We all seem to know one . . . that certain person who invariably leaves us feeling drained, used, maybe even slightly abused. We may know quite a few of them, actually. They take whatever it is we have to give, then somehow always seem to want more. We come away from our encounters with them feeling like what transpired was way out of balance, and always in their favor. We’ve been had again . . . by a taker.
Takers come in all forms. They can be business colleagues, clients, friends, family, or any number of various people in our lives. The closer and more meaningful our relationships are with them, however, the more troubling their behavior is apt to be for us.
So how do you know if someone is a taker? For starters, think vampires . . . but ones who feed on time, emotions, or finances. Takers are time vampires because they’re demanding of our time, often selfishly so, but routinely disrespect our own schedules, canceling plans with us at the last minute, sometimes even saying they knew we wouldn’t mind them doing so. Takers are emotion vampires, subtly to aggressively interfering in our relationships with others so we’ll make more time for them, or refusing to reciprocate help we’ve given them due to some drama in their lives, or any number of their seemingly limitless supply of bullshit excuses. And takers are finance vampires, getting us to pay for things for them but then never reciprocating, or borrowing money from us that they never repay.
Occasionally, takers may show a hint of giving. They sometimes make us a priority over others in a way that pleasantly surprises us. But such acts of apparent giving might be motivated by their intent to ask for a much bigger favor in return. Takers may give us unsolicited advice that seems, on the surface, to be well-meaning and in our best interest. Usually, though, what they’re encouraging is a course of action that’s in their best interest, not ours. Two things we can usually count on with takers, however, are that they’re unlikely to do anything for purely selfless reasons, and highly likely to do most things for purely selfish reasons. Despite their occasional flashes of generosity, it seems we eventually return to grudgingly saying, “It’s okay” in response to a litany of half-assed excuses for bad behavior, when we’re actually still angry, resentful, disappointed, or downright hurt by their antics.
A taker’s behavior can be particularly insidious in a romantic relationship. Initially, the patterns of taking may be subtler, and therefore a challenge to identify. Takers in romantic relationships are willing—and often ask—for us to do things for them, e.g., running errands, doing special favors, giving them physical affection and pleasure, etc. But when the time comes to return the kindness—a normal expectation in a balanced and equitable relationship—they’re unable or unwilling to give back what they get. Sexually, they are perfectly willing to let themselves receive all kinds of pleasure, but when it comes time to reciprocate, they can’t or won’t invest the same time and effort in making sure that we’re satisfied.
Why, then, are some people takers? It usually comes down to one thing: ego. Some takers are egotistically narcissistic, genuinely believing they’re superior to others, and therefore a more “valuable” person overall than those around them. Others are egotistically clueless, just not thinking about others very much, and seeing to it that their own needs being met first is priority one. Still others are egotistically insecure, and use their taker behavior to feel better about themselves, that they matter, are important, worthwhile. Sometimes, being able to understand what may motivate people to be takers can help us choose the best way to manage them.
I once found myself in a relationship with a taker who I later figured out was the egotistically insecure type. After I had complained a few too many times about my physical affection rarely being reciprocated, my paramour actually said to me, “I’m not used to having to give so much. I’m more of a taker.” Cue my rapid exit from that brewing disaster!
But why do we keep finding these type people in our lives? One reason is that we’re probably among the few, if not the only people in their lives, who don’t say no to them . . . OF COURSE they’ll gravitate to us! Takers will be more than happy to keep us around, because we may be among the only people in their lives who will put up with their ceaseless bullshit! But above all, we’re most likely to find our lives populated with takers because of that most endearing of human frailties: the need to be liked. If we give too much and don’t set proper boundaries, don’t refuse to be taken advantage of, and don’t just say “no” . . . because we equate these behaviors with being disagreeable or unlikable . . . then we’re likely to find ourselves easy targets for the takers of the world.
So how do we stop ourselves from being too giving?! First, it’s important to start with an understanding of what codependency means. While there are many complex definitions of codependency in existence, I’ve always adhered to one that’s rather simple: codependency occurs when we say “yes” to doing something we really don’t want to do, and then get pissed off about having agreed to do it. Also, saying “yes” to doing something that we then quickly resent having to do is another definition in the same vein. Then, we must examine why we’re engaging in codependent behavior with others, and whether this is a pattern in our lives that shows up in many different situations and with many different people. For some, codependency is a behavioral expression of being a fix-it person or a “white knight,” which entials mildly-amusing-to-obnoxiously-oppressive behavior patterns commonly seen among men. The fix-its/white knighters may well resent the things they’re doing while they’re doing them, but they gain tremendous satisfaction from helping others, and doing so gives them a powerfully positive feeling. It also may serve the purpose of diminishing anxiety they feel when loved ones and friends have unresolved problems. But for others, codependency is borne from a much more basic need, that of the desire to be liked. If you have a strong and pervasive need to be liked by others, and this is what motivates you to be too giving, then I think it’s fair to say being too giving is misguided and overrated, especially if the takers in your life start distancing themselves from you when you begin to say “no.”
This, then, brings us to the next phase of not being too giving, that of the importance of using your voice and speaking your truth to set appropriate boundaries. This is where you begin to say “no” if it’s something you just don’t want to do, because you’ll no doubt end up resenting the other person—and quite possibly hating yourself—if you agree to it. If you had a bad experience the last time the taker asked you to do the same thing/something similar, remind her that the last time you agreed to do something similar, it didn’t turn out very well for you, and that you don’t want to do it again. If the taker says, “Then why did you say yes?” then you’ve got a great comeback: “Last time, I didn’t think I had a choice. Now I know I do.” Sometimes, the taker’s behavior directly affects you less than it affects someone else with whom you’re connected. In that instance, you might say something like, “It’s not fair to (so-and-so) when I end up being late for her because you keep asking me to do things for you.” With specific regard to speaking your truth, unless you REALLY mean it, why not stop saying things like, “It’s okay,” “Don’t worry about it,” or “Everything’s fine,” when you’re being given a half-assed apology for the taker’s latest shitty behavior? Instead, just say, “Thank you for apologizing.” Don’t let the taker think what they did was tolerable or acceptable if it wasn’t. Remember, the taker isn’t the only person who has feelings here! If they persist in asking you if you’re angry—most likely because they sense you’re not letting them off the hook as easily as you’ve always done before—it’s not unreasonable to say something like, “Yes, I was. What you did was rude/thoughtless/selfish. But thank you for apologizing. That helps a lot.”
Finally, integrity is vitally important in the process of learning not to be too giving. Like codependency, integrity is subject to a number of complex definitions. But I also adhere to a rather simple definition of integrity: you do what you say you’re going to do. Once you begin to speak out about your desire not to be too giving, and begin to take the actions necessary to change this, you must hold yourself accountable and in integrity with what you said you wanted to do differently. At the same time, you also should hold the taker accountable for fessing up to his bad behavior—assuming he’s still a part of your life at this point—and for his promises to be better. Try to hold him to his integrity, and at the same time, don’t let your own newfound integrity give an inch!