“I’m a giver.”
I have heard this phrase from both men and women. In and out of relationships. With regard to sex and life.
They utter these words not as a statement but as a title. Worn like a Medal of Valor. A declaration that speaks to the kindness of their heart, the pureness of their intention, and the generosity of their spirit. Or so they think.
What they really mean to say is, “I am a pathological accommodator. I am good at taking care of everyone but myself. And my boundaries are non-existent.”
“Pathological accommodation: Taking care of other’s needs at the expense of your own, feeling their feelings in denial of your own, and pretty much erasing yourself in order to preserve a relationship with someone you believe is important to you.” — Neil Strauss
I was a pathological accommodator in one of my longest relationships.
Things were off-balance from the very beginning. Unbeknownst to me.
When we met, we were both fresh out of longterm relationships. So while there was crazy sexual attraction, we agreed to be friends. No kissing. No sex. No grey areas. Just friends.
We talked all the time. About everything under the sun. Relationships, children, politics, religion. No subject was off-limits. We didn’t agree on everything, but we never argued.
I respected him, he respected me. It felt easy.
Two years and three margaritas later, we had sex.
“Our friendship is important to me. So if this gets in the way, we have to stop,” I proclaimed. And he agreed.
So we started fucking. Regularly. And it was soooooo good! I was both smitten and dickmatized. Which is a lethal cocktail, but that’s a story for another day.
Our connection grew. Our friendship deepened. And I lost my ever-loving-mind. Well sorta. I mean totally, but not right away.
Work was his drug of choice. So to say he worked a lot would be a misnomer. It as chronic. Sometimes he would hold down three jobs at a time. Filling up his days and his nights.
I recognized that he was depressed and working was the easiest way for him to numb out. And so I started accommodating.
Whenever we were together I would caretake him. Physically and emotionally. Often taking better care of him than he did of himself. I became his soft landing. Never making waves, not even a ripple.
And he received. And received. And received.
Don’t get me wrong, he was a great listener. He was the one I called when things were going really well or to shit.
He was my person. But I wasn’t his.
While I was being transparent and honest. He was keeping secrets. Big hairy, bulging out of the closet, secrets. I shared my heart and my bed. I cooked for him and cheered him on. I encouraged him to pursue his dream and start a business. And he lied, by omission.
Hindsight is 20/20.
Now I can see that he didn’t have to work very hard to deceive me. I never asked questions because I didn’t want to hear the answers. I mistook secrecy for privacy.
I rarely made requests. I did not ask for more, fearing that more would make me a burden. And he never offered. I gave him the keys to the castle, while he kept me at arm's length.
I accommodated his wants, needs, and desires. I also accommodated his duplicity and his reticence. He never had to show up, because I never required it. I was nice and dependable. The one he could count on for support and a good time.
The relationship ended the way it began, quietly. There was no inciting incident. No official goodbye. It just stopped.
He didn’t even have the decency to tell me it was over. Nice people just understand these things, right?
But that doesn’t change the outcome, does it?
If you relate to any part of my story, you too might be a pathological accommodator. But if you’re unsure, here are 7 signs that you might be a doormat:
- You say sorry all the time. Even when it’s not your fault. You apologize so much that you don’t even realize you’re doing it.
- You have the need to please disease. So you say yes, even when you mean no.
- You’re an expert at conflict aversion. Swallowing your feelings is easier than dealing with the other person’s response. You’ve got a muffin top to prove it.
- Resentment is your homie. When you do things out of obligation and not because you want to, it makes you feel some kinda way. Which is not a good thing.
- They say jump, you say how high? Doing what other people want you to do, but rarely what you want to do is a fluorescent red flag.
- Busy is your default setting. If your schedule is always packed, that means you not saying no often enough. It’s that simple.
- You feel like an asshole when you set boundaries. Mostly because other people don’t like them. And their response makes you feel guilty for drawing a line, even if it’s for your own good.
Boundaries are the antidote to pathological accommodation.
But that means being willing to be uncomfortable and vulnerable. Daring to tell the truth about how you really feel. Which is akin to wearing your skin inside out. Because what if they don’t care? Or worse, what if they reject you?
Both are valid and very real concerns. But a life with no boundaries is a life of endless suffering. And you’ve suffered enough.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” — Brené Brown
Boundaries create space. They are the fertilizer for healthy relationships and connections. When you are clear on what’s okay and what’s not, you minimize disappointment and unrealistic expectations. Boundaries afford opportunities to build on the stable ground of respect.
Here are some of the many benefits of having boundaries…
- Resentment becomes a non-issue.
- You’ll have more energy to invest in your relationships.
- Fewer misunderstandings and greater trust.
- Greater compassion and empathy.
- More meaningful yes’s.
I am still in pathological accommodation recovery. But I am happy to report that I am having the healthiest relationships of my life. My boundaries are solid. I lean into uncomfortable conversations. My no’s are firm and unapologetic.
I am still a giver. But I am an even better receiver. And I am very well-loved, especially by me.