Unlisted: Helpers & Advantage

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I have an intense fear of taking advantage of someone. I’ve had it happen to me enough that I always vow, on a near-daily basis, not to do that to others. I worry when a friend offers to help that I will go overboard and use them up, therefore, ruining our friendship.

It’s one of the main reasons why I don’t ask for help. I don’t trust my judgment not to cross the line and take advantage.

This logic is problematic because if I am so aware of not wanting to take advantage, chances are I won’t. I will probably ask for less, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but I probably won’t ask too much. But I wanted to address the concept of taking advantage, particularly with a chronic illness.

I am a member of several online MS groups, where I mostly read posts by other people. I cannot know the true nature of each person’s posts. Still, it’s shocking the number of complaints by people upset over being called out on their taking advantage. Sometimes, out of curiosity, I will stalk their profile to see if this is a one-time complaint. So often, it is not. The online persona created is one who complains, uses, abuses, and then doesn’t understand why they are alone. There is a chance it is a troll. Still, there is also a chance this is a legitimate person utterly unaware of their role in pushing others away. 

I want to address these moments in today’s post so that we might examine if we are toxic in how we interact with others. Is there a chance you might be taking advantage of others? Hopefully, you are self-aware enough to know the answer to this question. I also hope you don’t deal with the same fear I do, and your response is an honest one.

I know there is a low chance I will change minds today, but I do want to raise questions to help in the self-reflection process.

The Over-Helper

It’s easy to slip into taking advantage of a friend if that friend is an over-helper. You know the person: always willing to help, no favor too big, and still does it with a smile. I admire people who help with no hidden motive, mostly because I appreciate the level of trust they place in you. They trust you not to take advantage of them. So it’s vital to recognize an over-helper and be mindful of what they do for us.

I have a friend who loves to help. Shuffling their weekend plans to host a life-event without expecting anything in return sort of help. I’ve been on the receiving end of their thoughtfulness several times, and each time I make sure to show my gratitude for what they’ve done. I recognized how quick they were to help out without question that I realized I needed to be careful what I asked for from them.

While I can ask anything of them, I must observe my requests. It would be easy to take advantage of them and tip the balance of our friendship. If you have a friend who is a potential over-helper, be mindful of your own requests so as to not abuse their trust in you.

When Too Much is Too Much

How do you know when you’ve asked too much of a friend?

Take a moment and observe what is said and not said. In the past, that friend might help with boundless energy, whereas today, they are reticent to commit to a “yes.” If their life circumstances, on the surface, have not changed (i.e. life event, baby, etc.), then there’s a chance you’ve over-asked for help in your friendship.

People, especially women, don’t like to be confrontational. Your friend may not want to confront you with their feelings out of fear of hurting you, or how it makes them feel. So it falls to you to interpret what is happening.

You have two choices: ask the person directly, without putting them on the defensive; or make subtle changes to how you navigate your friendship. Being direct is always preferable, but you may also like to avoid confrontation. Therefore, consider pulling back your requests for help, and if you can, offer to help them in turn.

While they may not notice your shift in the relationship dynamic at first, it is a great way to recognize all they’ve done for you in the past. It should also help you re-examine how you’ve navigated other relationships in your life and try to bring those into balance as well.

It’s not a perfect solution, as the friend may never open up to helping you again. Still, it will help provide you with a valuable perspective.

Appreciation for your Helper

If you are ever concerned about taking advantage of a friend, the first thing you do is show your gratitude for them. Expressions of gratitude can be a “thank you,” or buying them a coffee next chance you get. Relationships should not be a series of tally marks based on what each person does for each other, but there should be a level of equal reciprocity.

You want your friend to feel appreciated for who they are, and not just for what they do for you. Include your moments of gratitude via random texts, or gifts with them in mind. Recognize them when they do something nice for another person, and tell them that you admire them for all that they do.

It takes no time at all to do this, and you will be doing yourself a world of good when you engage in gratitude.

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