Bend But Don’t Break – A Guide to Being Flexible Yet Strong

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As a long-time yogi and certified yoga instructor, I am constantly bending. In other aspects of my life I find myself being overly flexible as well – and I don’t mean physically.

If I could describe myself in one word it would likely be accommodating.  I have always prided myself in going out of my way to be kind to other people, and to be sensitive to their wants and needs. When you present yourself as a considerate person, this selflessness will likely attract various people into your life.

Unfortunately, not everyone you encounter will be willing to give without expecting something in return. I like to refer to these individuals as “takers,” who misinterpret your generosity for a consistent resource for what they need.

If you’re anything like me, if you look at your patterns in friendships, relationships, jobs, and living situations, you might find that you are constantly the one giving, apologizing, or bending. Unfortunately, when you give an inch, these people take a mile.

There are many books out there that tell you not to be nice if you want to be respected.

I disagree.  I believe there is a fine line between standing up for yourself when necessary, and being mean, spiteful, or disrespectful.

So, how do we tread this fine line?

Some forms of taking are more obvious and others are more subtle. I’m going to describe various types of “takers” you may encounter, and ways to deal with them in a way that is both flexible yet strong.

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The Bully

The bully “taker” uses your easygoing personality as leverage to intimidate you in order to get what he or she wants from you. As a person who detests confrontation, I have always struggled with how to respond when they get in your face and get aggressive. We all have different reactions to this personality type. We can become defensive, anxious, withdrawn, or attack back when provoked.

Don’t Apologize, But Do Move Towards Resolution.

Have you ever said the statement “I was just trying to…” If so, stop immediately. Defending your behavior enforces their opinion that you have done something wrong. Instead, try saying, “I don’t agree. If you are open to hearing my perspective we can talk once you are more calm, or we can agree to disagree and move forward.”

Don’t Disregard, But Do Take Time to Cool Off.

Nothing is more enraging to someone who is upset than to ignore them or treat them with disrespect. Instead, tell them, “I respect that you are upset but I need time to digest this and cool off before discussing it further.” This way you are not being rude, but you are giving yourself time to calm down and handle the situation in a more methodical and less emotional manner.

Don’t Be a Pushover, But Do Stay Calm.

Staying calm not only helps keep an already heated situation from getting out of control, but it also signals to the attacker that they might be overreacting. If you don’t react to their opinion of you, than you are letting them know their opinion doesn’t hold weight. However, if someone is disrespecting and/or talking down to you, it can be very healthy and cathartic to let out your feelings (just be mindful that words cannot be taken back).

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The Opportunist

This is a person in your life that you might very well like and get along well with. That is… until they do that super shady thing.

They are the type to invite you to lunch and then try to convince you to put it on your corporate card. They might butter you up to get information from you and end up using it against you or to further their own success to your detriment.

These people might be manipulating you purposely or they might be clueless that they are stealing you energy, your funds, or your ideas.  Whether consciously or not, they are using your kindness as leverage to extract what they can from your relationship.

Is there a way to salvage a relationship with this person?

Do let them know your bottom line.

If you are unable and/or unwilling to share your money, time, ideas, or resources, let them know. Clearly state “X is what I can offer, and Y is what I can’t offer.”

Do let people know when they have overstepped.

If someone asks you for a favor that you feel is crossing a line, nicely let them know that this makes you feel uncomfortable.  Feel free to offer to help in a different way or point them in the direction of someone who can help. If they are put off by you saying no, then they are probably not in the friendship for the right reasons anyway.

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The Victim

You’ve met this person. Everything has happened to them, everyone is mean to them, woe is me…you get the picture. Someone who is always a victim often lacks self-awareness, because they tend to think they are always doing the right thing and others are just out to get them.

Do remind them of what hasn’t worked in the past.

Not only are these people unaware, but they are often self-absorbed. “Selfish people also tend to have victim mindsets… Their actions plant seeds of loneliness; then they cry upon the blooming” Steve Maraboli. Essentially, their behavior is responsible for some of the negative things that have happened to them. It is okay to gently point out some of their patterns that are not working, and to encourage them to consider responding in way that serves themselves and others.

Don’t be afraid to let them know that only they are responsible for their own happiness. 

If this person’s victim mentality is draining your positivity with with their negative energy and you are burnt out by their neediness, it is okay to take space from them, let them know when you have hit your limit, and direct them to seek other help. While we can often feel responsible for helping people in need, we have to help ourselves first. If you are feeling guilty, remember that you are actually helping the person become more self-sufficient and avoid future co-dependent relationships.

Do let them know that they have the power to make their lives better.

“Victims declare,’The world is responsible for me,’ and never do anything to better their quality of life,” Changes That Heal: How to Understand the Past to Ensure a Healthier Future. Victims often take the credit for anything that goes right, but place blame on the external world for anything that goes wrong.

Give suggestions where these people can experience transformation because of their own efforts. You can suggest yoga, kickboxing, or therapy to work on some of their inner conflicts. You can suggest group activities like joining a sports league or meet up group to help them feel more connected to their community. By giving them the power to make positive changes, they can recognize that their happiness is in their own hands.

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The Spoiled Princess (or Prince)

“Expectation feeds frustration. It is an unhealthy attachment to people, things, and outcomes we wish we could control; but don’t,” (Steve Maraboli, Speaker, Author, & Behavioral Scientist).

We often form expectations for how others should behave based on societal standards or how we, ourselves, treat others. For example, this can happen in relationships when one person might expect exclusivity because of preconceived notions, while this was never discussed. One can’t assume that the status of their relationship or something they have done for this person entitles them to something of theirs without question.

So, how should we react when an entitled person lashes out because they don’t get what they want?

Do let them know that they are not entitled.

Whether it is your best friend or a close relative, no one is entitled to anything that you haven’t outwardly offered to them. The next time someone expects something you have not promised, respond with something like “Sorry you were expecting X. I would like to help you out but that is not going to work for me right now.”

Do look out for numero uno.

We only have a certain supply of Prana, or life energy force. You can compare Prana in your body to gasoline used to fuel a car. If you use up all your energy helping or accommodating other people, you will have none left to fuel yourself. This is not to say you shouldn’t give when you have the capacity, but don’t be afraid to say no when you are running on empty. Take time to nurture yourself, so you stay healthy both physically and mentally. If you give too much you can end up resenting someone, which won’t serve either of you.

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The Hypocrite

This person is possibly the most infuriating “taker” of them all because they have high expectations for what you should do for them but refuse to give you the same respect in return. They are the first to complain about something you have done but then will show no remorse when doing the same thing to you. These people will shut down any suggestion or request and belittle you in an effort to make you feel like you are wrong. However, they also want you to adhere to their guidelines.

Do say no.

If someone isn’t treating you with respect or being considerate of your feelings, let them know. If they make it clear they don’t care, let them know that is perfectly fine, but that you will not be acting in a way to accommodate them. Try not to threaten but make it clear that kindness must flow both ways or not at all.

The Taker Takeaway

Yoga teaches us how to be flexible but also how to be strong. While some poses show us how find mobility in our joints, other poses give us strength in our arms, core, and hamstrings. The ability to find both strength and flexibility can not only be applied to our bodies but also to finding this balance in the rest of our lives.

Do be flexible.

While selfishness and manipulation should not be excused, we must recognize that there are cases when people don’t realize their behavior is affecting you. This is where the importance of setting boundaries comes in. By drawing attention to their taking in a gentle way, you come closer to resolution.

Do be strong.

If the person refuses to listen to how you feel, self-reflect, or is unwilling to change, then they can take their friendship elsewhere. However, by staying quiet and not standing up for yourself, this leaves room for miscommunication and causes you to harbor resentment.

Therefore, be kind whenever possible but don’t put up with people being unkind to you. Just remember that Al Capone once said, “Never mistake kindness for weakness. I’m kind to everyone, but when someone is unkind to me, weak is not what you are going to remember about me.”

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