Do you ever feel like people are using your kindness? Like you are always there when they need you, but they all suddenly get busy when you’re the one in need? Or maybe the only time you ever hear from them is when they ask for some kind of favor?
It must be difficult dealing with this. You want to stay a good and kind person, but on the other hand, you feel like you never receive the gratitude you deserve.
Unfortunately, changing others is not only difficult, but also an impossible task. What you can do instead is change your thought patterns and behavior. You can find the power within you to give yourself that respect you seek, stand your ground and send a message that while you do want to be there for people, you won’t let anyone use you.
Here are some tips on what you can try to achieve this.
1. Recognize the red flags
Sometimes you may feel you’re being used, but you’re not 100% sure. And you don’t want to accuse the person and possibly embarrass yourself. You may think “well, maybe I am just overreacting”.
While it is not impossible to be overreacting, some patterns of behavior that people show when they’re using someone are as clear as day. Some of these patterns include:
- They never say “thank you” like they mean it. Just saying “thanks” and moving on may fulfill the basic courtesy requirements, but it is far from showing actual gratitude. Not to mention how some of these people may not even bother to say the words.
- They only call when everyone else is busy. When the top people on their list get unavailable, maybe they decide you’re not so bad to kill the time.
- They manipulate you so you can’t say “no”. You just haaaave to help them, because if you don’t, they won’t have anyone else to turn to, and they just cannot possibly do it themselves, because it’s soooo hard and you are just so good with that thing! Sounds familiar?
- They never offer to help you. And if you ask, they would really like to help you, but it’s just that they have somewhere important to be right now.
- They never pay for things. Whenever you go out, they don’t even offer to pay for drinks/meal/etc., not even for the cheapest things.
Recognizing these signs can possibly help you recognize when someone is using you, and when you know what’s going on, it gets easier to put a stop to it.
2. Don’t excuse their behavior
Maybe the person you feel is using you is someone close, like a family member or a friend. Naturally, you don’t want to think badly of them, and admitting to yourself that they may be using you can be difficult. You may feel like you’re betraying them in a way, or that it would hurt their feelings to know what you actually think. Or maybe you simply find it easier to deny what you suspect, so you can keep that image of them as warm and caring people that you’re lucky to have. Also, you probably fear you might lose them if you say something.
So you make excuses for their behavior. “They didn’t really mean that”, “they are actually a good person, they just have a lot on their plate right now”, “I’m sure they appreciate me”. By doing this, you’re making them a favor by enabling their behavior even more. They will see how easy it is to act that way towards you without any consequences. They won’t feel any guilt because they will think you’re not bothered as much.
And on the other hand, by excusing them, you are making it harder for yourself. You get stuck in that feeling like something’s not right, but having to protect the guilty one instead of yourself.
No matter how hard it feels, standing up for yourself and accepting that they might not have the best intentions is what’s going to make you ultimately end that cycle for good.
3. Don’t fall for fake apologies and empty promises
But, maybe once you did admit that someone was probably using you, and you tried to hold them responsible. If so, what happened next? Were they taken aback? Did they deny it? Or maybe they apologized and promised they’d never do it again? Hopefully it was the latter. But did they really mean it, or did they simply continue to make the same things again, like that conversation never happened?
Users tend to be great at apologizing and making promises they never keep. They say they’re sorry and they promise to get better. Then they use you again. Then they say they’re really sorry, and this time they will really get better. And it happens over and over.
That’s why learning to spot fake apologies and empty promises could stop that from happening in the first place. There are several signs of a fake apology:
- Statements containing “buts” or “ifs”. “I’m sorry but…” invalidates the apology. “I’m sorry if…” may indicate the person doesn’t even believe they actually hurt you.
- Passive voice. “I’m sorry for that mistake” – they don’t say “the mistake I did”, because they don’t want to take responsibility.
- Rambling. When they make a whole speech with explanations and justifications, they are trying to find excuses and make it seem they’re not actually in the wrong.
- Using the word “you”. For e.g., “I’m sorry you feel that way.” What they mean by that is, they did nothing wrong, and you simply made it a big deal.
Similarly, if those “apologies” are never followed by action, even if they said they’d change, you’re dealing with an empty promise. It’s like you become a fortune-teller, you already know the things they say will never happen.
By not trusting those words, you are getting closer to not letting them use you again.
4. Set boundaries
Once you’ve spotted red flags and fake apologies and stopped excusing people who use you, it’s time to set up some boundaries, so you don’t find yourself in this situation again. When your boundaries are too loose, you might find it hard to say “no” to people, you seek to please others and fear their rejection. And this is exactly what those people that use others feed off of – it’s like they can smell the lack of limits a person has.
So creating a healthy personal space that others can’t cross becomes important to keep those people away. But how do you set healthy boundaries to take care of yourself?
First, define what your desired boundary is.
For example, when you are being used, maybe you do favors for others when you have a lack of free time, and it makes you neglect your own responsibilities. So, a defined boundary would be: “I will not be doing favors to others if I feel I don’t have enough time for all my work.”
Second, communicate your boundaries to the other person.
When they ask you to do something for them, say: “I would really like to help you, but I don’t have the time right now. I have some really important stuff I need to take care of.”
Also, don’t over explain it. You may say that you have work to do, but you don’t need to share every detail so they see how much work it actually is. By over explaining it, it could sound like you are making excuses, or like you might be afraid of their reaction. By communicating your needs and limitations, you should of course be polite, but firm and confident.
Finally, let them know why your boundary is important to you and what the consequences of crossing your boundaries might be. For example, you could say: “It’s important I do that to get a good grade on my course”.
For this to work, you should also be consistent and not make exceptions. It is easy to fall back into old habits, so stay persistent!
5. Respect yourself first, and others will follow
How would you describe your self-esteem? Do you believe you deserve the same treatment as anyone else, or do you sometimes doubt your worth?
Oftentimes, when people tend to use you a lot, your self respect is not on the highest levels. But, to be able to successfully stand up for your rights and receive respect from others, you need to learn to respect yourself first. I know it may sound like silly advice that’s been dragged all over self-help articles, but that’s because it’s true. You are the first and most important person who has to respect the soul that lives inside your body.
Of course, the best way to gain some self respect is through therapy. There are lots of different therapy approaches for this problem, one of the most popular being cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT challenges your negative thinking patterns (for e.g. I don’t deserve to be respected), questions them (what is the cause of that thought?), shapes them into positive thinking (if everyone else deserves respect, why wouldn’t I deserve it too?) and helps you integrate it into everyday life, especially during stressful situations when you need it the most.
Unfortunately, therapy is sometimes not an option for everyone. Maybe you don’t have the means to afford it, or you can’t find the time. In that case, you can try finding some of the resources online. There are lots of interesting and helpful videos, articles and worksheets that could help you gain some self confidence, if you commit to it.
For starters, here is some quick overview of what you could look into:
- Observing what your negative thoughts are, when they appear and how often
- Challenging those thoughts – try to think of what could be a positive alternative
- Practise the techniques you learn
- Forgive yourself – some days are better than others, but you are still fighting and that’s what’s important
- Don’t be afraid to seek help if you feel like it’s getting too much to handle
Give yourself time, care and love – and one day it will all come to its place.
Hopefully you learned some useful things from tips and are willing to try them out. Taking care of yourself and standing up to others (especially if you’re close) is never an easy task, but I promise you, it is so worth it. It is a special kind of a beautiful feeling.
Your kind heart doesn’t deserve to be taken advantage of, and you have the power to save it.
Take care, and thank you for reading!
Written by: Stela Košić
If you wish to find out more about topics on being used or taken advantage of, feel free to check out some of the videos from Psych2Go’s YouTube channel:
- 8 Signs Someone Is Using You
- 6 Ways to Get People to Respect You (Avoid Being Taken Advantage Of)
- 6 Signs Your Partner Is Using You
- 5 Strategies to Increase Low Self-Esteem. (2021, May 17). CBT Psychology. https://cbtpsychology.com/5-strategies-increase-low-self-esteem/
- Butler, C. (2021, September 17). 15 Reasons Why People Make Excuses for (and Enable) Their Loved Ones. Power of Positivity: Positive Thinking & Attitude. https://www.powerofpositivity.com/make-excuses-reasons-enable-loved-ones/
- Chesak, J. (2018, December 10). The No BS Guide to Protecting Your Emotional Space. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/set-boundaries#how-to-define-your-boundaries
- How to Recognize a Fake Apology. (2021, February 1). Bright Side. https://brightside.me/inspiration-psychology/how-to-recognize-a-fake-apology-800610/
- Howes, M., Ph. D. (2020, October 23). How to Recognize – and Respond to – a Fake Apology. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/make-it-right/202010/how-recognize-and-respond-fake-apology
- Pattemore, C. (2021, June 3). 10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/lib/10-way-to-build-and-preserve-better-boundaries#types
- Psychology Tools. (n.d.). Self-Esteem Worksheets & Exercises. https://www.psychologytools.com/professional/problems/self-esteem-self-criticism/
- Selva, J. B. (2021, September 13). How to Set Healthy Boundaries: 10 Examples + PDF Worksheets. PositivePsychology.Com. https://positivepsychology.com/great-self-care-setting-healthy-boundaries/
- Smyth, B. (2019, October 15). How To Apologize: “I’m sorry you feel that way” Is Not an Apology. SkillPath. https://skillpath.com/blog/how-to-apologize
- Uniacke, J. (2021, October 22). 22 Clear Signs Someone Is Using You: How To Tell For Sure. A Conscious Rethink. https://www.aconsciousrethink.com/12715/signs-you-are-being-used/