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Ask Dave

Getting the Guilt Trip

Elena says her parents lost their home. Elena has a $150,000 inheritance, and her parents asked for money from her. She's getting a guilt trip and isn't sure how to respond.

QUESTION: Elena in Los Angeles says her parents lost their home of 27 years and are having financial problems. Elena has a $150,000 inheritance from her grandparents, and her parents asked for money from her. She’s getting a guilt trip and isn’t sure how to respond. Dave has some hard words for Elena.

ANSWER: Your father is a manipulator. We are not going to set up that opportunity to continue. I want you to read the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud. Your father violates boundaries pretty regularly. It makes you confused as to what your role is. You are a very bright and educated person, and yet this one part of your life makes you feel like you’re six years old. That book will dramatically help you. It helps you realize you’re not crazy.

Your brain knows what to do but your emotions have trouble doing it. You can do some short-term things to help them turn the corner and get them back on their feet. In return, they are going to change some lifelong behaviors that are destructive to them. You won’t have any more private meetings with your father at his insistence; your husband will always be present. Your mother should probably also attend because your dad’s schemes and scams are all on the side.

We really want to help them. We really love them. Participating in their wackiness is not helping. That’s all it comes down to. You have to smile. Instead of this being “dad,” you look at this as a person with a deficit of some kind. You just smile and nod your head and say how sweet that is and you figuratively pat him on the head.

Then you say how you will help. You take that position because that way, you are doing this from a nobility status, not a neediness or toxic family script status. You are not doing anything long term. It’s short term. You buy the seed and they get to plant it. Then they must hoe it and harvest it. But you are not buying the seed and buying the tractor and hiring the guy to drive the tractor.

You are not getting involved in giving them $200 a month or $800 a month or $8,000 a month for the rest of their lives just because they had you. That’s not how this works. That ongoing sense of entitlement has to be snapped in the conversation.

You love your family and you want to help them turn the corner on something. But when you subsidize them permanently, you take away their dignity, like a government program. You permanently change someone’s dignity, their status and their ability to stand on their own two feet and do things. You don’t want to do that with anybody you love or care about. Instead we want to buy them boots and teach them to wear them.