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Doing for Self versus Doing to Others – part 1

Clients often describe parents, children, spouses, or partners saying, “Look what you’re doing to me!” or “How can you do this to me?” My clients then get upset that their actions have unforgivably hurt their loved ones. “I don’t want to hurt them,” they lament. “When I hurt them, I feel guilty.” And so they go looking for food to (for the moment) take away the guilt and the feeling of being the worst person on the planet.

I tell them that they are not doing anything to anyone, but that sometimes hurting others happens when they’re doing something good for themselves. When you’re taking care of yourself and someone else happens to get hurt in the process, that’s called life. Moreover, if someone needs to feel hurt, please, for a change, let it not be you.

Let’s break down this dynamic. You do something—decide to divorce your spouse, enroll in a college five states away from your parents, sign up for Zumba class on the night you usually visit Mom or Dad, move to another continent for a great job, announce you’re an atheist, or come out as gay, lesbian or transgender. Then, rather than consider that this is about you, someone else takes it as an affront to himself or herself.

If you’ve been reading my blogs and books, you might be able to answer the following question right away: What kind of person makes everything in your life about them? If you thought that would be a narcissist, you’d be right. “Look what you’re doing to me!” or “How can you do this to me?” are classic reactions from someone who is overly self-involved and tell you that, at least in the area you’re talking about, your concerns, feelings, and what’s best for you aren’t on their radar. In fact, they’re not thinking about you at all. They’re thinking only of how whatever you’re doing affects them.

The question is: Are you doing something for yourself to try to make your life better, or are you doing something to someone else to cause them hurt? If you’re taking action towards healthy self care, you get to keep on doing “it” no matter who doesn’t like it or gets hurt. After all, people could respond in myriad ways to you divorcing, trotting the globe for work, not going to a local college, changing the night you visit Mom or Dad, or announcing your non-spiritual beliefs or gender preference or identity. They could be glad you’re following your heart and taking good care of yourself. They could be happy for you and supportive. They could wish you well even if they don’t see things your way.

Remember, hurt and disappointment are part of life—yours and everyone else’s.