Q: I always seem to meet the same kind of people–ones who take advantage of me and don’t appreciate all that I do for them. What is wrong with me?
A: I am sure that there is nothing “wrong” with you. In childhood we learn ways of relating to people, from our parents. Unfortunately, we often learn ways that are dysfunctional and do not serve us well in adulthood. Some parents do not believe in praising children for fear that they will become conceited, thus, much of the attention that many children get is negative. It is criticism, yelling, reprimands, name calling and sometimes physical punishment. It can all be very humiliating. Frequently, however, these same children will be praised or at least not criticised if they anticipate their parents’ needs and meet them, such as helping mom prepare dinner. In this way they are encouraged to do for others in order to feel loved.
These children grow into adults and still believe that no one could love them unless they do things for them, go out of their way to accommodate them and generally forget their own needs in a relationship. They hope that by doing this, they will be loved, as they tried to be loved in childhood. The problem is, however, that when you do things for others, and they do not love or even appreciate you for what you have done, it is likely that you will feel hurt and maybe angry. You have learnt that in order to be loved you have to do things for others. What is often confusing, however, is that the person you are doing these things for may not want what you are giving, or may be quite willing to take what you offer but is under no obligation to pay you back or to love you in return.
True love is unconditional. When a person loves someone, they may sometimes find the other’s behaviour unacceptable but can usually still love them. Love will not be based on what you can do for someone but rather, on who you are. With good psychotherapy, you can learn to change these self-destructive patterns and develop loving, rewarding relationships.