Feeling used or feeling useful?

I have felt used many times in my life and for various reasons. So much that I have an allergic reaction to sentences that start with ‘I need you to…’ and ‘you have to…’, or ‘if you don’t…’ or ‘please do…’. I get an itchy purple rash from it. Well, okay, maybe I don’t really get the rash, but I might as well get one, that’s how awful I find it. I hate things that give me the impression that I am being used. That may account for why I am quite hesitant to do nice things for others, because I easily feel like they use me for their pleasure or so they have it easier or so they can feel better about themselves or something.

However, despite my disinclination, during this weekend I have helped my mom doing crafts in preparation for Christmas. I was surprised that really enjoyed spending the time with her, doing things like cutting and gluing or searching for stuff that helped her. I liked it a lot and I noticed that I felt useful for doing something that helped her. I liked the way she smiled at me.

That got me wondering about the difference of being used versus being useful. And I mean not in the totally obvious cases, like getting used under the threat of violence or emotional blackmail or anything, but those cases where I start out voluntarily doing something yet end up feeling used. Or when someone makes a perfectly reasonable demand but I still end up feeling used. Why don’t I feel useful instead? For example when my mom asks me to put the laundry from the washing machine into the dryer. Why does that make me feel used? Could I not be feeling useful instead? After all, it’s helping her. It’s useful to her. But I definitely feel used.

So I thought about that all day today and decided that for me the difference lies probably in whether the other person hopes or expects I do something or not. Or what I assume the other person’s motivation to be. I quickly end up thinking that the other person just wants me to do stuff to make her life easier, not caring about how it makes me feel. Or just takes for granted that I do something, not even thinking it’s worth an acknowledgement if I did it. So I often overreact and feel mistreated, even when the demand is perfectly reasonable.

During the weekend, however, when I helped mom, I felt useful. I don’t often feel useful, so I was a bit suspicious of it, but it’s a really good feeling. Like what I did was meaningful to her and she appreciated it and like I did a good job. I’d love to be able to feel useful instead of used more often.

Maybe it would help if I shifted my focus away from myself a little more. I noticed that the point of feeling useful was that mom was happy that I contributed something nice. And that I was able to contribute something she liked. Even when it was only small stuff. So maybe if I focus more on how it makes other people feel, and not so much about how possible selfish motives of other people make me feel used, maybe I can then feel useful more often. I think I’d like that. Feeling useful felt like it’s a healthy thing! 🙂

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