Have you ever felt like you’re being taken advantage of? That is, has it ever seemed like people simply expect much more of your time, energy, or material resources than you are capable of giving, often without expecting anything in return? Have you found yourself repeatedly giving in to these expectations and not knowing how to stop?
If you wish to break the cycle of being taken advantage of, physically, mentally, and emotionally, you must start listening to your own needs, communicating them to others, and standing your own ground. If you are a person who simply gives, gives, gives, until you have no resources left for yourself, it is crucial that you work on your boundaries and learn how to say “no”.
A couple of years ago I constantly felt like I was about to collapse. I was exhausted; physically, mentally, and emotionally. I was feeling like an unpaid full-time therapist: my friends – and even acquaintances I didn’t consider friends – would unload all their emotional baggage on me or expect me to help them in various tasks without even expressing gratitude.
Of course, that is not to say that I expect a payback for my love and care. I have always believed in caring about people unconditionally. I am a volunteer, I give to my community, I love teaching and comforting those I love. However, there was a time when I found myself giving to others unconditionally without keeping anything for myself; there was nothing left for me . I would pay my therapist to help me with the incredible weight of being there for everyone but myself 24/7. Saying no felt impossible. I thought if I did it would make me a horrible person.
I was an Empath with terrible boundaries, and I needed to start taking care of myself.
Is Being Kind a Weakness?
Being kind is a wonderful attribute that I wholeheartedly believe in. If everyone strove to be a bit kinder, this world would become a heavenly place to live in.
However, there is a difference between being kind and being a pushover. You can be kind to people and compassionate when it comes to their struggles, without becoming a martyr who takes upon their entire load as if it was your own. You can be kind to others and help, or listen when you feel like it, while at the same time showing kindness to yourself: that means knowing when and how to say no.
The process of giving all your attention to the emotional needs of others without having your own emotional needs met is called emotional labor. Relationships in which you are expected to practice emotional labor usually aren’t equal, two-way relationships. In a healthy relationship all parties thrive and prosper, all parties give and take.
If you find yourself giving emotional labor instead of heartfelt, appreciated emotional support in a way that helps the relationship between you and another person feel good for both of you, you need to step up your boundaries game. You need to learn how to say “no”, “not now”, “I’m not available”, or “I care for you but unfortunately I’m not the ideal person to help you with this”.
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If you find yourself constantly giving emotional labor and always feeling like you must help them fix this, chances are you are an Empath.
An Empath is someone with strong awareness of the emotions people around them feel. It’s not just understanding what other people are going through: it’s feeling those emotions, a trait that can be extremely useful in relationships but can also become draining.
Spiritually speaking, empathy can even be considered to be a paranormal power by some, which helps them perceive others’ emotional states, and is often connected to mediumship and other psychic abilities.
Empathy, an ability to effortlessly tune in to others’ emotions, is more awakened in some people than in others. It’s hard to say whether Empaths are born or created, as our emotional and psychological characteristics are the result of extremely complex processes in our biology and our environment, which always intermingle.
Some people’s upbringing and past experiences make them sensitive to the feelings of others, caring, or even driven by “fixer’s syndrome”, that is, the determination to always fix every problematic situation even when it is out of their division.
Women are especially socialized to understand other people’s emotions and cater to them, even if that means giving emotional labor. That doesn’t mean that women are born biologically predetermined to do so, just that society brings them up with those expectations.
Empathy is largely something that can be practiced. Religion and other moral theories have taught us that we must give unconditionally to others, and we learn to do so through repetition and the formation of core beliefs. While that is a noble cause which I believe we should follow, no one teaches us how to keep ourselves in the process.
According to the American Empath Association, some famous Empaths who have left their mark in history are Mahatma Gandhi, Jane Goodall, Jesus, Teresa Caputo, and Mother Teresa. Some modern celebrity Empaths are considered to be Larry King, Oprah Winfrey, Ed Sheeran, and Nicole Kidman.
Empaths are sensitive people who really care about the feelings and struggles of others. They willingly give their energy, time, mental, and material resources to support others.
Empaths get taken advantage of because the energy they emit pulls other people close to their giving nature, and they often lack the boundaries and assertiveness to keep these dynamics healthy.
Being able to feel other people’s emotional states can become really draining if you don’t know when to draw the line, so Empaths usually expect others to respect their boundaries. However, many people, either consciously or unconsciously, won’t remember to care for your energy. It’s your job to assert those boundaries and protect yourself.
How To Stop Being Taken Advantage Of By Loved Ones
It’s very easy for Empaths to forget all about boundaries when the relationship is important to them. Being taken advantage of by family or friends is very usual: think of it. You love those people more than anyone. You never want any of your relatives or besties to suffer.
At the same time though it is important to remember that there are some things that you just can’t fix for people unless they decide to work on their own selves and take action for their lives. Even if you were a trained therapist or coach and you were being paid by your clients, you still wouldn’t be able to magically solve all their problems without their own decision to work on them.
That is the concept of equanimity, that is, seeing people as subjects responsible for themselves. That doesn’t mean you never help anyone in need. It simply means that you become conscious of those situations where you can’t take responsibility for the way someone else feels and behaves.
How To Stop Being Taken Advantage Of At Work
Have you ever found yourself staying later than everyone else at the office, left with tons of work while others are thanking you for your understanding to cover up for them and go out for cocktails? Have you ever ended up completing the whole group project on your own because Sally had to go to the PTA meeting and John had a date?
While Sally and John’s reasons to rely on you to ease their workload are perfectly valid, and it’s totally ok to help a man out every now and then, it is vital that this doesn’t become your routine. Sure, cover up for them once, as will Sally for you when you have a dentist appointment, but if you notice they’re calling you Maggie the People Pleaser when they’re gossiping by the photocopier, there’s probably a pattern there. This is not how teams work, and you’re not the only one being paid to finish these tasks.
It is important to stand up for yourself in the workplace if you don’t want your every waking morning to become a nightmare. You can’t work among people who disrespect you or take you for granted. That doesn’t mean that you should call everyone a bitch or pee in their coffee, but you have the right to limit the tasks you commit to in a way that’s fair to everyone, and demand from your coworkers to treat you just as fairly.
How Do I Place Boundaries?
First of all, it is very important to practice self-care. Self-care isn’t just shopping sprees and bubble baths. It means listening to your needs and prioritizing them. Make sure you hydrate, eat healthily, take enough rest, and exercise as the base of self-care. On the next level, assess the way you’re feeling at every given moment. Do you feel energized enough and well taken care of to hang out with a friend who is facing some problems and needs guidance? If yes, great! If no, understand that you have the right, to be honest with them and stay at home to recharge.
Communication is also very important. Don’t be afraid of saying how you really feel. If the other person really cares for you as you care for them, they will understand. Saying no and putting yourself first every now then doesn’t make you a bad person.
Moreover, when we place boundaries, we need to remember to be assertive. Not all people will be willing to respect those boundaries, especially if they have a history of taking advantage of our energy and time at work, or if they are close loved-ones who expect us to always be there for them. It’s important to not fear to assert our needs and demanding space and time for ourselves.
Last but not least, realize that you’re not put on this Earth to fix every single problem you notice. While these feelings are very admirable, their execution is always impossible and will leave you exhausted. At the end of the day, if you try to help every single person who shows up at your door, you will have no energy to support yourself and those who really matter to you.