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Being nice for the wrong reasons

Love others. Be kind to everyone. Help others whenever possible. That’s my life motto, my raison d’être. But lately I’ve had a really disturbing epiphany – what if I’m helping others for the wrong reasons?

I guess I’m one of those people who likes to fix other people’s problems. But the truth is, on some level I want something in exchange for helping others: validation. I don’t really feel like I’m worth anything unless others tell me I am. I don’t know if it’s because that’s how my mom is (and it is), or because I grew up around people that encouraged this “servant” mentality, or because I’m just fundamentally weak in this area, or if I have some deep-seated issues with rejection (I do), but there it is. Unfortunately, my need to be loved and appreciated for my sacrifices causes this unhealthy spiral where I’ll meet someone and they’ll have an obvious need for something (money, time, emotional support). If they take my help, it’s often true that eventually they stop asking me and they stop thanking me. They just expect it. Then I get angry. I’m being taken advantage of! Because I’m not getting what I want out of the exchange anymore – the validation that tells me I’m worth something and people actually care about me.

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But I don’t want to be this person anymore! For one thing, I want to help people for the right reasons, without needing validation from them. For another, I don’t want to have to constantly doubt that my friends are actually my friends. Finally, I want to help people without being their crutches. I want to help them in ways that actually help them succeed on their own, not ways that give them momentary relief and further their own denial and irresponsibility.

I know I can’t be the only person who’s ever experienced this. What do you guys recommend? How do I learn to help people for the right reasons? The hardest part of this is being able to read my own motives in the moment. And how do I stop needing other people’s validation? This is so deep-seated. I’ve worked and worked on learning not to hate myself, but on some level I still think of myself as the nerdy 13 year old in a small town full of people who don’t appreciate intelligence, from a poor family with an eccentric father (and that’s putting it mildly), that kid no one likes and no one takes seriously, and I can’t help but assume that no one really wants to be my friend and they just pity me.

I know, deep down, that most of us probably feel that way and we all cope in different ways. But I'm not satisfied with simply coping anymore. I want to be healthy, truly health, and be kind to others for the right reasons. Because other people matter. Not because I need to hear that I'm awesome.

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