I’m lucky enough in my life to be surrounded by wise and kind people. Just the other night I was talking to my best friend over in Japan about some difficulties I am going through in my personal life and I was stunned by the wisdom in the words she was speaking. I am also thrown by the amazing support and generous praise I get from some of the dedicated readers of this website.
My life is rich with such monumental kindness and that is a blessing.
But it has one problem
I say a problem because being surrounded by loving, kind and helpful people often comes with the price of seeing them, and also being, taken advantage of. People often say that the kindest people are the first to get burned as they are “easy targets” for cruel or greedy people.
Very often this is only true because in life we are not taught how to be a generous person as a habit practiced in ways that don’t compromise ourselves and, while some people can actively try to take advantage of you, most people just don’t know when they have had enough or they lack the empathy to understand your needs and your responsibility to yourself. It is often just an absence of consideration that leads them down that slippery slope and most of the time these acts are pretty harmless, but they can just wear the giver thin and make the grounds of friendship unstable if over-done.
Think about the way you operate with the people you care for. Do you repeatedly go way out of your own way (changing plans, going lengths to accommodate the other, giving as much time as you can, being on call 24/7, giving all your free time to them) for them? I know those seem like pretty normal things to do, but they can develop into more extreme gestures, such as giving of money, excessive gifts, etc.
Always be aware in your relationships of the dynamic you are working by. In the past, I have found myself practically swearing servitude to my friends because I was too eager to please them, trying to impress them or prove something. Do you know how much respect it earnt me? None.
There have also been times where I have given every bit of my free time to hang out with a friend, talk to them for hours and still spend every minute of the free time apart talking to them or feeling like I had to talk to them because they had some high expectations from me or I felt I had to do that in order to be a good person.
So how can to make sure that you are a kind person to those around you whilst ensuring that you are not geting taken advantage of? By being kind on your own terms!
Here are a few points to consider:
Your definition of friendship
What is our definition of friendship? Think about this as clearly as you can. For me, the definition is:
“A person or persons whom I care for, who care for me in equal measure and with whom I share a meaningful, mutually desired relationship.”
All of the phrasing, down to the word, has been carefully considered to make it as clear and accurate of my feeling as possible.
So what distincts requirements are there?
1) “A person or persons whom I care for, who cares for me[…]” Well, both parties have to care for each other – I can’t have a friend I don’t care for or who doesn’t care for me;
2) “[…] in equal measure […]” It has to be balanced. In equal measure means that one person can’t just like the other a little while the other absolutely adores them, that isn’t a fair friendship.
3) “[…] with whom I share a meaningful […] relationship[…] Sharing a meaningful relationship is important because I have had too many friendships that are based on flat meanings, formed on gossip, reliance or just proximity. The best friendships are a bonding of two hearts – as powerful as a romantic relationship and just as meaningful.
4) “[…] mutually desired relationship […]” one of the most important, a mutual agreement – not necessarily spoken – that you both consider each other friends, and for more reason than guilt, being set up as friends by another or any reason other than you work well together.
Remember also that friendship can also apply in your family.
Being clear on your needs and expectations of friendship is important to ensuring you are in relationships that work for you.
Do you behave normally around these people? Or do you act differently? To a degree, everyone does act slightly differently depending on who they are around, but watch to see just how differently you act depending on your company.
Will you jump to help people at any opportunity even though it’s very out of your way or a lot of effort? Listen to them whining and gossiping for hours on end when you aren’t really enjoying it? Do you make them the victim or the “good guy” in every problem they are involved in, even if it doesn’t seem entirely that way? Will you buy them stuff and insist that they don’t pay you back and hope that they will like you even more for it?
Keep a close eye on your behaviour around people to make sure you aren’t making yourself out to be a sap who will bend over backwards all the time. Sure, going above and beyond for your friends when they need you is what good friends do, but you can’t expect to carry the world on your shoulders, solve all their problems and act completely blindly when it comes to your own needs.
Being a good friend to you
Being a good friend to others is great but – just like the old saying “you have to love yourself before others can truly love you” – you have to treat yourself as a close friend first. Be conscious and respectful of your own needs – need for space, for nutrition, for saving, for goals, for work, for family – and don’t let people make you feel bad for caring for yourself.
When I work hard, I am constantly told “Don’t work too much, because you’ll be no use to anyone if you burn yourself out” and that applies to so many areas of life. How can you expect to be a good friend to others when you are neglecting the one person in this world you have direct control and influence over?
You must take care of yourself before you try to take care of others, because if you are not fulfilling the needs in your life, then your efforts to help your friends will not even go as far as they might when you are well cared for, healthy and stable. Don’t burn out trying to keep feeding everyone else’s flames.
Don’t be afraid of loss
Being good to yourself and putting your needs first may not always go down great with others who would rather they were the centre of your universe. Fear not. Keep going on that path and let them decide how they’re going to take this development. It is wrong of anyone to expect you to live and give everything for them, so don’t encourage that kind of behaviour. If they are so offended and annoyed by you being good to yourself that they don’t want to be in your life anymore, then they weren’t doing any good in your life in the first place – let them make that choice, because prioritising your mental and emotional wellfare is not open for negotiation.
Got your back
When you are up and ready to have your friend’s back, do you have the same feeling that they are there for you too? Have they ever jumped in to help you when you’ve been in trouble?
Looking out for people is easy to some but like eating lead for others. Some have to actually consciously make a huge amount of effort to even try and be there for people. There is nothing wrong with that – everyone is different and at least they are trying. But you should know there is a problem when your friend doesn’t even think to consider having your back.
When times are tough, do you find youself caring and helping your friends as much as possible, but finding yourself feeling neglected and unsupported by those same friends when the bad times fall on you? Where are they? Do they suddenly have very important stuff to be doing, like the stuff you dropped in a heartbeat to be there for them?
I have been a friend to many people who have not been there for me to the same level, but who still expected me to be there for them when they needed me. It really does suck to feel like a tool and that is not a feeling or role you have to put up with.
If you spend your time, energy and money on being there for people, looking out for them and coming to their aid when times get tough, you should probably have a good think about your friendship if they aren’t prepared to do the same thing for you.
Your thing is your thing
There are some friends who want you to be around them at every free opportunity. They expect you to go out for food with them, hang out for hours, chat for ages on facebook and generally just give them a ton of attention, but the moment you take time for yourself, your family or work, they would suddenly accuse you of avoiding them, not valuing them or not being a great friend.
Now, I know a TON of people who this happens to and it’s possibly the easiest one to spot because, while the others can be subtler or less common, this issue is visible in many examples around us (like ‘Over-attached girlfriend’ memes online) and it is a show of blatant selfishness, something people are quite good at spotting, generally.
In situations like this, where people are making it hard for you to provide yourself with what you need, I always like to thing of the film The Holiday. Kate Winslet’s character, Iris, is speaking with her older and very wise friend Arthur, played by the late Eli Wallach, about the current issue she is having with a man. To this, Arthur says “In the movies, there are two kinds of female character. You have the leading lady and you have the best friend. You, Iris, you’re a leading lady, but you’re acting like the best friend!” to which Iris realises “Everyone should be the leading lady of their own life” a message that I wish more people realised. If you aren’t the lead in your own life, then who’s life are you living?
In reality, your biggest priority in life should be your happiness and your health – both mental and physical. That means that your work and your family are likely very important and you need to maintain their health and comfort. For most of us, no job equals no food (making that a definite must) and your family, providing you are involved with them, require support, love and a decent amount of your time. A demanding friend may say to you “You don’t HAVE to go to work, you are just choosing to abandon me” or “Why are your family always more important. You will chose them over me?!” but really they have no place judging your priorities like that. It’s your choice where you put your time and energy, of which we all have a limited amount, and there are some things that we MUST do, even if we are physically able not to.
If a friend is trying to pull you away from any of your personal pursuits, your work or your commitment to your family, consider how their attitude of those things reflect on their overall respect for you. Can they care about you or respect you that much if they’re trying to alter your priorities away from things you value?
Always remember that friendship, like a relationship, is a two person game. If someone doesn’t like the game anymore, they have every right to stop playing and move on. You have no obligation to stay friends with someone whom you do not like or have drifted apart from. The choice is always yours. As they say, it takes two to tango.
Make It Count
We always seem to forget that without our health and our lives in good shape, we cannot deliver 100% on the things we aim to do. If you are bending over backwards to help people but damaging your health for it, then that means your efforts aren’t going as far as they would otherwise.
It may seem a bit backwards, but taking care of yourself as a top priority means that you will be in a better shape to deliver on your giving. This means, taking a step back when you need to, having space and time to pursue your own life and emotional goals and a guilt-free dedication to your health.
Don’t be afraid to be there for yourself when you need to be.
I hope really hope this has been helpful to you. If you have any comments or questions, please share them in the comment section below or join us over on Facebook and Twitter! Xx