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You Don’t Owe Anyone a Damn Thing

Guilt is a poison that clouds our judgement

Last week we talked a bit about boundaries and how a healthy life is often lonely. Boundaries are important to protect ourselves not only from assholes but also from good people with bad advice. 

Today I want to expand on that topic with a discussion about self-care, social rituals, and navigating people’s expectations.

Expectations are like landmines — they’re everywhere, we can’t see them, and if we set foot off the beaten path, they blow up in our faces. Expectations often manifest in social performances and empty rituals:

  • We give gifts during the holidays to people we barely know and hardly like because we don’t want to seem rude

  • We respond to the question “How are you?” With “I’m well. How are you?” even if we’re not well and we don’t care how the other person is doing

  • When Fakebook reminds us of our friends’ birthdays, we post “happy birthday” on their walls before ghosting them for another year

Unfortunately, not all of our social performances are as harmless as the ones above. In toxic relationships, abusers leverage their victims’ empathy and fear to keep them trapped in bad situations.

  • Sometimes we stay in codependent romantic relationships out of fear our partners will hurt themselves if we leave

  • Sometimes we stay in toxic workplaces because we don’t want to ruin our professional reputation, mar our perfect employment record, or let down our bosses or coworkers

  • Sometimes we set aside healthy habits, self-discipline, and personal growth to meet the desires of our parents, our siblings, or even our children

  • Sometimes we remain close to abusive friends because we’ve been through so much with them that it feels like a betrayal to walk away

Quote(s) of the Week

“How closely flattery resembles friendship! It not only apes friendship, but outdoes it, passing it in the race; with wide-open and indulgent ears it is welcomed and sinks to the depths of the heart, and it is pleasing precisely wherein it does harm.” — Seneca

Healthy relationships are voluntary partnerships between people who bring the best out of each other. Unhealthy relationships are prison cells where power differentials force us to modify our behaviors and hide our true selves for the sake of our physical, mental, and emotional health and safety.

One of the first steps of choosing joy and taking control over your life is absolving yourself of social debts to other people. Just because someone has been kind to you in the past doesn’t mean you owe them any of your time, love, or attention. Love is a gift, not a trade.

Also, just because someone has been kind to you in the past doesn’t mean they’ll be kind to you in the future. The moment they identify you as a threat to their comfort or identity they could transform into someone unrecognizably cruel without warning.

If you remain in a relationship out of obligation you do both yourself and your friend/partner/family a disservice, because it’s impossible to be a true friend to someone when you’re under duress. A friendship observed out of obligation isn’t friendship — it’s flattery.

Now, there’s a flip-side to all of this. If you want to free yourself from debts to other people, you must free other people from their debts to you. That means, yes, you don’t owe anyone a damn thing. But it also means that no one owes you a damn thing.

You can’t grow if you’re too busy keeping score in your relationships and collecting debts from other people.

If you want to be loved, be love.

Question of the Week

Who can you forgive and forget this week?

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