Manipulation via Shaming and Guilt-Tripping: Using the Conscience of the Neurotic against Them

Neurotics try hard not only to project a positive image, but also to do the right thing. Disordered characters know this very well. So, when the person with a disturbed character wants to manipulate a good neurotic, all they have to do is somehow convince them that they’ve done wrong or behaved in a manner they should feel ashamed of.

This article is the third in a series of posts on the habitual behaviors or “tactics” commonly seen in persons with disturbed characters. These behaviors interfere with the process of developing a sense of accountability and responsibility. They also serve to manipulate others into exceeding to demands as well as to manipulate the kinds of impressions others might form of their character.

In prior posts, I’ve written about how problematic the issue of character disturbance has become and how persons with disordered characters differ on many dimensions from those individuals best described as “neurotic” to some degree. (See “Disturbances of Character”.). One of the main differences between “neurotic” individuals and those with disturbed characters is their level of conscience development — especially their capacities to experience shame and guilt. (See “Shame, Guilt and Character Development”.)

A most ironic fact is that almost no one is as expert on the topic of neurosis as is the disturbed character. Individuals with disordered characters know full well that those with well-developed consciences tend to feel guilty easily if they think they’ve done something wrong. Such individuals also have a big sense of shame when they think they’ve behaved in a manner that reflects negatively on their character. Neurotics try hard not only to project a positive image, but also to do the right thing. Disordered characters know this very well. So, when the person with a disturbed character wants to manipulate a good neurotic, all they have to do is somehow convince them that they’ve done wrong or behaved in a manner they should feel ashamed of.

Shaming and guilt-tripping are without question the favorite tactics disturbed characters use to manipulate people with consciences that are more developed than theirs. In my book, In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?), I give several examples of how shaming and guilt-tripping tactics were used by individuals with disturbed characters to manipulate and control persons with whom they had relationships. In one case, a child whose bad behavior was appropriately pointed out by her mother complained, “You never have anything good to say about me,” thus inviting her mother to feel guilty for saying anything. In another case, a philandering husband whose wife had had enough of his behavior pointedly tried to convince her that she had not been sufficiently attentive to him, inviting her to feel ashamed of her performance as a wife.

After a lifetime of work with disturbed characters and their partners, I could literally cite thousands of similar examples. But a most important point to remember is that neither the tactic of guilt-tripping nor the tactic of shaming would have a prayer of being effective as a manipulation tool if it weren’t for the fact that neurotic individuals have such active consciences that prompt them to feel guilty or shameful when they think they’ve fallen short. Just try using the tactics of shaming or guilt-tripping a disordered character. Their undeveloped or sometimes even absent conscience makes it possible for them to hear your complaints without being even in the slightest bit affected. The fact that these tactics are effective manipulation tools for one group of characters and not for the other testifies to some of the core differences between neurotic individuals and those with disturbed characters.

Another important thing to recognize is that because disturbed characters use these tactics and understand why they work, they must necessarily understand completely the kinds of behaviors others frequently take issue with and why they take issue with them. They are very aware of the kinds of things that most people regard as things to feel guilty or shameful about. The problem is that when they do such things, they feel neither shameful nor guilty. In fact, they persist in their behavior, actively resisting any submission to the standards with which they try to brow-beat others. Traditional perspectives have always tried to explain this by suggesting that the disturbed characters are blinded from insight into their hypocrisy by “denial” and the tendency to “project” (both of which are purported to be unconscious defenses against emotional pain). The reality is that the disordered character is not blind but rather very aware. He also knows full well what behaviors most people regard as wrong and shameful, and he wants others to toe the line. The reason he doesn’t play by the same rules is because if he is a narcissistic character, he feels entitled to do otherwise. (See “Neurosis vs. Character Disorder: Self-Image Issues”.) And if he’s one of the aggressive characters, he simply fights to do as he pleases in defiance of the wishes of society. (See “Understanding the Aggressive Personalities”.)

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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