I’ve been told “you need to be the bigger person” so often in the course of my life that it became one of the tenets of my philosophy – so much so, that I would give of myself while others took, plugging into me for warmth, self-satisfaction, sapping me of all of my own reserves and, with it, self respect. In the past few years, I’ve slowly begun to realize that this is how I was trapped into a cage of enabling. Forcing someone to “always be the bigger person” translates into “it doesn’t matter how people treat you; you are obligated to make sure they are okay.” It was more important for me to have compassion for why these people behaved in such a way than recognizing that they had no compassion for me in return.
Not anymore. No empathy? No sympathy.
I’m not saying that I’m never going to “be the bigger person” in life. I will always give people a chance or two because, let’s face it, we all screw up. I need chances sometimes, too, and that’s okay. I am speaking of those outlier situations – where there is no reciprocity in a relationship, where your sole existence is to be a peg on which someone can rest, where your very individuality is stripped in the eyes of someone who is altogether egocentric. It’s not okay for anyone to disregard my feelings. It’s not okay for someone to consider me “less than.” It’s not okay for someone to not be an equal participant in any relationship.
I refuse to be a ghost.
I’m reading a book right now (if you want the name of the book, send me a message). There were a few excerpts that really struck a chord with me.
“I’ve realized I’m not a character in someone else’s novel – I can step off the page. I no longer want to be in that book.”
Realizing that I am not obligated to a relationship with anyone has been powerful for me. I don’t have to participate in someone else’s distorted world-view. If I’m being written as a minor role, or worse – a villain, I can erase myself from the narrative. I know my self-worth – that I’m a person worthy of mutual respect. If I’m not receiving the same care from someone that I extend to them, that relationship no longer exists.
“it isn’t selfish to set limits on people who keep on taking. Your job is to take care of yourself, regardless of what others think you should be doing for them.”
Selfish. A word that has been applied to my character by these types of people when I expressed my own needs, a collar that I have worn, while other people have held the leash. “You’re being selfish.” Words that have cut through my soul like knives. I only want to be a good person – kind, selfless. In the past, I’ve been so caught up with being a good person who does the textbook right thing that I’ve allowed that word to enslave me. The idea that others thought I was selfish plagued my conscience and kept me in cycles of abusive behaviors.
Let’s take a look at that word:
(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.
Regardless of what anyone thinks, I never lack consideration for others. I am hyper-aware and attuned to other people’s needs. I’m not chiefly concerned with my own profit or pleasure either. I enjoy nurturing others (just ask my students – because let’s be real, that sure is not a pleasurable or profitable career that I have chosen to embark upon). When I step outside of other people’s reality and opinions and consider this concept through my own, individual lens, I see clearly it does not apply to me in the slightest. In fact, I would have to say that if someone doesn’t value my feelings, it “lacks consideration” and causes them to be “concerned chiefly with [their] own personal profit or pleasure.” It isn’t selfish for me to set limits; it’s selfish for people to write my limits off as selfish.
“Once [a person] decide[s] to break off contact. . . stress levels decrease markedly. No longer exposed to hurtful interactions . . . [you can] feel happier than. . . ever. [You may] worry that [you are] a bad person for not seeing [those people], but [you can’t] deny how much better [you feel] and how much more self-esteem [you will have].”
Stress does horrible things to a body. If all someone is doing is bringing stress into your life, it can be liberating to break the invisible chains that bind you. Truly reciprocal relationships don’t cause stress – they relieve it. When I’m with my husband, my heart-rate slows down – I relax. He is safe. He sees me for who I am and loves me for me. He respects, listens, and upholds me, and I him. It is a mutual, reciprocal respect and love that warms me and him alike. Now that I know such a relationship exists, I will not set myself on fire to keep others warm. If my heart-rate rises around you, my body is telling me that you are not good for me, and I will listen to my own conscience, not what someone claims a good person does.
“In order to take care of yourself, you need to feel compassion for yourself. . . Only if you have self-compassion will you know when to set limits or stop giving excessively.”
Only when one understands they are worthy of respect from others can they begin to respect themselves. This has not been an overnight realization, nor does it only apply to one facet of my life. There have been a few situations over the past five years where I took a step back and realized I was allowing myself to become a doormat. However, it is only now that I have reached the pinnacle of self-realization.
I love myself. I trust myself. I believe I’m a good person. I am worthy of respect. I choose who feeds my soul. I write my own story. I’m not a background character in someone else’s novel. I’m the protagonist of my own. I’m not selfish. I have self-compassion.
I. am. free.