Recently, I’ve noticed that there is an increasing number of articles circulating the internet about narcissism and how to avoid being hurt by narcissists in our lives. Narcissistic individuals are individuals who seem to have no ability to empathize with others or to put themselves in other people’s shoes.
Because of this, these individuals are often experienced by others as “takers”: cold, inconsiderate, or even downright hurtful, often trampling other people in order to get what they want or need.
Interestingly, there seems to be a shortage of articles on individuals who fall on the other side of the giving-taking spectrum. Just as there are many narcissistic individuals, there are just as many individuals who attempt to get their needs met by giving to others. These individuals may stretch themselves too thin, give too much, have trouble setting boundaries, and fail to assert themselves in healthy ways in relationships, as a way to get their emotional needs met.
Over time, all of this can lead to exhaustion, emotional distress, and even depression.
Instead of labeling each other, I wonder if it might be helpful to acknowledge that we all fall somewhere along the spectrum of giving and taking, and sometimes we can shift around depending on what is going on in our lives and who we are in a relationship with. Identifying where you fall on the spectrum might help you to be more self-aware and give you greater insight into your behaviors and how you attempt to get your needs met.
If we want to have healthy relationships with others, one goal might be to help each other move more towards the middle of the spectrum, each working towards greater ability to communicate effectively what it is that we need, as well as what exactly we are willing and happy to give.
Steps to Identify Where You Are And To Challenge Yourself to Grow
1. Where Do You Fall?
Consider where on the spectrum you tend to fall:
Do you find that you tend to take what you need, perhaps at the expense of others, and fall far to the right on the spectrum?
Are you more likely to feel guilty about needing anything at all, and therefore invest a lot of energy into giving to others and meeting their needs in order to feel connected, falling way to the left on the spectrum?
2. Being Intentional
Once you know which side of the spectrum you fall on, practice being intentional about moving towards the middle of the spectrum.
If you find it really hard to ask for something that you need, experiment with being vulnerable with the safe people in your life and sharing what you need from them. Try to identify exactly what you desire for the relationship and try putting it on the table.
Likewise, at the core of narcissistic appearances, is often an inability or difficulty with expressing need and vulnerability. If you identify more with this side of the spectrum, consider what it would look like to get in touch with the vulnerable parts of yourself and to label what you are feeling and need. Next, be willing to ask those in your life for what you need and respect their answer, even if it is a no.
3. Have Compassion
Remember that we can all grow, despite our tendency to fall to one side or the other. Recognizing and acknowledging this can level the playing field with those in our lives and help us to have compassion for each other as we attempt to improve our quality of life and the quality of our relationships.