One of the issues with which many people struggle is to recognise when they’re being used. I’m going to define ‘using’ as when a person avails themselves with something or someone as a means to their own ends. They exploit what they perceive as a vulnerability in order to gain an advantage.
There are circumstances in which it is quite obvious that you’re being used. For example, when somebody continually ‘lets’ you/expects you to pay for everything, takes all that you are willing to give and gives nothing in return; especially not even an acknowledgement of the relationship. Even once you feel like you may be being used, you may doubt yourself, especially if you tend to like to ‘see the best in people’ or you’re inclined to absorb blame.
Using often has an element of targeting to it. They recognise that a person can be of use and will exploit what they perceive as ‘vulnerabilities’, such as being too giving or trusting. Or, having the perfect ‘flaw’ that’s not a flaw like a ‘suddenly’ unpalatable age gap, race, religion, child etc.
Client share stories with me about people who come back into their lives after a long time (boomeranging exes) as well as tales of anxiety inducing relationships where they are bankrolling someone who is putting out to the world that he is a single guy. It’s easy to get caught up in whether one can truly expect to try to buy someone’s love and not get their fingers burnt when what they really want is to be loved unconditionally but there’s something very important being missed here:
Of all the people in all the world, why did they choose you with whom to act out this behaviour?
For example, your work colleague goes through a breakup and then starts flirting with you and then propositions you, you might feel flattered, especially if you’re not feeling that confident about your dating prospects. You might think Ah, what the hell and dive right in there for some fun and maybe it is fun for a while until you’re not able to keep your feelings in check. You tell him/her that your feelings have changed and they say… “I really like you but I just don’t think a relationship with our age gap would work” and it becomes clear that this is actually a strong value that they’ve always possessed, not something ‘inspired’ by you.
Now granted, it started out casual andwe can overestimate our capacity for these involvements, telling ourselves “I can handle it!” because we delay dealing with reality and considering longer-term consequences for instant gratification and the fantasy. If one person no longer wants casual though, it’s no longer casual; it’s no longer a mutually fulfilling agreement and it’s very possible, it might never have been. While the age gap reasoning is a little shady considering that it’s not like the age difference is new information, we can be generous and say that at least this person knows their values.
It’s the exact same thing when you get these fly-by-night’s getting back in touch to take you on a trip down nostalgia lane, often approaching you on Facebook or with a text or joke email. Why, when they decided to flip through their mental Roladex of people who might be receptive to being approached and some flattery, did they think of you?
Here’s the issue though: If you’re in this situation, ask yourself why you were chosen and I assure you, it’s nothing to do with your ‘worth’ and everything to do with how the situation could work for the other party and yes, it’s very possible that they thought that you’d be ‘flattered’ that they chose you.
Most users, when accused of being users, won’t hold their hands up to it simply because it’s not how they want to be perceived or what what they want to think about. They see their actions in a more benevolent light as if to say that they’re doing you some big favour and giving you a dose of their magical charm that for some reason they think you should be thrilled to get. They rationalise that you’re getting something out of it, even if what it is isn’t much, not what you wanted, isn’t on mutual terms and has been ‘given’ in a manner that allows them to ‘profit’ from you. You might begin to feel increasingly drained. They overvalue what they think that they’re ‘giving’ you, but it’s not ‘giving’; it’s a hidden agenda. It’s also very patronising.
You’re being taken for a ride, possibly literally, and admitting that to ourselves can be painful. And this why so many people claiming that the reason why they feel used isn’t because they’re actually being used , but rather because something else happened isn’t anything to do with that person’s character or habit. It is more to do with the fact that they’re shy, introverted, stressed, The Busiest Person In The World, they don’t understand the depth of their feelings, they’re scared by their feelings, they used up all of their decency being nice to everyone else, they’re trying to find themselves, they just need to get a j.o.b., the market is bad, their mother/father/sibling is wearing down their last nerve, their car broke down, they couldn’t find a phone within a fifty mile radius, they didn’t have clean drawers…and so on and so forth.
I get it. It hurts to recognise and acknowledge that you’ve been used. You may have taken him/her at face value, trusted, given (even if it was misguided) and they put in hot air and as little as possible to get what they wanted.
Users are distinguishable from those people who maybe did start out with ‘good intentions’ and have screwed up, recognised it and sought to make amends or at the very least stopped. Users are distinguishable by the fact that they’ll veer between seeking to get their needs, wishes and expectations met aggressively (by force), possibly with a smile on their face telling you how you’ll both benefit, or passive aggressively, through obstruction and basically saying one thing and doing another. They will not care about the impact on you because they will continue using until they’ve got what they want or you cut off their supply.
If you feel like you’re being used, then chances are it likely that you are being used. Friendship or a relationship feels and looks like friendship or a relationship. Using looks and feels like using. If you haven’t twigged that you’re being used but you’re subsisting on a crumb diet while they feast on the fringe benefits and then some, yeah, you’re being used.
If they’ve aligned themselves around you at a time when it suited their greater purpose of having a place to stay / money / a job / a reference or just seizing on a vulnerability that has you giving to a greater degree than you would under ordinary circumstances, you’ve been used. This is especially apparent if now that you no longer serve a purpose or have figured out what is going on, they’ve suddenly disappeared or try to flip the script.
Once you suspect or know that you’re being taken for a ride, it is time to stop, look, listen and adjust your boundaries. As the old adage goes, there comes a time when you have to stop crossing oceans for people who wouldn’t even jump a puddle for you.