When we feel shortchanged, marginalised, underappreciated and taken advantage of in our relationships, there is this sense that this is not how we ‘should’ be feeling given ‘everything we’ve done’. It’s like, I’ve been meeting [the other party’s] needs, so I shouldn’t be feeling like this. After everything I’ve been/done for them, and this is how they treat me? 

It’s unlikely, though, that we’ve clearly articulated our needs or advocated for them through the creation of boundaries. If we had, the line between giving and sacrificing ourselves would have been evident at a far earlier point. There wouldn’t be such an imbalance simply because when we’re being more of who we really are, which includes meeting our needs, it creates healthy boundaries.

Us humans tend to guess at other people’s needs and give based on our perception of what we have to give and what we hope to get back. How do we do this? By playing roles that drop hints about our needs while effectively casting other people in roles.

Of course, if we cast ourselves in a giving role, we cast others in taking roles.

Although we believe we’re giving based on who someone is and what they actually need, it’s driven by our habits. ‘Guessing’, assuming and going into people-pleasing mode seems less risky than vulnerability. So we put on the mask of playing a role instead of showing up and being honest about our needs. Part of us fears having direct and intimate conversations that bring us out of autopilot and our patterns.

But while we avoid vulnerability and intimacy by playing roles, we’re also inadvertently, and sometimes consciously, sabotaging ourselves.

It’s undoubtedly frustrating and painful when people don’t appreciate our efforts and invest in a relationship to the same degree. It is. But if we are mindful and honest about our giving and value, not just ourselves but mutual relationships, we won’t have to be in these situations by default. And we’ll know when to step back and give ourselves what we need.

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