“I want to be a good friend and a good person to people. How can I do that without them taking advantage of me?” ~ Victoria
Hey Victoria, thanks for your question.
Well, the short answer is that you can’t.
Let me rephrase. I don’t mean that you can’t have people not take advantage of you. What I mean is that if you want to be a good friend and a good person to people, the first thought on your mind shouldn’t be, “How can I prevent them from taking advantage of me?“
See, because when you connect with people with that mentality, the only thing you are going to attract will exactly be that—situations where you get taken advantage of. You will be sending out such fear-based vibes that people who genuinely don’t have a desire to take advantage of you will be repelled by that (consciously or subconsciously), whereas people who do want to take advantage of you will see you as a ready target for them to do so. As I often say on the site, people of the same consciousness tend to flock together.
The thought then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Also, your thoughts form the basis for your reality. By thinking “I don’t want to see a pink elephant”, the only thing that will appear in your mind will be a pink elephant. Even if the people who connect with you have no intention to take advantage of you whatsoever, you will interpret their actions as such, and either cut them off in your life or keep them at a distance because you are afraid they would hurt you. Nobody can get through to you this way, and you continue to be barricaded in your own world.
As a very wise friend of mine told me before, you can’t make a (real, meaningful) connection without first being vulnerable. I have learned this in the area of love. My heart has been sliced and diced before (a few times in fact), but still I do not hold myself back in pursuit of making real connections. In Are You Treating Dating as a “Game”?, I mentioned that “I rather put myself out there, let my heart get sliced, diced and handed to me on a platter, than to be evasive (with others), out of fear of getting hurt”. I hold the same stance today.
The prize (having a real connection with someone, connecting with people I love, etc.) is just too important for me to approach relationships with such fear, because that fear will only prevent me from realizing my intention. That will be the same for you too.
That said, it doesn’t mean you should let yourself get hurt without reservation or self-regard. Some things you can do:
- Be people-discerning. Shady people tend to be evasive, not upfront about their intentions, and inconsistent in their actions and words (i.e. what they do and say are completely different). You get better at sizing people up the more you socialize. Read: Ask Celes – How Can I Be More Street Smart?
- Do give people the benefit of the doubt though. Always assume the best of others until proven otherwise.
- Remove people who have abused your kindness before. Once bitten, twice shy, third time… well, you don’t want there to be a third time. If someone has taken advantage of your goodwill before, 86 them.
- Give what you are ready to give. Be there for others and give them what you can, as your natural self. This way, it doesn’t matter if they supposedly “take advantage of you” — whatever you have given would be something you were ready and okay to give, and hence not incurred as “loss”, so to speak. Simply take it as a gift of kindness to someone who needed it more than you. (People who take advantage of others do so because they are in a place of lack and neediness.)
- Surround yourself with good people. As you uncover gems (good friends) in your life’s journey, keep them close to you. Treasure them and love them as you would yourself. Even if you do get hurt by others along the way, your good friends will be there to catch you when you fall. You’ll never be alone in your problems.
- Forgive, don’t forget. This may sound vengeful but it really isn’t. By “don’t forget”, I’m simply asking you to be mindful of the past and make conscious choices on relationships and people based on past and present experiences. If someone has hurt you before and wants to be let back in your life, make sure the original problem areas were worked on or are being worked on before reconnecting; otherwise the problem will simply repeat itself.
There’s no need to bear grudges (and you shouldn’t); just don’t blindly disregard your past.
On forgiveness, read: #KindnessChallenge Day 12: Forgive Someone
Last words… to wonder if people will take advantage of you or not is a highly fear-based thought—one that is rooted in the separation mindset. (I’ve covered separation and oneness mindsets in my social anxiety article, so do check that out.)
You don’t want to start connections by seeing people as separate, foreign, and antagonistic towards you. That is never a good basis to form connections. You want to start connections by assuming the best of others, having a trusting view, and believing they have your best interests at heart. Because most people do indeed have positive intentions, just that often times people (read: we) get misunderstood and our actions become linked with ulterior motives.
If you do get hurt, then big fat hairy deal. Cut your losses and move on. Learn from the experience and apply the lessons, while giving people (who have hurt you before) the benefit of the doubt. Life is too short to live in fear or to bear grudges. The sooner you let go, the faster you can meet awesome people who will thrive in your goodness just as you will in theirs.
Good luck Victoria. I can tell that you have a good heart with good intentions, and I’m sure you will touch many, many lives in your life’s journey.
Related articles you should check out:
- How To Have More Best Friends in Life: The Heartfelt Guide (Focus on giving vs. expecting to receive)
- Are You Treating Dating as a “Game”?
- The Secret To Meaningful, Fulfilling Social Relationships (How To Remove Social Anxiety From Your Life)
- 14-Day Kindness Challenge (held in Nov 2012)