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Why Do I Feel Like I Owe People So Much?

My sponsor asked me this the other day.  It isn’t the first time, nor probably the last time she will ask me this question.  I think I have always just gone through life feeling like I owe everyone something:  an explanation, an apology, a reason, a place to stay, shelter from whatever fucking storm they are living through that they likely created, money, an ear, grace, a pass.

My ex-boyfriend used to get so mad at me when we would get sideways with each other.  When we were in the solution and figuring out why we were cross with each other, I would always say something that communicated I saw what he might think or feel or say.  And he would often get so mad and say, “I was just a total jerk, do not let me off the hook!”  But I couldn’t help it.  I DID see things from his perspective and while that didn’t grant him a pass for less than stellar behavior, I got where it was coming from, and I understood because I too have trauma from the past that frequently takes over my life in today time and causes all sorts of problems.  

He wasn’t really mad at me when he would say this, instead, he was frustrated with the rapidity with which I would see there was another perspective on the situation and I would offer it up even though it wasn’t really mine to offer.  I robbed him of the ability to own his shit.  And that made him feel like I was letting him off the hook when he was the one that put himself there in the first place.  We went round and round about this. 

I am quick to anger, that is for sure.  Like the word fuck, anger has historically been my favorite emotion, so it is my go to.  But I have not listed anger in the top five for years now because I have worked hard to allow anger’s cousins to come into the foreground:  disappointment, sadness, guilt, shame, heartbreak just to name a few of the more recent emotional accoutrements I have learned to welcome in instead of letting anger bear the burden of all my feelings.

I am also quick to forgive.  Always have been, because I often see, even when I don’t want to, where the other person might be coming from.  And as soon as this thought enters my mind, anger quickly dissipates and is gone, leaving me with empathy and compassion for someone who likely just did me wrong.  

I do not work to try to see the other person’s perspective it is just there. Without my invitation, permission or really awareness a great deal of the time.  I think that I am always worried that I am wrong.  That my perspective is skewed and wrong so I immediately get over onto your side of the street and start doing your work for you, instead of staying where I am and doing my own.

And this is perhaps what leads to me feeling like I owe people so much.  If I am constantly and compulsively feeling that I am wrong to think this way or wrong to feel that way or that my perspective is grossly limited, this puts me at odds with reality and then in a position to allow you to walk all over me.  I mean if I am always wrong, then you must always be right.

I think, and I really do not want to admit this, that my feeling like I owe you so much is also just a very subtle way for me to manipulate you into doing what I want.  Even if what I want is not all that great for me.  I still have this innate desire to move other people around to suit me.  You - over there!  And you, over here.  I do it all the time.  Attempt to manage the world and shift people to where I want them instead of just accepting them as being exactly who and what and where they are supposed to be.

And perhaps because I am consciously aware that I do this, I feel badly about it, so it allows for you to insist that you need things and it is my job to give it to you. It is a set up for both of us.

It is also arrogance.  That I have all this shit to give - love, money, a place to land, a place to live, respite from whatever the fuck it is this week.  I take in strays and I always have.  Used to do it a lot with men, still do it a lot with animals.  The men thing I have changed and am continuing to change, the pet thing not so much.  I cannot really seem to stop that mostly because I do not really want to.  But I do see the arrogance and the gross overextension of what is reasonable and possible.  I cannot save the world, and I know this!  But fuck if I can just walk away either.

I think I have to stop seeing other beings as being my responsibility.  I mean I do not think that you are responsible for me, like ever.  So why do I think I am responsible for you??  It just doesn’t math up.

If I am honest, I think it is because I do want to be needed but I do not want to need...and that is where I get us into a great deal of trouble. Because I do need.  I need a great deal.  And I feel like it is my responsibility to meet all of my needs because I have little to no faith that any of you are capable...and that is mostly because in the limited times I have relied upon people, they have let me down.  There are a few exceptions:  my mom, well that is all I can think of.  And I am sure, if I gave it more thought, I could find something she did that let me down because being disappointed is just part of the whole relationship thing.  We are always going to let each other down because we cannot ever be what someone else needs all of the time.  Sometimes someone else is going to need us, and we are going to need something completely opposite.  And disappointment is the only result possible in this dynamic.

I will do a lot of action not to feel disappointed.  That is a feeling that I hate more than any other.  I will go to great lengths to talk myself out of feeling this way or coming up with reasons why you didn’t mean to let me down or that my expectations were out of whack.

And so I arrive at why I think I owe you so much - because if I owe you, then you owe me nothing.  And this is the way I like it because it staves off disappointment and let down.  Couple this with an arrogance that I have it (whatever IT is) to give and we have a nasty cocktail of my own discontent.

I do need things from others and I have a very long standing and well documented past to show that people, most especially the people I have granted access to my life, are not reliable and tend not to show up when I need something.  But that falls back on me too. I am the one who allowed you into my life in the first place.  Also because I never felt like if you wanted in, I had any right to keep you out.

So I need, I allow, I feel like I am responsible. And these things all gel in a particular way that makes me walk through this life feeling like I owe you something even if I don’t even know you.

Last night after the gym, I took the car to get gas.  There was a man who was obviously homeless and on something.  I was wary of him because he was acting weird.  So I left my wallet in the car and just brought my card to get the gas.  He walked up to me, as I knew he would, and asked me for money.  Now if he would have been rude or scary, I would have said no. But he didn’t.  He very humbly and kindly asked if I can spare any change. It was cold, it was wet and he was obviously suffering.  And right there is where this principle became crystal, clear to me.  I gave because he asked.  And when someone asks something of me, I feel (rightly or wrongly) that is my job to say yes.  So I gave him some money.  Not a lot but enough to buy him what he needed in that moment.

But something else became clear to me...often times you haven’t asked, but I feel you are going to and I want to control the situation so I offer what I am willing to give instead of waiting for you to ask for what you want and/or need.  

So this is all really about control.




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1 Comment

Gina Hawkins
Gina Hawkins
May 30

This reads as if you wrote it from my heart. Thank you for being so candid and vulnerable. Blessings.

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