How you choose to respond when someone guilt trips you will depend on everything from your communication style, how much patience you have in the moment, and how serious the situation is. In extreme cases, especially in situations where you’re being unfairly blamed for something, you always have the option to set a boundary and walk away from the conversation.
With all that said, Page and Birkel both recommend extending compassion when you can. “Underneath the guilt tripping is a request, hidden in blaming, passive aggressive behavior,” Page explains. And as Birkel notes, that hidden request is often compassion and understanding.
For starters, there might be an apology you can and should make if you did actually hurt this person (intentionally or not). Birkel suggests starting there, and to emphasize that you understand why they’re feeling the way they do. That can sound like: “I understand why you’re upset, and I apologize for X.”
Then, once the apology is made earnestly and accepted, perhaps a couple hours later, he says you can bring up that you didn’t appreciate the way they approached the conversation, saying something like, “Again, I understand why you were upset, and I felt like you were trying to make to feel guilty, so I’m hoping you could communicate with me more directly about what’s going on for you in the future.”
Ultimately, Page says, it’s important that you and the other person both get to speak your mind about how you’re really feeling. In some cases, for instance, you might be letting somebody down and disappointing them, but that doesn’t mean that you have anything to feel guilty for; you just might not be able to meet their expectations, he explains. “On the other hand, when you listen to what they want and need, if it feels valid, you might want to reconsider your actions,” he adds.
It comes down to honest, open, and vulnerable communication, which is a skill that can take time to cultivate. But the good news is, the more you practice healthy communication, the easier it becomes over time.