Ever since I can remember, most of my relationships have been unbalanced. I’ve been the one to do the bulk of the work. It started with my parents. Both came to me with complaints about their marriage or involved me in their fights or for me to help them feel better if they were upset. As I made friends, they often came to me with problems or needs, & expected me to listen or meet those needs often without so much as a thank you or even asking how I am. Yet, if I had a need or problem, I was on my own, unable to count on them for any help.
This was simply a way of life. Until recently.
I’d realized this was a problem several years ago, but had no idea what to do about it or even if I should do anything about it. After all, people need someone to talk to & there isn’t a great deal of empathy in the world. I thought maybe I needed to just suck it up & continue on this path. After all, so many said, “I can’t talk to anyone else about this problem!”, “I feel so much better after talking to you,” “You’re the only person who understands- I don’t know what I’d do without you” or someone close to the person would say, “You need to stay strong for her/him!” Those phrases made me feel obligated.
Then last year I got sick. Coming close to dying changed me. No longer could I listen without having a significant physical reaction. For a short time, certainly, but not for a long time or even frequently. Suddenly I no longer felt a bit tired & drained after listening to someone talk about their problems. Instead, I now feel absolutely exhausted, sometimes for days. I also realized I felt a new resentment when I was expected to listen to someone who couldn’t even ask how I was doing or changes the subject or interrupts if I start to talk. I also became very angry when someone would expect me to listen to them, offer comfort or advice without so much as asking if I was busy before taking up my time. I felt disrespected, taken for granted & much like their personal trash can.
Have you ever felt that way? Like someone’s personal trash can? It’s a very unpleasant way to feel isn’t it?
Those who survive narcissistic abuse are often very compassionate, caring people. We know what it’s like to hurt, & want to help other people not to hurt. We also are people pleasers, because we were raised to please a narcissistic parent. People pleasing becomes a habit. As a result, others tend to take advantage of us. They expect us to help them or listen to them without offering anything in return. We can become their personal therapist.
While it’s great to help people & listen to them if they need to talk, it’s unfair when it’s one sided. Relationships should be balanced. Maybe sometimes you do most of the giving but there also should be times when the other person in the relationship should do most of the giving.
Being the trash can also leads to unnecessary stress in the listener. The talker is the one who gets to dump all of his anxiety, anger or hurt onto the listener, basically freeing the talker from much of those negative emotions & turning the listener into his personal trash can, catching those negative emotions.
This also leads to resentment from the listener. Eventually, the unfairness & stress of the situation will kick in, & the listener will be tired of being the trash can. She’ll be angry & tired, & she has every right to be.
To handle this, I think the best place to start is with God. Talk to Him about how you feel & ask Him what to do. Then, do as He guides you to.
Remember, there is nothing wrong with setting boundaries. You have every right to tell the person who wants you to listen to them that now isn’t a good time, you have a lot on your mind & need some time to yourself, or even simply no. You need to do this for your own mental & physical health. Plus, doing so can be good for the talker as well. He needs to look to God & other people for help. You can’t be his savior! By you being there all of the time, basically you’re in the position that God should be in in his life.