Are You a Trash Can for Others’ Negativity?

One of my clients, Carmen, shared with me after her sessions that she was “no longer willing to be a trash can for other people’s negativity.”

“Wow!” I said. “That makes my day. I think the metaphor is brilliant!” Carmen, in her late 20s, is a lovely young lady who is also pleasant, friendly, smart, and caring. Carmen, who came from a narcissistic mother, learned early in life that the best way to avoid her mother’s wrath was to listen to her mother’s gripes. Eventually, she could put her own emotions aside and focus on being a good caregiver for her mother.

Obviously, no matter how much she provided for her mother, it was never enough for her. This was true regardless of the amount. Carmen didn’t realize what narcissism entailed until she started working on herself internally.  At an early stage in our collaboration, Carmen had the startling realization that most of her friends were similar to her mother. “They rant or brag about various things as I just sit here and listen. They are completely uninterested in talking to me. They immediately shift the conversation to focus on themselves whenever I mention something about myself. Why do so many of my friends behave this way?”

Because you are willing to listen without arguing for yourself. Many people are preoccupied with themselves, have entitlement issues, and absolutely love it when someone is willing to listen to them. If you listen to their complaints and back their self-centeredness, they will continue to do it.

“However, if I say what’s on my mind, I won’t have any friends left.” Well, it’s possible that you won’t have many friends for a while, but ultimately, you will meet new friends, people who genuinely care about you. When you are willing to put yourself first and treat yourself with respect rather than putting yourself in the background, you will attract others who care about you. However, we need to be patient with this. Unless you accept the risk of losing others along the way, you will eventually lose sight of what is most important to you. Would you say that you are prepared to take on this challenge?

“Yes! It’s time for me to stop acting like a garbage can. I have had enough of others unloading their misery on me, and I won’t take it any longer.”

How does it make you feel on the inside to let other people pour their negativity, complaints, wrath, self-centeredness, and sense of entitlement upon you? If you genuinely look inside yourself, rather than shoving your feelings into a closet, you will discover that you experience great loneliness when you are around these people. There is no mutual assistance, no sharing of love, and no giving and receiving that goes both ways. You give, but they take, and in the end, you are left feeling depleted and isolated. You continue to stay there even though you have no friends or partner because you are afraid of being alone.

You will discover if you are truly honest with yourself that it is not worth it, that you deserve better than being a garbage can for the negative energy that other people project upon you, and that you deserve happiness. To speak up for oneself requires faith as well as the courage to do so. Telling a friend constantly being negative to stop is quite brave, “This doesn’t feel nice. When we’re in the same room, all you do is whine or brag about how wonderful you are. You have never shown the slightest desire to get to know me better, and I can no longer accept this from you. Either something needs to be done to fix this, or I don’t want to spend any more time with you. It’s not fun for me, and I always feel used and depleted after doing it.”

When you finally get the courage to speak up for yourself, you will discover your ‘friend’ was only pretending to be one to take advantage of you. Some may say, “I can’t tell you how appreciative I am that you shared this with me. I was unaware that I was actually behaving this way. I want to quit, and I would appreciate it if you could point it out to me the next time I do it.” Others will engage in behavior consistent with denial and assert, “That is not true. You are constantly being played in my head.” Some will simply become enraged and then leave. It’s fun and interesting to find out who your real friends are!

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