One for the Weak Side

It happens quite a bit, and we’ve talked about it before, that the weak get weaker and the strong get stronger. There’s a Harry Potter metaphor in there somewhere.

What happens is that a perfectly wonderful individual, one who would give the shirt off his or her back to help a friend, gets a reputation for giving. And some people use people like this, prey upon them to get things done.

My father used to call the guy who drives 90 mph on the expressway a pigeon. He’s the guy that’s going to get the ticket. We get to drive at 75 mph but for the grace of the pigeon. No pigeon in sight, don't speed.

He would see someone who is being used, in general, as a pigeon. But that isn't a nice way of looking at it at all. I just see them as nice people who can't say no.

Nice people do come to therapy because they are exploited by others. When it becomes a pattern, they tire of it, burn out, even get depressed. This is exactly the kind of person that those who practice Brief Family Therapy love to get their hands on. No need to go back to childhood, get to the solution. Personally, I think going back to childhood, going into the reasons, is very, very useful. But let's try Brief Family Therapy right now.

It’s surely a disrespect, a dismissal, and a put-down when a perfectly capable individual asks a good-hearted, less assertive person to do their dirty work. We parents do this all the time, ask our kids to do our bidding, but we're teaching them life skills, obviously, when we ask them to take out the trash.

Consider adult to adult relationships instead. At the beach a good-hearted soul gets up to get drinks for everyone. (S)he will self-sacrifice for the sake of friendship, might go back and forth on the hot sand, if necessary, to serve everyone. This same individual, at some point in life, gets sick of it.

In therapy she'll learn to ask, “Does anyone want to come with me to go get us all some drinks?” There’s usually another volunteer. If there isn't, she gets a drink for herself, tries that out, feeling what it's like to take care of Number One. It doesn't feel that bad, really.

The relationship issue is that the good one, the thoughtful one, gets resentful of the thoughtless, even come close, at some point, to feeling a terrible emotion, hate. The burnt out exploited person is crying more often, suffering panic attacks at the very thought of hate, which means giving up the relationship. Before, by saying Yes, there was an element of control, predictability. Lose that, the predictability, the relationship for better or worse, and abandonment anxiety bubbles over. It is a situation becoming of the Pink song, Please Don't Leave Me.

If the crisis precipitates therapy, some of us would suggest we work on one-liners together, the baby steps of assertiveness. Assertiveness is always the facts, dispassionate.

(1) Really? You can’t do that yourself? Really? Are you kidding?
(2) Why would you ask me? You always ask me, ever notice that?
(3) I'm starting to feel used here, and it isn't feeling good.
(4) You’re a big girl, seriously, get more into the role, you'll like it.

And then there's the situation specific response.

(5) You’re out of your tree if you think I’ll be your alarm clock. Buy one. And no, don't ask me to buy you one.

That sort of thing. Responding dispassionately, saying No, empowers us, strengthens. It's a great skill, and we grow stronger every time we flex the muscle.

We learn that it can be great fun, too, seeing the expressions, the surprises looks.

My suggestion? Practice with a friend.
On the second thought, it might be better to practice in front of the mirror.



Kitty said…
I feel like I walk a fine line with my "helping" people and just trying to take over a situation. I'm practicing more saying no, especially with my adopted son right now. He doesn't ask me to buy him drinks anymore, he's heard "no" enough times he doesn't bother to ask anymore. but he still comes around to hang out so it must not have been that important to him in our relationship. I had to say "no" to stop feeling like he saw me as a wallet and nothing else.
lynette said…
i have always been my whole life a peace-keeper, consensus-builder, the one whose needs get put last because even when i speak up (and i do speak up), i seem to get dismissed.

i have a hard time following through when i get dismissed. i still speak up.

through lots of therapy (and my career), i developed more assertiveness. so i did not only speak up with my husband, but i became more assertive. i had expectations. i wanted him to step up. my expectations were not huge, they were consistent with what i knew he had been capable of in the past. like to help a little with the housework. not curse at me. not yell at me. not scream at and undermine our son.

so what happens? he resents it, becomes angrier and angrier, cheats on me and leaves photos of himself in the act on his phone where i would see them. i drew the line and tossed him out.

so now i am getting divorced. i think it is for the best. but i am finding myself having more difficulty again being assertive. he has become passive to an extreme, and i am the only one working on the divorce (punishment?).

in therapy, the suggestion arose, jointly with the therapist, that i write up a policy for advocating for myself, as if i were one of my kids, or my employer. i think that might work.

it is scary being assertive when it results in a loss. although maybe what i gained is self-respect, and the respect of my kids. and compassion and love for myself. it is not easy.
Michael said…
I do things for others a lot because I don't like conflict or a hard time. It can frequently backfire though because, as was pointed out, I get taken advantage of. There then comes a point where I just get bitter and resentful because my life is now inconvenienced. Next comes the conflict.
I'm slowly learning to not be the one to do everything and when I can stick to that goal life is better.
Smitty said…
I really love the idea of practicing assertiveness in front of the mirror!
Jann said…
I think you make a good point here... Sometimes the used needs to 'fight' back. But, I think the 'pigeon' likes helping people and could, initially, feel hesitant about the assertive response. The pigeon might think this is 'mean' or 'unhelpful.'

But, for some added advice for those pigeons, always keep in mind that those who use others need to learn of their wrongdoing. By being assertive in your responses to these 'users,' you help them to realize that they need to be a little more self-sustaining, hardworking, etc.

So, look at it that way, you are actually helping them, just in a more enlightened way than they had in mind.
Tiffany said…
I'm now going to practice being assertive in front of the mirror. You make a lot of good points and it's something that I'm working on. Especially trying to figure out why I shy away from it. I'm currently doing kind of a "self help" analysis with myself and found that I liked the approach from (he wrote Unchain The Pain) a guide to self therapy. It has really helped me to search within and stop blaming others.
Mary LA said…
Great suggestions. I sometimes ask a direct question: 'Why can't you do that yourself?' or "Why do you need me to do that for you?' because it puts the responsibility back with the person asking a favour once too many times or taking advantage.
Anonymous said…
I love the word no. 2 little letters, yet oh so powerful. It works wonders : ) Yes is nice too, if I mean it.