Relationships are sometimes a tricky balancing act. Whether it be intimate relationships, friendships, family relationships, or work/business relationships it seems that there was never one specific guide we were given to making relationships work. Much of the time, we learned from our parents, and or caregivers by following their lead. Then, we learned from our peers, siblings and eventually our partners by trial and error. Many of us were taught to have manners, to treat people politely, to be nice. When we got older we finally probably realized that being nice got us further than being impolite or rude. We learned to be friendly, nice, smile, to be courteous, etc and so on, and then we got our needs met. Our needs for friendship, acceptance, ad even companionship or love. For some of us this came pretty naturally. And then some us even learned, or maybe it came naturally, to take it a step further to show we genuinely care about people by putting their needs in front of ours. Without even realizing it, many of us become caretakers.
A caretaker thus gives up a lot of themself in order to give to others (not to be confused with a caregiver.) Caretaker is also a common term used in terms of discussing an alcoholic or addicts family system. The caretaker is another word for enabler. It is the one who puts the alcoholics needs first, by engaging in any number of behaviors that allow the addicts behaviors to continue. For example, a caretaker may make excuses for the addicts bad behaviors, and are often more concerned with keeping up appearances, taking care of other's needs and doesn't take the time to take a look at their own life and needs.
I call it giving away your power. But, giving away your power does not have to involve an addict or an alcoholic. We can easily give away our power to a number of people. It's easy to give power away to someone who is intimidating, or demanding, IE a bully, someone who is self-absorbed, IE has narcissistic/histrionic quailites, or some who is critical towards us or puts us or others down. In a desire to be liked by this person, to get along and to be harmonious, a caretaker doesn't just stop at nice, but instead takes it a step further to try and "help" this individual, to try to make the situation more pleasant for this other person, or to try to please them or make them happy. Once this other person is sated, the caretaker can then also relax. Does this sound familiar? I call it giving away your power. I would like to say this is more common to women, but I've seen men do it too.
In the new year, I encourage everyone who has been giving their power away to hold onto their power.
How can you tell if you've been giving your power away to someone? Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
1. Do you avoid talking about your dreams and aspirations with this person? If true, you may be giving your power away. You may feel this person doesn't support or approve of your dreams, your aspirations, so you've either shoved them under the rug or you've told yourself that he or she is right, those dreams are not important. In other words you have believed this other person is right. Instead of believing in your own truths, instead of acknowledging what you know to be right, you have instead given away your power.
2. Are you afraid of, or do you avoid speaking your mind, of disagreeing with this person? Maybe you believe this person is right, or doubt your own knowledge. That doubt of your own knowledge, often known as self doubt is also giving away your power.
3. Do you look up to this person, and feel you have something to learn from them, therefor you do not question them? The greatest of teachers recognize that they have nothing on your unique vision and what you have to offer to the world. Everyone has the potential of being a great teacher. If you believe that you do not, then you have given away your power.
4. Do you sometimes make choices which would benefit them only? You go out of your way to do things for this person, spend time, money and effort to make them happy, and then it often does not get reciprocated, goes unappreciated. These will undoubtedly lead to anger, frustration and resentment.
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you definitely understand what it means to give your power away. Now, please note that I am not saying that you need to put up a fight, and fight for your beliefs and values in a confrontational manner.
What I am suggesting is that if you answered "Yes" to any of the above questions, please take a look at the situation you are in and the person that you are involved with? If this person is a bully, or is intimidating, or critical, perhaps you are living in fear, which prevents you from taking care of yourself. We are primates after all, survival is our first priority. If you do not feel safe, then your role as caretaker may be the precautions you are taking to stay safe in an abusive situation. And, by staying in a fearful situation, you are giving away your power. What will it take for you to realize that you deserve more? To recognize that you deserve to be safe?
If the situation is not abusive but still seems unbalanced, what is preventing you from taking the steps to balance the playing field? To get your needs met? You are already one of the nicest people anyone could ever meet, now turn that nice unto yourself. In many cases, it just means doing the bare minimum for people, unless they specifically ask for your help. Why go out of your way when it hasn't been requested of you? In retrospect, your good intentions may come off as over-bearing, and controling also. And here you were, you just thought you were being nice. Being too nice can a double-edged sword. If you do too much for some, and cross boundaries, people may percieve it as manipulative and controlling. Now who is doing who favors?
In the new year, I encourage you to :
Hold on to your power. Follow the path in front of you, and recognize you will be okay if you do only what is needed in the moment. If you come to a fork in the road, follow your heart.
Hold on to your power. Follow your vision. Hold steadfast to your dreams, values, passions, ideals. Believe in and be good to yourself.
Use your power for the greater good. Do what comes naturally to you, speak your mind and hold onto your power.
Hold onto your power. Even the greatest of mentors & teachers have nothing on your unique vision what you have to offer to the world. So do Share. Talk. Speak up.
Moushumi Ghose is a musician, sex and relationship therapist and author. She is available for online and phone consultations.
She is the host of The Sex Talk, a web series about sex education, dating tips and relationship advice.