If a family member or person you love spends time reminding you about past mistakes, a healthy relationship quickly turns bad.
If they only see the negative and seem to have forgotten the good times, it can take a toll on your mental health.
I’ve been there. A lot of my bad experiences came during and after my divorce, but they can happen in lots of scenarios.
At first glance, the act of weaponizing guilt or guilt-tripping seems to be pure evil, but it’s tough because it highlights two important aspects of interpersonal relationships.
Your feeling and their feelings. It’s like a seesaw. If there is too much weight on one side, it’s going to tip.
Both people bring emotionally charged feelings to the table. The negative feelings need to be sorted and both sides need to own what’s theirs in the situation.
I was traveling with a buddy of mine who is a pathologist. His name is Na’im. You know, the guy that autopsies to figure out the cause of death.
Stay with me here, there is a massive point. As we were walking through the airport, I said, “Na’im, how do people die?“
He smiled (probably thinking what an odd question) and said, “There are only three ways, Paul: Lack of oxygen, blood loss, and…” I think he said heart stops.
He followed all that by saying, “How you get there, well, there are thousands of ways.“
The point is that when someone intends on using your past mistakes against you or is set on trying to make you feel guilty, they can find lots of reasons and ways to make that happen. You could change your past, and they would more likely than not find another reason to be upset at you.
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Discover The Game That Prevents A Healthy Relationship
When someone finds your hot button, and they know they can elicit a certain kind of response from you, they may choose to use it often. In this scenario, it comes down to control.
Back to the seesaw example. When I was a kid, I remember some kids like to keep me at the top and mess with me or suddenly get off the seesaw so that I came crashing down to the ground.
People do this stuff, often, because they can’t help it. They need the feeling of control to feel better about their lives.
But that doesn’t mean you have to stick around and play their game.
Good things come to those who wait. But in relationships, we have to be more selective.
Own what is yours to own, but get off that relational rollercoaster as fast as you can. If they aren’t willing to see how they are trying to control, dominate and manipulate you by using your own shame against you, it’s got to end. Relationship conflicts about a past relationship are common.
Everyone will have a different perspective, but emotional manipulators take it a step further. Make a conscious choice to limit what you share in the first place.
Past Mistakes – Do Past Actions Really Define You?
I’m going to level with you here. Shoot you straight. The answer is yes and no.
Yes, they define you because they lead you to where you are now. In other words, you have the life you have now because of the actions you’ve taken in your past.
But, they don’t have to define your future. In other words, you can change things. But in order to change things, you are going to have to change your thinking.
If you are spending time with someone who continues to remind you of your past mistakes, maybe it’s time for some distance between you and them.
What Is It Called When Someone Uses Your Past Against You?
The term most often used to describe this is “Emotional Blackmail“.
Emotional blackmail is a manipulative tactic used by one person to control another through fear, guilt, or intimidation. It can be subtle and difficult to recognize because it often appears under the guise of love or concern.
It may involve threats, such as withholding approval or affection if the other person doesn’t comply with their demands.
The manipulator might say something like, “If you don’t do this, I’ll be so upset and disappointed in you.“
Or they may use guilt-tripping tactics such as: “It’s the least you can do after all I’ve done for you“.
Let’s say, you had an affair and it seems like your partner keeps bringing it up. It may be because your partner has not gotten to the point where they can accept what happened.
There is a grieving process that has to take place.
This type of behavior is a form of psychological abuse that can have serious psychological and emotional consequences.
Emotional blackmail can be especially damaging in relationships, as it creates an unhealthy power dynamic and perpetuates a cycle of manipulation and control.
If you feel like someone is manipulating you with emotional blackmail tactics, it’s important to recognize the pattern and set boundaries. It’s also important to seek help from a mental health professional if needed.
With the right support and strategies, you can learn how to cope with the effects of emotional blackmail and reclaim your power in relationships.
Ultimately there are some bridges I believe that relationships can’t cross. So you’ll have to determine whether or not the relationship is right for you to continue.
Even If You Have A Fairly Good Relationship, Your Personal Life Choices Shouldn’t Be Weaponized
Beware of emotional abuse. You may not have labeled it that yet, and your partner is possibly selfishly unaware of how they ridicule your past choices, poke fun at the former you or tell you to be a better person.
If someone uses your past against you and then asks you to take them and buy them something, that’s straight-up manipulation. Family members can especially trade on manipulation.
I can tell you with certainty that in my personal experience, a relationship that is based on this kind of behavior will never change.
Sometimes we wake up late to these kinds of issues in a relationship. But it is never too late to make a change and start living the life that you deserve. Don’t entertain the misguided belief that your partner is going to change.
The short answer is: wake up. You have a choice. You matter. If you feel threatened or are stuck feeling shame, acknowledge what the other person says, own your mistakes and then let yourself off the hook.
Guilt festers. Long term, it doesn’t do you or anyone else any good.
How Do You Stop People From Bringing Up Your Past?
You really can’t stop people from bringing up your past. The reason that most people bring up your past is in order to be able to control you or get something out of you or even elicit a specific response.
Essentially if you’re asking how you can keep someone else from bringing up your past, you’re trying to do the same thing.
You’re trying to control what they do. The reality is you cannot control another person’s behavior.
Sure, you can set all kinds of boundaries, and rules, or punish them by withholding love or relationship, or other things but at the end of the day that comes back down to one word which is control.
What Should You Do When Your Boyfriends Use Your Past Against You?
The first thing you have to do is stop feeling guilty. That way you can deal with what is really going on. Your boyfriends feel insecure. The best thing you can do for that is simple reassurance.
If your past makes someone else feel jealous or insecure, they’re going to have to work that out mostly on their own. In my experience, in my own life since I’ve been on both sides of this equation, what I recognize now is that the maturing and healing process takes a very long time.
If the person you’re in a relationship with doesn’t have well-developed coping skills, you can be unnecessarily victimized for a long time. Don’t let them make you feel bad.
What Does It Mean When A Guy Keeps Bringing Up The Past?
I’ve been that guy.
Based on all the research that I’ve done, it’s best to leave someone else’s past where it belongs -in the past.
But the truth is that if someone is working out their own self-worth, how they feel about themselves, or needs personal validation, they can feel threatened and insecure about your past relationships. It all boils down to insecurity.
Although, they’re not likely to admit it.
There’s not a whole lot that you can do to make your boyfriend feel less concerned besides telling him that he is the best of all of your boyfriends. Remind him that you’re the one he’s with.
Never talk about another guy as if he were better than your current boyfriend. Keep in mind that as long as your boyfriend is still working out his own self-worth and how he measures up against the next guy, it can be a long journey for you. Just keep reassuring him.
If he uses it as a weapon or becomes abusive, it’s gonna be time to see a counselor or leave the relationship altogether. There is no way you can become a better person in his eyes since you can’t go back in time.
Here’s a few books that you may find helpful if you find yourself in controlling relationships.
- Controlling People: How to Recognize, Understand, and Deal with People Who Try to Control You
- Controlling People: The Paradoxical Nature of Being Human
- Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse
- From Charm to Harm: The Guide to Spotting, Naming, and Stopping Emotional Abuse in Intimate Relationships