“I’m fine.” and other guilt trips we use by Madi Mihalcea

More often than not, we attempt, knowingly or not, to trigger shame or guilt to motivate someone to change their behavior by saying

“It doesn’t matter, go. I’m fine.”
“Are you sure you want to go on holiday when this important client is expecting the delivery?”
“Fine, don’t come. We all know your job is more important than your family.”

Change might come in the other’s behavior, but from an external motivation — to avoid a punishment or to get a reward — and it will rarely last. Moreover, you might pay for it later because of the resentments that built up.

If the relationship is important to you, you might try these three tips:

1. Don’t demand, state your needs clearly and which strategy you’d prefer.

Choose to ask for help to meet your needs. It will increase the other’s willingness to contribute to your well-being.

Your roommate is preparing to go out, while you make yourself comfortable after a bad day. Don’t say “It doesn’t matter, go. I’m fine.” when they ask you, in a hurry, how your day was. Instead, say 

“I am really confused and angry about today’s events and I could use some company and space to vent. Would you be willing to leave 15 minutes later and listen to me? I am not looking for advice, I just want to get everything out of my head. Can you help me with that?”

The clearer and more specific the request is, the better.

2. Be willing to hear the YES behind the NO.

Let’s say a member of your team reminds you they would be on holiday when a deadline is due. You panic. They are essential to the project, so you want them until the end.

Maybe you want to tell them “No, you stay here until we deliver the project.”

Maybe you try to make them decide to stay by asking them “Are you sure you want to go on holiday when this important client is expecting the delivery?”

However, you value this person and the relationship you have, so you choose to see the needs — their needs behind the holiday, and your needs behind trying to persuade them to give it up and stay:

“While I see you need rest and fun and I know this deadline came after you booked your holiday, I can’t stop worrying about the delivery of this important deadline, and I want as much support as possible. Can you prepare someone else to take your place while on holiday? Or can we brainstorm solutions so that everybody gets what they want?

Otherwise, if the other person sees they don’t have the freedom to say NO without punishment, they might do what you demand, but, at the same time, they will keep the score and “pay” you back the next time an opportunity arrives.

What needs are you trying to meet by saying no? How about them?

3. Be willing to brainstorm other strategies that might meet the needs of all those involved.

Needs are universal, we all connect at the level of needs — we all need love, connection, purpose, fun, rest, and so forth. For every need, there are more strategies to meet it. Conflicts don’t start from needs; conflicts start from the difference in strategies we choose to meet those needs.

“I hate it when my dad calls to announce me he’s not coming to my daughter’s party as promised. It drives me crazy because I see the disappointment in my daughter’s eyes and I am living my childhood memories all over again.” my client, Clara, said. “I got so resentful and told him we know his job is more important to him than his family. I want my kid to have a grandpa, but there is more drama than I can handle in our relationship. What can I do?”

After I helped Clara to identify her own needs and the needs of her 5-year-old, I encouraged her to guess her dad’s needs. There was some resistance, but once I reminded her that empathizing doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing, she relaxed and had more ease. Clara needed healing, her daughter, fun and some reassurance of the love of her grandfather, and the man needed efficacy at work. On the second round, she said they were all longing for connection.

However, that wasn’t all. Because my client gave herself the permission to see her dad and empathize with him, Clara realized that he hated crowds and felt uncomfortable during parties. She guessed he used his work as an excuse.

“There’s no point in identifying the feelings and needs, without acting and evolving,” I stressed. So my client decided to check her theory with her dad, and if true, she would explain to her daughter (in a language suitable for her age) why grandpa tends to miss gatherings of all kinds.

The outcome? All of them agreed to meet regularly just the three of them. They started watching movies, coloring together, going hiking. At the moment of writing this article, they are building a fairy garden.

To recap

Don’t demand, state your needs clearly and which strategy you’d prefer.

Be willing to hear the YES behind the NO.

Be willing to brainstorm other strategies that might meet the needs of all those involved.


It might be easier to snap and try to make the other person do what you would like. On the other hand, if you take the time and apply these three tips, you will see the difference in the joy and energy felt by the other and the persistence in carrying out their actions.

They see you’re ready to take their needs into account, not only yours. They will have more trust and willingness in the current conversation, in particular, and in the relationship, in general.

Your turn!

Do you find these tips helpful? Let me know.

Until next time, I wish you fun and flow in everything you do.

Take care,