Carmen, a client of mine, told me at the end of one of her sessions, “I’m no longer willing to be a trash can for others’ negativity.”
“Wow!” I said. “I’m delighted to hear that! And I love that metaphor!”
Carmen is a lovely, warm, intelligent and compassionate young woman in her late 20’s. Coming from a very narcissistic mother, Carmen learned early in life to be safe from her mother’s anger by listening to her mother’s complaints. She learned to put aside her own feelings and be a mother to her mother. Of course, no matter how much she gave to her mother, it was never enough. It wasn’t until Carmen started her inner work that she discovered was narcissism was.
Early in our work together, Carmen discovered that most of her friends were just like her mother. “ I sit and listen to them complain or listen to them brag. They are never interested in me at all. If I say anything about myself, they always bring it right back to themselves. Why are so many of my friends like this?”
“Because you are willing to listen without speaking up for yourself. There are many self-absorbed people, narcissistic people with entitlement issues, who just love it when someone is willing to listen to them. As long as you are willing to listen to their complaints and support their self-centeredness, they will continue to do it.”
“But if I speak up, I won’t have any friends.”
“Well, you might not have many friends for awhile, but eventually you will find new friends – people who really care about you. When you are willing to care for yourself instead of putting yourself aside, you will attract people who care about you. But this will take time. You need to be willing to lose others rather than continue to lose yourself. Do you think you are ready to do this?”
“Yes! I don’t want to be a trash can anymore. I don’t want people dumping their negativity onto me anymore.”
How do you feel inside when you allow others to dump their negativity – their complaints, their anger, their self-centeredness and sense of entitlement onto you? If you really look inside instead of pushing your own feelings into a closet, you will discover that you feel really lonely with these people. There is no mutual support, no sharing of love, no mutual giving and receiving. You give and they take, and you end up feeling drained and lonely. Yet you hang in there for fear of being alone with no friends or no partner.
If you are really honest with yourself, you will find that it’s not worth it – that you deserve better than to be a trash can for others’ negativity.
It takes faith and courage to speak up for yourself. It takes courage to say to your friend who is dumping her negativity onto you,
“This doesn’t feel good. Whenever we are together all you do is complain or talk on and on about yourself. You are never interested in me at all, and this is no longer okay with me. Either this needs to change or I don’t want to spend time with you. It’s not fun for me and I just end up feeling used and drained.”
When you become willing to speak up for yourself, you will discover who really are your friends and who was just using you. Some people may say, “I’m so grateful you told me this. I didn’t realize I was doing this. Please, I want to stop, and I would appreciate your pointing it out to me next time I do it.” Others will go into denial and say, “That’s not true. I listen to you all the time.” Others will just get angry and go away.
It’s a great way to discover who your friends really are!