Unfortunately, there are many unhealthy people, relationships, and behaviors that don’t come from a place of innocence or goodwill. The toxic taker (TT) is a drain who’s particularly damaging to unassertive people. It’s the TTs who’ll be annoyed and upset once you start practicing assertiveness. We may have discussed how to set solid and impermeable boundaries, but sometimes, people are set on violating them regardless.
There will be people in your life who have a warped sense of entitlement. What you’ve worked for becomes a free resource they can tap into: they demand a job at your office or introductions to others in your field. They ask you to make them a website for free overnight or use your recruitment knowledge to create their CV.
TTs know your every skill and strength but not a single vulnerability other than your need to say yes: they take from you and return nothing, passing off your work as their own or belittling you to others.
Having grown accustomed to the one-sidedness of the relationship, TTs know how insecure you are so they never consider paying you back or doing something for you. This sends the message that you’re less important than them and people are taking advantage of you. The feelings of anger, resentment, and disapproval that arise from this spill over into all areas of your life.
The TT wears many disguises. They could be your colleague, sibling, best friend, neighbor, customer, client, teacher, or acquaintance. The TT needs you to help them—not once or twice, but always. Every encounter involves them sharing with you their latest mistakes, admitting their flaws and weaknesses, and regaling you with tales of the latest disaster that’s currently destroying their life.
This is deliberate. Being so open and upfront about their shortcomings endears the TT to you. They ensure there’s never time to talk about anything other than themselves and lead you down a path of sob stories and manipulation to get what they want. You’re never invited to share your problems but always listen to theirs, go out of your way to help them, and lend them money.
The truth is that the vast majority of TTs actually harbor a lot of resentment for the people they take from. This stems from complex emotions surrounding their dependence on you and resentment that you don’t seem to have their worries. They may believe that it’s easy for you and you owe it to them to help. You taking an interest in their problems may be the only validation they get.
Even the most independent person falls on hard times and has to ask for help. One of the reasons you might always want to support the TT is because you feel sorry for how often this happens to them. The difference is that things never seem to improve for the TT. If one problem seems to be taken care of, in swoops another one to take its place. The money you lent wasn’t enough; the problem was more complex than they first thought. TTs never manage to remove themselves fully from the problematic situation. They’re also not afraid to invent disasters in order to extract more from you.
There are two ways to identify and deal with a TT. The first method is that when they come to you with a problem, sympathize with them but don’t offer any kind of help at all: no solutions, no money, no advice. Just say, “Yes, that does sound terrible.”
This is going to require willpower because the TT will continue to elaborate to provoke your natural caregiving response of wanting to solve the problem. It’s hard to listen to their heartbreaking speech and resist the urge to jump in with advice or to be the savior. Just keep sympathizing and stop yourself if you want to say more. Make a statement and repeat their feelings ad nauseam.
The TT may seem to give up, but they’re going to try to talk to you again about it. You not offering your usual money or assistance is going to disorient them. When they talk to you, they fully expect you to help them and won’t expect you to have seen through their act. You have the power of surprise on your side.
They’ll become frustrated and annoyed, but even a TT knows when they’re beaten and they’ll be off to see who else they can manipulate.
The second method when a TT comes to you with a problem is to sympathize without offering solutions as above, but then tell them a problem of your own.
TTs don’t hang around in packs—there’s only room for one victim in their life and it’s not going to be you. When faced with your problem, they’ll appear put out and disinterested. You’ll probably enjoy watching their attempts at showing empathy. Having broken the number one rule—that is, TTs come first and you’re their personal assistant—they’ll regard you as someone who no longer serves a purpose for them.
The speed at which these methods can cause a TT to disappear from your life may surprise you.
When a TT realizes you have your own problems and can’t be their constant life support, they’ll stop wasting their time on you. If they value the relationship you had, then they may come back, but they may not want a relationship where their crises don’t make them special.
Once the initial shock of you not providing a solution or actually having your own problems wears off, you can see what happens after. If the TT loses all interest in you once you stop helping them, you’ll know exactly where you stand.
Equipped with the two methods to repel TTs, you can begin to look out for the red flags that let you know who isn’t looking for a fair, two-way relationship. There are four common examples of TTs whom you might recognize from your own life.
The first type of TT is the person who won’t say hello without an ulterior motive. A colleague who sometimes turns up at your desk with coffee and a smile might baffle you when she blanks you at a social event, until you remember she only ever came to say hi when she needed your help with the printer or some filing.
The second type of TT is the person who won’t reciprocate unless forced to. You have lunch with a neighbor once a month and you paid the first time, but then when the bill came at the second lunch, they directed the waiter to you and you paid again. You meet for this month’s lunch and find you’ve forgotten your wallet. Your neighbor pays, but you can tell they’re not happy about it. When you go to pencil next month’s date in your diary, they tell you they’re actually pretty booked up for the rest of the year.
The third type of TT is the person who requires a payment or quid pro quo for them to help you. You ask your new partner to pick up some onions on the way to your apartment for the meal you’re making and they ask you to transfer them the money. You laugh, assuming they’re joking, but when they arrive they ask you for the exact change. When you needed them to pick you up on their way home and drop you along their normal route, they asked you for gas money as if they were going out of their way.
The fourth type of TT is the person who doesn’t ask about you or really care. You could recite your best friend’s birthday, recent weight gain, bank balance, latest disappointment, and enemies. When they invite you over on a Tuesday, you’re surprised as they know you have evening classes—at least you thought they did, until they innocently say, “An evening class? That doesn’t sound like you. Why are you starting that?” You spill your heart out about a problem you haven’t been able to share with anyone else and you look over and see them smiling at their phone. They notice you looking and say, “That sounds great. Well done, you.”
TTs are tiring and always want more. They have a great eye for identifying accommodating and agreeable people who don’t know their rights. TTs prey on generous people-pleasers and won’t stop taking until their victim either stops offering solutions or wants to talk about their own problems.
Although they must be condemned for taking advantage of your weakness, TTs do serve a purpose in highlighting how your people-pleasing compulsions aren’t respected or deserved by others.
If you feel any hint of people-pleasing habits, you must be aware of what can lie in your path. You’ve read about manipulating behavior, people who will repeatedly violate your boundaries, and even TTs who are out to get you. Even if you are assertive, it doesn’t mean you are immunized from these people. You can begin to understand that there is more than meets the eye to being “nice” and agreeable and realize even more why assertiveness is an essential life skill.