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Incomplete Obligation Fallacy

Updated May 18, 2023

Understanding the Incomplete Obligation Fallacy: Debunking Common Misconceptions

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where someone tries to guilt-trip you into doing something by claiming it's your obligation, even though it's clearly not? This manipulative tactic is known as the "incomplete obligation fallacy." In this blog post, we will delve into the concept of the incomplete obligation fallacy, discuss its prevalence in everyday life, and explore ways to recognize and counteract this deceptive maneuver.

What is the Incomplete Obligation Fallacy?

The incomplete obligation fallacy occurs when someone manipulates another person into feeling obligated to fulfill a certain task or request, even though no actual obligation exists. It is a form of emotional manipulation that relies on exploiting a person's sense of duty, guilt, or social norms. This fallacy often involves the deliberate omission of critical information or the exaggeration of responsibilities to sway someone's decision-making process.

Common Examples of the Incomplete Obligation Fallacy

1. Family Expectations

One prevalent example of the incomplete obligation fallacy can be found within families. Parents might guilt-trip their children into pursuing certain career paths or making life choices based on familial expectations. These parents might omit the fact that their children have the right to choose their own paths, leading them to believe they are obligated to fulfill their parents' desires.

2. Peer Pressure

Another common occurrence of the incomplete obligation fallacy is seen in peer pressure situations. Friends or acquaintances may attempt to manipulate others into participating in activities or behaviors they are uncomfortable with by making them feel obligated to do so. They may exaggerate the importance of fitting in or threaten social exclusion, making it seem like fulfilling their desires is a moral obligation.

3. Emotional Blackmail

Emotional blackmail is a classic example of the incomplete obligation fallacy. In relationships, one partner may use guilt, fear, or coercion to make the other partner feel obligated to meet their demands. They may emphasize the sacrifices they have made or exaggerate the consequences of not complying, which can lead the victim to believe they are morally bound to fulfill these requests.

Recognizing and Countering the Incomplete Obligation Fallacy

1. Analyze the Situation

When faced with a request or demand that seems like an obligation, take a step back and objectively analyze the situation. Consider whether the request is reasonable, whether you genuinely have an obligation, and what the consequences of fulfilling or not fulfilling the request might be. This critical thinking will help you discern whether you are being subjected to the incomplete obligation fallacy.

2. Assert Your Autonomy

Remember that you have the right to make decisions for yourself. Be confident in your ability to set boundaries and say "no" when necessary. Recognize that you are not obligated to fulfill every request made of you, especially if it compromises your well-being or values.

3. Communicate Openly

If you suspect someone is employing the incomplete obligation fallacy, engage in open communication. Express your concerns and explain why you feel uncomfortable or unable to fulfill the request. Honest and direct communication can help dispel any misunderstandings and prevent further manipulation.

4. Seek Support

If you find yourself consistently falling victim to the incomplete obligation fallacy, consider seeking support from trusted friends, family, or professionals. They can provide valuable advice, perspective, and emotional guidance to help you navigate these manipulative situations.


The incomplete obligation fallacy is a deceptive tactic used to manipulate others into fulfilling requests or tasks that they are not obligated to do. Recognizing this fallacy and understanding how it operates is crucial in maintaining personal boundaries, asserting autonomy, and protecting one's well-being. By analyzing situations, asserting autonomy, communicating openly, and seeking support when needed, we can effectively counteract the incomplete obligation fallacy and avoid being manipulated into actions that are not in our best interest. Remember, you have the power to decide what is truly obligatory and what is not.

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