How to Stop People Taking Advantage of You

I was watching a program on romance scams. They were interviewing an intelligent, 40 something professional woman, who had parted with a six-figure sum to a man that she had never actually met. When being questioned by the reporter about their relationship, she said there were many things about their conversations that made her uncomfortable. So when asked why she continued to part with her money, she answered, "I don't know".

Why is it that we choose to comply with requests that make us so uncomfortable? Why is it that we decide not to trust our own better judgement? Why not stop to explore those uncomfortable feelings once in a while, to see what's really behind them?

Seriously, if the wolf is at your door, and you know instinctively that something is not quite right, why offer yourself up as a tasty meal, on the remote chance that you got it wrong? "I don't know" is not good enough an answer, you owe it to yourself to dig deeper.

When we don't fully explore those uncomfortable feelings, we treat ourselves with disrespect. We all know that terrible feeling; when we have agreed to something we are not comfortable with. Own that feeling; because that's what it feels like when you let yourself down. It's time to ask yourself why you keep doing it.

If your one of those people that feels like your frequently taken advantage of, then it's highly likely that you're carrying around some pretty unresourceful thinking that's making that possible. So let's explore some of the more typical thoughts that keep us from acting in our own best interest.

"I don't want to hurt their feelings."

So instead you choose to hurt your own. That's the bottom line; when we choose to ignore those warning bells, we make a choice that we have to take responsibility for. We rage at the world for treating us with disrespect, but we have zero expectations of ourselves. We treat ourselves with disrespect without a second thought and blame everyone else for our predicament – how convenient!

Disappointment is part of life; so how old is this person you need to refuse, and how would a reasonable person handle such disappointment? When you keep your real feeling so well hidden, you give the important people in your life no opportunity to honour that relationship. You're setting them up for failure. Is that fair?

If you honestly feel that supporting a request is not right for you, politely declining is not offensive. It's authentic, transparent, and allows the other person to move on. When you're genuine in your communications, you treat others with respect, and you teach them how to treat you with respect.

"What will they think of me?"

Yes we all want to be liked, but we also all know that no everyone likes us, and we're all still here, the world has not collapsed around us. Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that can happen if this person does not like you? Then ask yourself; do you really want to be in a relationship, personal or otherwise, when saying "no" is not an option? Think better of yourself and your judgement and others will do the same.

"What if I'm wrong?"

If you're wrong, you'll learn something – lousy question. A better question to ask of yourself is, "what's the worst thing that can happen and can I handle it?" If you cannot handle it, don't go there.

Even people that we are close to, people that have the best of intentions, can make requests of us that do not serve us well, they just don't realise it. Always take the time to ask yourself the critical questions, don't feel compelled to answer on the spot.

We all hate feeling guilty, but that feeling quickly passes. Regret and resentment, on the other hand, can stay with you for a lifetime. Ask yourself, is it fair to condemn others for something you readily agreed to?

"I need a good reason to say no."

Actually, you don't. You know what’s best for you. Pressure and aggressive persuasion is just a tactic; start defending yourself and your already gone, moments away from defeat. The reasons you give are only part of the game, the fodder your opponent is counting on to use as leverage to win this battle. For the most part, they don't even see your discomfort; those enthusiastic and persuasive types are terrible at reading the clues.

Know that you have nothing to prove and nothing to defend. Often when we are not quite sure why we are not comfortable with something, we start to babble. Don't, just say, "I'm not comfortable with this", and figure out the why later.

And for those of you that still are not comfortable saying “no”, I'm going to leave you with four compelling words.

"I choose not to."

Think about what this means for a moment because these four words are a game-changer. Try this next time you're having one of those conversations, and you'll discover very quickly that you suddenly have the upper hand. These four words stop those persuasive types dead in their tracks; it leaves them with nowhere to go. A "no" leaves it open for discussion, "I choose not to" suggests that it's a conscious choice. There is no point crossing this line, doing so will only confirm what you already know, that it is all about them, and they're not doing you any favours.

Banish the word "no" from your vocabulary altogether. Replace it with "I choose not to", "I'm not comfortable with that", or "this doesn't work for me". Own it, and you'll feel empowered in those situations where you would typically feel powerless. Practice saying it in front of the mirror until it becomes comfortable and natural for you so that you can say it with confidence.

When you can do this; when you can treat yourself with respect; you treat others with respect, and you will no longer feel taken advantage of.

Know that behind your struggle to say "no" is a desperate need for approval and a fear of being "wrong". It's a choice you made, to sacrifice your power for that feeling of safety. Some manipulative people will take advantage of this, no doubt about it, but the moment you find your voice, you render them powerless.

Most people you're condemning, yourself included, have good intentions, so go easy on them, they simply don’t realise you’re doing it.


Originally published on Quora. Follow me at Step Up to Leadership.

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