves from anyone else trying to make us feel guilty in the future.
Ayn Rand said that we must develop "moral ambition, which means that everyone must earn the right to regard himself as the greatest value" by avoiding the chronic self-sacrifice process by which we subordinate our needs and beliefs to opinions or desires. of the others
This does not mean overcoming everything and everyone, but finding the right balance in which we are at the center of our world, to prevent others from claiming the right to judge us and make us feel guilty.
We must also understand that manipulation is a way of exercising power, of establishing a relationship of domination. But exercising power means violating the freedom of others, it is an act of arrogance through which the person assumes that his needs and beliefs are better than ours. Therefore, we must understand that using blame to manipulate is, in the end, an attack on our freedom, an attempt to take away our decision-making autonomy.
From that moment on, we should just "take pleasure in being as one is, living one's life, ceasing to pursue the ideal", as the philosopher Max Stirner explained. It's about understanding that if we make a mistake, it doesn't mean we're bad people. That we have the right to make our own decisions and that, if we sometimes prioritize ourselves, we don't have to feel guilty.
It's a huge shift in perspective. But it's worth it.