Mind Your Own Business / Own Up to Your Motives
Dear Dr. Hurd,
Sometimes I think I’m my own worst enemy. My boyfriend walked out on me, saying that he felt it was best for me. He told me that he always felt he was causing me unhappiness no matter what he did. I admit that I don’t open up about my problems, because I don’t want to burden others. In addition, he has a lot of issues of his own. I feel like those two things overwhelmed him. I hate the fact that I caused this and I miss him. But I’m worried that I’ll just add to his problems by contacting him.
Dr. Hurd replies,
He left you for your sake? How disingenuous. People don’t leave relationships for the sake of their partner; they do it for themselves. And that’s how it should be. Think about it. Do you want someone to be in a relationship with you because you arouse excitement, admiration, and respect? Or do you want to be in a relationship because you’re a charity case? Of course he left you for his own needs, not yours.
As hard as breakups can be, it’s important to remember that there’s no point being with someone who doesn’t really love you. It sounds like this relationship consisted of two people who made decisions about what the other needed—without consulting the other! The ultimate example is your boyfriend leaving you for your sake. He decided that you did not need him anymore. Isn’t that your decision to make?
But wait! There’s more: You did the same thing. You kept your problems to yourself because you decided, all on your own, that it would burden him. But this was your partner. If you can’t share everything with your romantic partner, then what’s the point of such a relationship? By deciding that he didn’t need to hear your problems, you contributed to the breakdown of trust and intimacy. When people truly love you, they want to know how you are feeling.
As for deciding that your ex-boyfriend doesn’t need to hear from you…there you go again: It’s not your place to decide that. Ask him if he wants to hear from you, and if so, how much. And then honor his request. Don’t impose yourself on him, but don’t decide what he needs or doesn’t need. That’s what got you into trouble in the first place.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I volunteer my time for a charity. There are things I’ve done for them that involved a lot of work and special skills that I have. In fact, these things wouldn’t have happened without my involvement. Of course, I was happy to do it (I did volunteer, after all!). But not only am I not recognized for these contributions, but other volunteers happily take credit for them. Of course, I didn’t volunteer my time just to be recognized, but the fact that others get credit for my work is starting to annoy me. If I complain, I will seem petty and self-serving. But I’m still annoyed.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Though the sanctimonious poseurs will disagree, it is a fact that if you do something for someone else—even for strangers —you’re doing it partly for yourself too. Why? Simply because making somebody happy makes you feel good. And that’s a good thing. For example, you might volunteer to put a smile on someone’s face or offer them relief for a problem. Sure, you’re doing it for them; but you’re going to feel good in the process. And (yet again), that’s OK.
I don’t condemn you for wanting some recognition for what you do, but you need to be honest about it. You’re annoyed that others are taking the credit, and that raises the question: Why are you doing this charity in the first place? If you’re doing it to help people less fortunate, then the fact that others take credit shouldn’t really matter all that much, should it? I’m not telling you what should motivate you. I’m just saying, be honest with yourself about what your true motives are.
If you resent the recognition others get for what you did, one option is to complain. But complaining rarely works. Probably a better option is to be on the lookout for opportunities to point out what you did. Rather than complain that so-and-so took the credit, just jump in and take the credit yourself when it’s appropriate. You don’t have to make a scene about it. Opportunities will present themselves where you can quietly say, “You’re welcome,” and others will get the point.
On the other hand, if you decide you really don’t care about the recognition, then just let it go. Take quiet comfort in these two facts: (1) People who take credit for what they didn’t do are pathetic and will eventually trip over their own lies. (2) You could easily make that happen if you left the organization; suddenly no one would be able to do what you do. I’m not suggesting that you leave, but just knowing you have that power might make you feel a little better.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.