Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
October 2007 - Volume 07, No. 7
Givers and Takers in Relationships Part 2 of 4 - Takers
This month’s newsletter comes in
four parts - published weekly through this month. The overall topic is
Givers and Takers in Relationships
I began this series with an introduction of the nature and prevalence of partners
in relationships being characterized as givers and takers. Now let
me spell out in greater detail the phenomenon of being a Taker in a relationship.
The words giver and taker already have some moral weight
to them. Most have a sense that it's good to give, and bad to take. We
have a build-in reluctance to take the last cookie on the plate, at least
without the permission of the hostess or others in the vicinity. Most
of us were trained as a child not to take another child's toy. We are
(hopefully) taught to curb that 4-year-old ego “I want what I want
when I want it - right now!” In the same vein, most of us were trained
in the religious virtue of being a “cheerful giver.” (St.
Paul, II Corinthians 9:7)
So how is it that, with all this cultural emphasis toward “giving”
there are so many “takers” out there? Many clients come with a feeling
of betrayal that they have done so much “giving” and when they need
something, there is nobody to “give” back. Those to whom they have
given so much, just take more - and little or nothing comes back.
Perhaps it's primary genetic wiring. Perhaps it's early life experience.
Perhaps it's parenting. I've seen all three. But there is a street
savvy wisdom that emerges, claiming that the only way you're going to
get what you want is to “just take it”.
And takers can be very attractive people. Some even taking on a folk hero status
- perhaps from a hidden resentment that the rest of us can't “do
that too.” In our audience sports, we cheer for the one who can get out
there and take best. Taking is winning. It's true in the economic world
as well - those who can get the most are those who get rewarded the most. In
business seminars they are heros for our emulation. Our rock stars know well
the persona of the taker is the key to fame and fortune - just ask their managers.
In the world of sales, it's the narcissist, the one who thinks solely
in terms of his own ego needs, who has the “inner balls” to be the
most aggressive and successful salesperson. Paradoxically, they're also
the best in posturing as givers. Sometimes it takes a pretty good “BS
detector” to tell the difference. I see it most in the subtle emptiness
of their relationship abilities.
A sad psychological maxim is that takers insist on
seeing themselves as givers - and they will be the first to tell
you so, and the very last to see themselves as otherwise. In my thirty
years of practice, I'd say this has been true about 80% of the time. The
process of change for these folks to become less narcissistic, especially
for the sake of their domestic relationships, is a lengthy difficult process
at best, and counts for almost every grey hair I have (or have lost).
The psychological profile of the taker includes a psychological bind
that prevents him or her from seeing themselves accurately here. That's
why there's always an aura of unreality and/or emptiness surrounding these
people. The shell of excitement and success by which they cover
and protect this inner sadness is what others “fall in love”
with - as many of my clients sadly have come to realize.
The sense of betrayal we come to feel when we've been “taken”
is often analogous to the inner sense of betrayal the taker carries
deep in his or her psyche, but is forbidden by an ancient bind from
ever acknowledging. That's why takers characteristically have difficulty
with any experience of anxiety (and again, cannot let themselves know this).
Here are a few clues - ‘before the wedding', so to speak - that
your partner may be a taker. I'll assume here that the taker is a male
and the attracted party is a female - though the opposite is frequently the
case as well.
- When dining out, how does he treat waitresses (or waiters)? And how well
does he tip? How he treats service personnel is a pretty accurate barometer
how he will eventually be treating you.
- In general, how does he treat those of lower social standing? Also, how does
he act in the presence of those of higher social standing?
- Is he hungry for praise - and grumpy when he doesn't get ‘enough'?
- Does he take more than he really needs, when opportunity provides it?
- Is there an air of entitlement - that he deserves what he has or wants?
- Does he get upset when honestly challenged or criticized? (Be careful here,
because the taker can be skilled in transferring or projecting his or her own
anger onto the partner, then blaming the partner for being the angry one.)
- Here's a specific ‘test': Accuse your partner that he/she
lacks empathy. Takers generally lack the capacity for empathy - but
don't know it's missing. So they develop a pseudo empathy, and when
challenged as I suggest, get very anxious, defensive and angry.
The primary key to recognizing a taker is to know yourself well enough
that you are not blinded by their skill. The inscription, “Know Thyself,”
from the ancient forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, still carries
its wisdom. I count it as a primary purpose of good psychotherapy to pursue
this vital self-knowledge. And in many cases, it entails a difficult struggle.
Next, in Part 3 of this series, I'll look more deeply into the Giver,
including the over-giver.
Then the series will conclude with Part 4 - Resolving giver/taker relationships.