“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
One of the traps of codependency and people pleasing is the idea that if you just do a bit more, people will eventually see how they have mistreated you and change their ways. In reality you are only digging your hole deeper.
This is not special to codependency and people pleasing. It is a version of what psychologists call the “sunk cost fallacy.” Understanding it clearly will help you step out of your loop and into your power.
When gamblers lose money, they should stop. In fact they usually gamble more and start chasing losses – to win ‘their’ money back. (Forgetting it is not their money any more.)
When cult members are promised a miracle on a certain day and it does not happen, you would think it would weaken their commitment. In fact, they tend to convince themselves it was because they did not try hard enough and if they just try harder, they will get the miracle next time.
Ringing any bells?
It is easy to see when other people’s thinking is going off track. But when you persevere in sacrificing yourself in relationships in the hope that one day it will all work out, you are doing the same thing.
When you have invested a lot in being a certain way in a relationship, there is a part of you that wants you to carry on digging the same hole deeper because it does not want to feel the pain of facing up to past mistakes. But blocking out that regret, only leads to more mistakes and you end up doing the equivalent of throwing good money (effort) after bad. If you are in a negative loop, you have to change.
That does not necessarily mean ending the relationship, but it does mean changing it.
Part of you will try to resist this for a while so to help you keep loosening that faulty thinking, here are four ways persevering with “over-helping” makes things worse not better.
1 – You Get Less and Less Appreciation
Have you ever noticed that when you help someone out, it is barely acknowledged but when another friend lifts the merest finger, they get showered with appreciation? It is natural human psychology. We get used things.
The same as if you stare at a spot for a while. Your brain begins to filter it out and after a while you can’t see it any more.
We prize what is rare. Here in England people get excited about sunny days! In California, it is taken for granted. The other person got showered with appreciation because their help was out of the ordinary for them.
2 – You Give Unwanted Gifts
There are times when you have been helping people when they didn’t want you to.
You remember when your grandma or someone else gave you a Christmas present you didn’t really want? Being kind, you probably smiled and said thank you because you knew she meant well.
What if she had started giving you more and more gifts you didn’t want? Chances are you would start toning down your gratitude hoping on one level that she would get the hint and stop.
That is what other people have been doing to you, but you haven’t always taken the hint. If you look back, you will remember times when you have done the opposite – when the appreciation became less, you started to give more.
Think of the game where two people lean out and keep each other in balance. You want your relationships to become like this. When you notice less appreciation, you need to get things back into balance by giving less, not more.
3 – It Trains Others Into Becoming Dependent
Danny Is good at ‘computer stuff’ – fixing network problems, setting up and mending websites and so on. There isn’t much he can’t fix. So when his friends had a problem they would always ask him to fix it for them. And being a helpful soul, he did.
That was all very nice (apart from Danny’s quiet resentment). But because Danny’s friends were handing their computer problems to him, they were no longer even trying things they could manage and were losing their own skills.
If you always cook dinner, your partner will become less good at cooking.
If you always organise things for others, they will become less good at organising.
If you always remind people what to do, they will become less good at remembering things for themselves.
It’s like if you met a friend at the gym and generously offer to lift their weights for them. Both parties feel better in the short term, but in the long term things your friend loses the chance to get fit.
4 – It Rewards Bad Behaviour
People pleasers often think that if you help out just one more time then that will be the end of it. But of course that is not true. Every time you do another favour, it reinforces the expectation for next time. Expecting other people to stop is like giving a dog a biscuit every time it begs and expecting it to eventually stop.
If you want a dog to stop begging for biscuits, you have to stop giving it any.
The next time you notice someone expecting you to help them out, imagine looking at this dog and not giving him a biscuit, however much he begs and however much part of you really wants to.
It will start training new habits.
Look back at the areas of your life where your attempts to help have been making things worse – for you and for others.
Where you have been
- getting less and less appreciation
- giving unwanted gifts
- making others more dependent
- rewarding bad behaviour
You are going to start letting go of trying to make your relationships with others work according to your specific plan. It doesn’t necessarily mean ending any relationships but it does mean changing how you behave within them.
As you change, some relationships – the ones based on exploiting your good nature – will cease to work. Others will work much much better than they ever did before.