Those of us who struggle with perfectionism and are prone to excessive feelings of guilt and shame often labour under the misapprehension that everyone else is more important than we are. It’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve begun to find a better balance between my needs and others’, a balance that allows me to be who I am and not always subordinate my own needs, while also maintaining relationships and being the good friend and relation I would like to be. After much soul-searching and analysis, here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt.
Giving too much damages relationships. Whether or not they are consciously aware of it, people know when a relationship is out of balance. Of course things won’t be perfectly equal all the time; there is going to be an ebb and flow as we are all carried by life’s tides, but a healthy relationship is balanced overall. If you are consistently giving more than the other person is, this will get more and more uncomfortable for both of you. I’ve made this mistake so many times, hoping that if I just gave a bit more I could bounce the other person into appreciating me. It doesn’t work like that. I felt more and more resentful – and so did the other person. Put yourself in that person’s position for a minute. In front of you stands someone who is clearly needy, doing more and more for you in the hope of getting something back, something you are increasingly reluctant to give as you feel more and more cajoled and manipulated. Hmmm… it suddenly doesn’t seem such a good idea, does it?
Another consideration here is that your doing too much for someone is denying him or her the opportunity to grow. We all need to explore, test ourselves, try things out – and even fail sometimes. If you’re standing in the way of someone’s doing this, you are not doing that person any favours at all. Back off!
People may not even notice your sacrifices. The way you think, the decisions you make, what you give, what you need, all these things are inside you and, despite what you may, at some level, believe, they are invisible to everyone else. You may think it’s clear for all to see how overwhelmingly you long for X, but it really isn’t. All they see, if they think about it at all, is that, for whatever reason, you’re not pursuing it. What good does this do anybody? You are the centre of your own world, as everyone else is of theirs, and you alone are responsible for shaping your own life. Sacrificing your dreams for somebody else, particularly without even consulting him or her, is putting a huge and completely uncalled-for and unfair burden on that person. It’s actually an irresponsible thing to do. It also runs a very high risk of chucking your dreams away for nothing.
If you think people love you only for what you do for them, stop doing it. Should anyone confirm your suspicions and withdraw love because you’re no longer ‘earning’ it, doesn’t this suggest you would be better off sweeping them out of your life? But I would bet heavily that the majority of people will surprise you by going on loving you just as much. In fact, they will probably have positive feelings around it, including respect for you finally rebalancing things and giving yourself equal priority.
In the end, if you’re drained and resentful and you have a (not always well) hidden agenda to your giving, you may in truth not be giving as much as you think you are. If you continue with this, everyone loses.
Instead, remember that you are important. Deep down, you know this, which is why you get resentful when others don’t acknowledge it. Once you can come to terms with the fact (yes, the objective fact) that you are just as important as everyone else – no more, no less, but equally – you can start to be honest with yourself and everyone else about getting your needs met. If you behave as if you are less important than those around you, you’re giving a false impression and asking for trouble. Either people will take it at face value and exploit you or they will understand that it is, at some level, a strategy and they’ll feel manipulated.
The Biblical commandment to love thy neighbour as thyself sums this up in a nutshell. We are all equal. Of course we need to love others and to be good neighbours, but we also need to love and cherish ourselves.