Are You Being Used? When Your Social Life is Like Social Work


The world is divided into “givers and takers” or so we are told. Conventional wisdom advises that being a “giver” is the preferred choice, the moral high ground. Most of us don’t want to be thought of as selfish and non-reciprocal — self-involved. A giver is labeled “good,” an adjective we enjoy applying to ourselves.

Can you be too good? Can you be too giving — to the point of self-harm, to the point of allowing others to “use” you routinely? Is too much emotional generosity the equivalent of effacing your needs? Might it be like standing in a lunch line, affording deference and preference for latecomers to go first, and reaching the front too late for a meal?

If the answer is yes, how might you know whether you are giving too much?

Here are some signs your social life amounts to social work without salary, caring for others to the point of encouraging their misuse of you:

  1. Are you the “one” who listens to problems, the first person your acquaintances contact when upset? By itself, this might simply indicate you are kind and empathic. But disappointment follows when others don’t offer time or compassion for your worries.
  2. Do friends and acquaintances impose on you unreasonably? Do they regularly ask you to drop what you are doing to help them? Do they call late at night over small upsets without regard for your need to get up early the next morning?
  3. Beyond words of thanks, do your friends express gratitude in concrete ways, like sending you a greeting card, flowers, candy, or picking up the check at dinner?
  4. Do you recognize that reciprocity depends on respect? Those who become another’s servant do not command honor. Were fulfilling a master’s requests a guarantee of good treatment, slaves would be the best cared for class in the world.
  5. Do you find yourself disappointed too often when “friends” contact you only in need, not with social invitations once they bounce back from their troubles?
  6. Do you believe your singular value is what you can do for others? Do you doubt your worth beyond the ability to aid or console?
  7. Do too many relationships begin with the other’s effusive gratitude for your kindness, but move to a point where your generosity is taken for granted almost as an entitlement?
  8. Are you exhausted by the demands and requests of those closest to you?
  9. Can you say no when a favor is asked, be it your time, money, or a ready ear?
  10. Do you fear being dumped should you become less available when needed?
  11. Do you find yourself worrying about hurting people when you imagine what might happen if you say no?
  12. Do you hesitate to express strong opinions to your buddies? Are you afraid of rejection or criticism if you disagree?
  13. Are too many of your friends “troubled souls?” Do you associate with an unstable crowd, making it easy to take on the counselor, helper, or social work role?
  14. Do you believe saying no is selfish? Were you told you were selfish growing up?
  15. When feeling unappreciated, do you think perhaps you didn’t do enough to please your friend?
  16. Do you make excuses for the other when you are dismissed or taken for granted? Do you live in the hope he will change?

If you answer yes to a number of these questions, you might lack self-confidence and self-assertion. Another term often used in these types of relationships is dependency. Sometimes “co-dependent” is used instead.


Too many of the earth’s inhabitants see fellow humans as objects, like a wrench or hammer: helpful when needed, but requiring no gratitude or careful treatment when the job is done. The error is allowing yourself to be used as if you were picked from a tool chest, submitting to the role of instrumental object, imagining you must do whatever friends require, twisted or tossed aside as they wish. You have discounted your worth and given them control along with the discretion to grade you by how much you satisfy their wants. Worse yet, you accept the grade assigned. The thought of standing up and setting limits collapses for fear of abandonment.

Nor are you advised to think of yourself as an altruist or akin to a religious martyr in your pursuit of the good. Religious martyrs are put to death against their will by their enemies — on one occasion only, of course. Those who offer themselves up as a less drastic sacrifice for their faux “friends” do so voluntarily and far too often. Sainthood should not be expected to follow.

This habit of relating to people doesn’t vanish by itself. You make a mistake hoping those you love will change instead of realizing you are the one who must do so. If you see yourself here, consider going into psychotherapy. Life is more fulfilling when relationships work both ways. The sooner you address this problem, the more likely your satisfaction will increase. Moreover, you will discover a truth of great import: those who leave (and some do exit when you change) aren’t worthy of your goodness. The cliché is true: you are better off without them.

The top image is called Twilight by Karin Bar. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons. The bottom image is a t-shirt available at

Why Women Say “You’re Too Nice” or Why Nice Guys Often Finish Last

It’s not nice to be told that you are “too nice,” especially if you are a man — a young man — trying to win a woman’s favor. Most of those who have heard this wonder why something “good” — being “nice” — is held against them. Often they observe the very same women with other males who are much less considerate, generous, and kind.

Do you have the sort of kindness that is disqualifying? Kinda’ seems unfair, doesn’t it?

Some of these women, it’s true, have poor judgment. They are drawn to men who are exciting but irresponsible or cruel. Perhaps they are unconsciously trying to find someone who reminds them of a parent who was not sufficiently devoted to them. The new prospective boyfriend now gives them a second chance at getting the type of love they couldn’t achieve from mom or dad; who were rejecting, disinterested, or preoccupied with other people and other things.

Even so, the “too nice” indictment doesn’t always really mean you are too nice. That phrase can be just a stand-in for a lack of “chemistry,” an absence of sheer physical attraction, or a feeling of being bored.

Chemistry Anyone?

Boredom doesn’t sound good, I know, but if you are a Cubs fan and the female of your dreams doesn’t like baseball, or if you are into country music and she can’t bear it, boredom or disinterest can be the result.

Kind and decent young men need to recognize that there just might be something useful in the dreaded “too nice” communication. Something in the blunt trauma of the words “you are too nice” may need to be learned — the hidden meaning behind the statement.

From an evolutionary and prehistoric perspective, consider what qualities a woman needed in a mate: physical strength, power, and courage would have been useful in protecting the female (and the couple’s kiddies) from danger. Forcefulness, self-assertion, and wiliness might also have helped her potential mate to fulfill that function. Additionally, those characteristics signaled that the man was “fit,” both physically and mentally, and therefore able to produce healthy offspring.

The woman who instead chose the “weak” suitor, the one who was passive or hesitant, perhaps found that he could not “make” a living for them or defend the home. Their children’s survival became more doubtful because of the man’s limitations. If so, evolution would not have favored his characteristics, nor those in the female that caused her to make a poor choice of mate. The genes carrying such tendencies would not have been passed on through the generations, having fallen to the law of the jungle.

To the extent that females paired with strong men increased their children’s odds of reaching adulthood, the tendency for women to choose a bold male would have increased over time. And, it is likely that the most physically attractive females (in effect, the ones who looked most “fit”) would have tended to be selected by the most assertive and forceful men, thus linking beauty and a preference for powerful males in our genetic future.

Women, like men, look for signs of vigor and health, even if they do so unconsciously in the mating game. Without these qualities, the chance of passing on your genes by producing children who live long enough to reproduce themselves isn’t that good.

Moreover, a female today may also want a husband who is an admirable role model for her children, someone to share the burden of decisions and making a life together — in other words, an assertive, capable man who can take on the world. However unfair it can be, these same women just might interpret a worshipful, uncertain, passive, overly considerate man to be a potential liability.

“Niceness” isn’t necessarily the equivalent of weakness, but it can look that way. Doubtful young men, afraid of losing favor, often make themselves less attractive by their hesitation. Meanwhile, those top-dog alpha males who act boldly, are frequently admired in spite of having an edge that gives offense.

I recently read a study with a most intriguing title that is related to this topic: Do Nice Guys — and Gals — Really Finish Last? The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income by Timothy Judge, Beth Livingston, and Charlice Hurst. It was published in 2011 in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Briefly, they found that men who are too agreeable make significantly less money than men who more closely meet a somewhat contentious male stereotype. For the purpose of this type of research, “agreeableness” is consistent with characteristics like being trusting, straightforward, altruistic, compliant, modest, and tender-minded. Those men were also less likely to obtain recommendations for professional advancement.

In contrast, the customary male is prone to “aggressively advocate for (his) position during conflicts.” These more traditional males are also inclined to push their own personal agendas relative to other people and to challenge the status quo. Such individuals tend to be seen as more competent than those who are too agreeable, as well. Moreover, agreeableness impacted “earnings more negatively for men than for women,” meaning that being agreeable hurt female income less. Based on these results, it would seem that women are on to something of practical value when they sense that a man is too nice.

What can you do, then, if you are the aforementioned nice young man?

Find ways to boost your confidence. Learn to face challenges rather than avoiding them. Build your body. Compete. Don’t be too deferential.

Lead. Make decisions. Have opinions. Take a stand. And, whatever you do, do not become worshipful of the woman you are with by the second week of your acquaintance with her.

None of this means you should be callous, hurtful, or cruel. Indeed, courtesy, romance, and thoughtfulness have their place, too, if you want to win the fair maiden’s heart.

Just don’t lapse into a fetal position.

Unless, of course, you are looking to be treated like a fetus.

Fetus (12 weeks old)

The top image is called Some days I just want to curl up in a ball… by Michael Dunn. It is followed by three test tubes of Cobalt Chloride in various stages of equilibration with hydrochloric acid, downloaded by Chemicalinterest. These two photos are sourced from Wikimedia Commons. Finally, a 12 week old Fetus sourced from MedlinePlus.

Leo Durocher, Hall of Fame baseball manager and former player, was quoted saying that “nice guys finish last” in 1948. He was then the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and was referring to the New York Giants. Ironically, he would soon find himself managing those “nice guys.”