My friends think I'm a pushover

I make my own decisions, but they think I'm a tool

Cary Tennis
September 20, 2011 4:20AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I used to be a very lonely kid. I guess that's how I got to be easily manipulable, but at the time I didn't know that was what I was. I just thought, I want to be friends with this person so I'm going to do what they want me to and then I won't be so lonely. I did things I regretted because of it, but I've forgiven myself. I can't judge that lonely kid too harshly, I guess.


Over time I became much more self-sufficient, meaning not that I became less lonely while remaining in the same social circumstances, but that I found ways to fulfill my needs. I made mistakes over time but I got better and better at it. I learned that I need to live in this certain environment, and I need these types of friendships, and I need sex this often, and I need this kind of job. And I set up my life so I'm pretty happy.

Now I consider myself easygoing more than manipulable. Like, if I live with people and I end up footing more of the bills than they do it really doesn't bother me too much. This is particularly important to me because I see other people constantly struggling, constantly weighing to make sure that other people are repaying them in kind. For example, "I put in this money, so you put in that money." "I say this, so you say that." But they're never satisfied: it seems like they just struggle until they simply cannot take being so used a second longer, and then they find someone new to struggle with. My ideal is to just put in what I want to put in, take care of myself over time so that I'm not contributing anything I'll resent, and just work on my own goals.

But I have some leftover baggage of worrying that people feel like they're using me because I'm desperate. I'm not desperate, I just know what I need. I don't deny that I need social interaction, I just don't want to have this feeling that people think that they and everyone else are pulling one over on me. Also, I have a few friends, and they all seem to think that all my other friends are just using me.


Don't we all use each other, whether it's for money or companionship or sex or a feeling of belonging or whatever? But the fact that my friends want me to feel like a huge tool that no one uses for companionship but only for things like money ... that bothers me.

I don't know, what do you think? How can I balance my desire to get my own needs met with my fear that people think I'm a tool? Or how can I just stop caring whether people think I'm a tool? Maybe it just has to be enough that my cats use me but still don't think I'm a tool: They just cuddle me and let me know they want to be fed.



Happily Used

Dear Happily Used,

I enjoyed your description of how you became aware of your own needs and figured out how to balance them and provide for yourself. Good work.

I want to suggest a practical tip or two, and then I also want to push a little deeper.


My guess is that you, like most people, want to be seen for who you are. You want people to treat you in accordance with how you see yourself. But people project onto you their own fears. Your friends have fears and insecurities about paying their fair share, and they are projecting these fears onto you.

This can make you feel confused and angry and weirdly ashamed, as if you had done something wrong. But you didn't do anything wrong. What happened was that other people treated you like you're someone else, either a part of themselves or perhaps like someone in their past.

You will see this behavior throughout your life. And it may be that certain people, who act independently, invite more of this. Strangely enough, if you seem unbothered by things, others can assume you're being taken advantage of, that you're simple. Isn't that interesting? People mistake the calm, serene person for one who is weak or confused, while the one who blusters about looks like he's in charge but may be fatally deluded.


When people are projecting, they have a strong wish not to admit it. So I don't recommend calling them on it. Instead, I suggest you use the same quiet, private problem-solving way you have used before.

Ask yourself how important this is to you, and how much time and energy you're willing to expend on it. And then make some kind of accommodation. I think you can do this. You have shown an ability to do this.

Here are some concrete questions you might use to work through this: How much does it matter to you what these other people think? How much effort are you willing to put into trying to change their behavior? Is changing their behavior what you want? Or is their behavior making you feel a certain way, and you'd like to just not feel that way? Would it help you feel better if you had an explanation for why they're doing what they're doing?


Think about where you fit in in the larger sense, what money symbolizes, and where you would like to go, and trust your instincts, which are the voice of your unconscious.

When I write this column, I like to imagine that each letter-writer is on a precipice or at a turning point, and that this is a chance at a deepening of perspective that may lead to lifelong benefit. So I look for central causes or issues that may be below the surface. In your case, I thought about it for a while, and the word "individuation" came to me, and as I searched on it, I found this lecture about individuation, which I thought you might find useful.

You are on a lifelong quest. This may well become a definitive chapter of lasting symbolic importance. I'm not quite sure what it will mean, but I suggest you remain open to meanings that may appear to you in dreams and in coincidental events. It may mean that money is about to come into your life. It may mean that people are going to look to you for help. It's impossible to know with certainty. So remain open to events as they unfold, and do not be afraid. You're doing fine.

Creative Getaway


Citizens of the Dream

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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