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Why We Push Others to Do Things We Don’t Do Ourselves


Clients often tell me about conversations they have with friends, relatives and co-workers in which they encourage them to leave abusive partners, stand up to bosses and bossy colleagues, and say goodbye to people who hurt them. They become angry when they hear someone is being mistreated and are generally spot on about the healthy actions someone needs to take to get out of unhealthy situations.

However, these same advice-givers are often in similar situations. They’re mistreated by their partners, let friends take advantage of them, and continue to tolerate behavior from parents or other relatives that belittles and hurts them. Are you one of these people who make waves on behalf of others, but fears rocking your own boat?

Why this happens is an excellent question and I don’t know that I have all the answers, but I’ll give you a few. This reaction of doing on behalf of others but not self shows that you know what the best thing to do is. You recognize the signs of mistreatment, neglect and abuse and your healthy instinct is to fight back or get out: You tell your brother to leave his cheating wife, encourage your friend to find a roommate who doesn’t steal her things, or push your co-worker to go to the police after she’s sexually assaulted. You know the difference between right and wrong.

We nudge people in the direction of change and don’t do it ourselves because change is uncomfortable and we don’t want to experience it. Sure, tell your brother to upend his marriage and suffer the aftermath. But do you really want to go through all that? Sure, urge your friend to go to the police after she’s sexually assaulted and even offer to go with her. But, if it happens to you, would you avoid reporting the crime because all you want is to forget about being groped or even raped? 

If you have a history of abuse and trauma, it may be more difficult for you to be angry on your own behalf because of not feeling worth it. If you’ve been a victim, you may still act like one and be afraid your emotions will overwhelm you and that you’ll suffer terrible repercussions for standing up for yourself. This may make it difficult to take yourself seriously and believe you deserve better treatment, even at your own hand. 

However, to go from victim to survivor, you must take your own advice and face the music. Do the difficult things you advise others to do even if makes you uncomfortable. Get support from friends and family and help in therapy. Face your fears and do what empowers you. Do unto yourself what you would do unto others.