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Sometimes You Just Have To Say Good Bye
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Nov 12, 2014
When I was in graduate school, I was lucky to be grouped with a fellow intern who I'll call Jason. Not lucky as in blessed to have a friend who I enjoyed spending time with. Lucky as in fortunate to learn what I should stay away from.
I'm not going to attempt to be generous in my recollection of Jason. He was a prototypical user, someone whose idea of being a good friend was gracing you with his good looks over lunch in exchange for you picking up the tab.
Like me, Jason didn't have much money. But he still wanted to live like he did. Rather than rent a dormitory room on campus for $350 a month, he chose an $800 apartment that was a 15-minute drive from the clinic where we were doing our internship. A 15-minute drive might not seem like a big deal until you know that Jason didn't have a car. Yup, he had the gall to choose a fancier place to live with the expectation that he could rely on fellow interns to drive him to and from the clinic.
For months, I shared driving duties for Jason with two other interns. Though I felt some resentment over getting back to my room an hour later on nights when I drove Jason home, I couldn't imagine him walking the commute during winter months in Chicago.
One evening as our shift was about to end, Jason sauntered up to me, hand extended for a fist bump, and said, "You got my lift tonight, BK?" He hadn't asked me for a drive that evening prior to that moment, and I had already committed to meeting a friend in the opposite direction, so I told him that I was sorry that I couldn't.
True to past form, he tried to guilt me into breaking my other commitment and helping him out. But I held firm, as I was tired of feeling used, and when Jason realized that he wasn't getting a lift from me that evening, he snorted in disgust and declared that I had screwed him.
I don't know how Jason got home that night, but his last words reverberated in my head over the next few days as I considered how I felt about his anger and accusation that I had done him wrong.
It occurred to me that this and other times that Jason had gotten angry, his anger wasn't caused by something that I had done to him. He was upset over things that I wouldn't do for him. A simple distinction, but it was an enormous light bulb that flicked on in my 23-year old head. It was a moment of realization that I didn't owe people like him anything, that I could give myself permission to wish them well but stay clear of them.
This may seem like common sense, but when you're looking to be helpful, when you're looking to be a good friend, it isn't so obvious to you when someone with entitlement syndrome is pushing you to a quicker death by using you up.
I think that most will agree that this type of selfishness stems from ways in which people have been neglected or abused in the past. In Jason's case specifically, I attribute his sense of entitlement to him losing his father at a young age; I could see the little things that he didn't seem to be aware of, things that a thoughtful parent strives to teach his or her child. Like filling up the gas tank of a friend's car if that friend has been kind enough to lend it to you. I don't think anyone taught Jason the Golden Rule, and with no shortage of fans who admired his height and good looks, I guess he somehow came to feel that those around him existed for his use.
It's noble to strive to be generous and compassionate. But let's remember that we are like batteries. Slowly, we are being drained of our energy, and for those of us who are incredibly blessed, we won't be completely drained until we've lived through about 30,000 days. So at some point, I think it's important for us to consider who we give our limited energy to.
A lovely aspect of energy is that people who are thoughtful and deeply care about you can actually give you energy. Maybe not ATP energy for cellular metabolism, but real feelings of warmth that lift you up, not beat you down. Which is hopefully what you provide for those you deeply care about, even without knowing that you are doing this for them.
Whenever you are not sure about how you are using your time and who you are with, ask yourself:
How do I feel after doing this? How do I feel after spending time with this person? Do I feel cared for and inspired to be my best self? Or do I feel tired, frustrated, sad, angry, or used?
Your gut answers to these questions should help you make wise choices on who and what you spend your energy on.
If someone is angry with you and you have made a sincere attempt to understand, apologize, and create peace, if he or she continues to try to make you feel bad, you can give yourself permission to minimize or eliminate time spent together. If you continue to tango, you will accelerate your loss of energy and provide more fuel for these people to continue with destructive thinking and behavior.
A person who wants peace will look to restore peace. Someone who is looking to be angry will stay angry and try to keep you engaged in conflict.
We can't be responsible for how everyone else feels about their lives. We can help, encourage, and support where possible and where our energy is gratefully received, but where we are left feeling attacked, belittled, used, and debilitated despite our best intentions, we need to send good wishes and refocus our energy on people who are looking for peace.
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