Scrolling down the Internet these days I’ve seen a question on a page saying If you could go back to your past and unmeet someone, who would it be? and it really got me thinking. If I could unmeet people from my life, those would be a friend and two of the men I’ve loved so far. Three different persons, but with a really important shared trait: they’re all takers.
My friend was a simple girl, wanting to have a successful life and turn into a better woman. And I tried to give her some help with it, as she asked me to. I started to share with her books, film recommendations, to try and have debates on topics that mattered to her, to help her gain clarity. And, still, she kept on doing the same mistakes and complaining about the same things year after year.
Everything till one day, when I got to understand that it was never about me not being a good enough friend to her, but about her unspoken need to be constantly in the spotlight. She wanted attention, wanted to make everything about her, and she discovered that the easiest way of getting it without having to give something in return is to be the victim of the story. But only the fact that she wasn’t willing to admit, once I got tired enough to try and fail to be helpful, that she wanted to vent and have my attention, not help, made me leave the friendship behind.
Talking about the men, there are much shorter stories to be told. One was a nice guy, you know the type, who wouldn’t take a no for an answer, no matter how often it was told. Because, obviously, he was such a nice guy that managed to always make feel guilty about saying no. The other one seemed to be the perfect man, but loving him proved to be one of the most toxic experiences I’ve got so far.
What’s the common point? They wanted to have it all. Attention, resources, affection, everything I got, and was good. But when it came to giving back? Less is more seemed to be the golden rule. They were not able to fully understand that not everything has to be around them. That one could have joys, sorrows, worries, anxieties…that has nothing to do with them. Nope, those were quickly dismissed, as the main subject was put on hold. And the main subject was also something about them.
It hurt at first, admitting to myself that I cared so much about people who’ve got such a bad influence on me. It still leaves a bitter smile on my face, but I still have a reason to smile: because of them, I’ve gained a better understanding of this kind of person.
I know it is not something they’re fully aware of. It is a painful subject to be addressed, the source of this type of behavior. I also know it is not about me, either. I did what I was able to do, with the knowledge I had at those points in my life. Truth is it wasn’t more than a sad encounter in any of the cases.
And this is how it usually happens: the giver meets the taker. It is the toxic half of the duo that one’s looking for without even knowing. And, as draining and as painful as it could be for the giver, they will meet until they learn their lesson. About how to establish and respect boundaries. There’s nothing more important when it comes to human interactions than this one aspect.
I know the narrative where saying no is making you a selfish, evil person, but it’s wrong. It is wrong and harmful. A taker wants to fill up an inner void, but they never think about how constantly taking without putting something else in place affects the giver. That they are recreating the same void they try so hard to avoid but in someone else’s life.
They don’t think about it and will make a whole tragedy if you tell them. Because, in this story, there has to be only one receiver, and it has to be them, always them. They are, always, the helpless ones, the ones that require to be taken care of. It doesn’t matter how they do it. It can be by never listening to you when you’ve got something to tell them that means a lot to you, but doesn’t affect them. It can show up like never really feeling happy for your accomplishments. It can be an attempt to convince you that your feelings are not valid. It can take a lot of forms, much more than you could possibly imagine, but in the end, it is about the same thing: about being out of the spotlight.
I remember reading some of Eric Berne’s books, and seeing something that stuck with me to this day: for children, receiving negative attention is preferable instead of being ignored. At first, I looked at the sentence a bit surprised, then read again. Now I am just as surprised as I was when I first met the idea, but because it amazes me how many adults act just the same. The father of transactional analysis was jus saying that children associate being ignored with being abandoned, which could, in older times, bring them in dangerous situations. Therefore, they did what they could to receive attention from the grown-ups. Whatever paying attention to them meant to the adults. It could’ve been as reproaches, blame, didn’t matter that much as long as it was attention, it was about them. For some people, doing something bad and being punished was, sadly, the only form of parental attention they’ve ever received, because why bother when everything works well?
This means that the people that received more attention when they misbehaved, even if it was negative, taking the shape of slurs or quarrels, become grown-ups acting the same due to their wounds. They prefer to start an argument with you, rather than not talking at all. Why? Because that’s how they were taught it works. And any lesson about emotions that we’ve learned as children will be painfully difficult to be unlearned as adults.
But, and this is a huge one. It is not your job to heal them, it’s theirs. You can only support them and be there for them. Of course, they will not do it, because it is painful, uncomfortable, and a losing move for them. If they heal, they will have to reciprocate, to give in return exactly what they pretend to receive. And that means a whole other journey of learning how to open up and give. To actually give to other people meaningful parts of who you are.
Your job, however, is to take good care of yourself. To understand that being picky with who you’re giving access to your resources won’t make you a bad person. Will only help you preserve those resources and your sanity for people that deserve having access to them, to people that will give you other things in return. Your job is to look in the mirror, see what you’re truly being made of, and not letting anyone else suck the spirit out of you, no matter how helpless they seem to be.
Because being selfish, being self-absorbed, is not the same as being a person that is going through dark times. There is a difference, and that difference, the moment when you can accurately spot it, is the game-changing point. And the sooner you’ll find it, the better your life will be. Vampires will always be around, ready to take every good thing you could give, while they’re ready to put your dark side in the spotlight and demonize you, but they don’t fear sunlight anymore. They fear boundaries, so state yours clearly, and make sure everyone, including yourself, is respecting them. What you have to offer is good, important, and necessary to many, so choose those that really deserve it.