It’s really easy to lose yourself to the people around you. Maybe you’re the one who stops studying the day before your final exam because your best friend has boy trouble and NEEDS to vent about what an asshole he is. Or the one who’ll trudge it up to the residence hall a mile away because the cute boy in your Psych 101 class said he needs notes for the quiz that’s in two hours. Let’s face it; we’ve all had those moments where we let people treat us like a bathmat when we really don’t deserve it. Though it’s not always conscious, it can still make you feel your worst. I’ve faced this problem to an almost crazy extent, and getting out of that phase took a lot of working on my basics. Here are a few things I learned during my journey, mostly the hard way.
Learn to say NO. Hey, why the hell should you give your last five dollars to bats-her-eyelashes-to-get-everything-she-wants Stacey when you very well know that you need it because you’re starving? This is the first and hardest step into being your own person and stopping yourself from being a people pleaser — turning down requests you find unfair or absurd, or are simply not in a position to fulfill. Sure, nobody minds doing someone a favor (which you really shouldn’t every single time or else I’m sorry to inform you, but no one is ever going to help you when you need it), but if the favor is “Hey can you please do my math homework while I go out and get plastered with my friends on a Sunday night kthxbye”, then we have a problem. Just telling the person that you do not want to do the math homework can feel very liberating, and sometimes it needs to be done. For your own sake. Because no one needs more math homework than there already is. But what if they get upset?
Hold your own once you’ve learnt to follow step 1. Once you say that no, always expect a “why not?” in retort. If (or rather, when) this situation comes up, don’t be scared! Just make sure you’re turning them down for the right reasons, and not “because you like Justin Bieber and I don’t do favors to pussies, dude.” If you have things on your plate that you need to do first, tell them! Or if you know that the request is outright bull, just say so…nicely. As scary as doing this might sound, remember that you come first. Not your boozy roommate’s math homework.
Be an equal. The harsh reality is that very few relationships are truly equal. There is always a balance that is tipped a little more to one side than the other. But in healthy relationships, this balance moves equally between the two people. If your balance is tipped at 45 degrees with your best friend, maybe it’s time to start evaluating how good she really is for you. Being someone’s friend is not the same as being their bitch. The aim of a friendship or even a relationship is to enjoy things at an equal footing, not to run behind them like a butler and to allow them to choose what you do every time you meet because you can’t muster up the courage to tell them you want to check out that new Thai restaurant.
Communicate. Communicating is the key to train yourself to stand up for yourself and not get walked all over. It’s the hardest part of this whole process, but also possibly the most important. If you feel it’ll help you to hear it from someone else’s mouth, speak to a friend about it and ask them to give you reasons why it’s okay to say no sometimes. Simply hearing your own thoughts from another person you trust can sometimes help give you that surety and confidence in yourself that you need. If you need to, stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye and say, “I come first. It is okay not to want to do what my friends want all the time.” Slathering Post-It notes all over you wall works too.
Learn that it is not necessary for everyone to like you. Most of the time, what one person wants is quite different from what another wants. So, if you try to do what everyone wants and ignore how that makes you feel, you will drive yourself crazy. But many people, despite realizing this, run from end to end of the earth trying to please everyone for the simple reason that others’ opinions matter to them too much. Their sense of self-worth stems from others’ judgment of them. If someone says “Oh, she’s so selfish,” or “Man, that girl needs to be less of a bitch,” they will spend a ludicrous amount of time thinking of how selfish they are and convincing themselves that they are, in fact, a bitch. What these people don’t realize is that no matter what they do, how they do it, and who they do it with, there will be someone or the other out there who will have a judgmental comment to make. Always. So — let’s exercise the logic center of our brains here — what’s the solution? If you’re being judged for doing or saying something any which way, you’d might as well do what’s right for you!
So basically what I’m trying to say here is that it’s really easy for relationships to become a one-way barter transaction. And though the above steps may seem fairly easy to implement, sticking to them is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. As the soul-searing legend who sings us to sleep on those lonely nights, John Mayer, once said, “It’s very liberating when you finally realize that it’s impossible to make everyone like you.” And if we just learnt this and applied it to our daily lives, I promise you that you will probably be about 47% happier. A small (and a bit of a weird) number, but it can make a big difference.