AS we go through life we inevitably grow and understand better what makes us tick. One of the greatest and most impactful moments of personal clarity came in my twenties when I realised just how much I hate being taken for granted.
I’ve recently turned 45 and the learning continues. My twenties were an eventful time with many momentous and significant events scattered throughout. I graduated from university and started work at the turn of the new millennium. I became a parent, married and divorced in the space of 7 years. My career in IT boomed and busted as the dot.com bubble inflated and then popped.
Each event taught me valuable lessons about life and about who I was as a person. That I hated being taken for granted was one of the most significant awakenings and it’s something I’ve had to learn to manage over the years.
The Feeling of Being Taken for Granted
Most of us will feel aggrieved when our kindnesses and best efforts are overlooked. When we feel taken for granted by anyone, be that our kids, our partner or work colleagues it can undermine our faith and our contentedness in those relationships. Relate, the UK’s biggest provider of relationship support services posits that when one or other partner in a relationship feels taken for granted, under-appreciated and undervalued it can have painful and detrimental affects for the longevity of the relationship if not confronted.
An alternate perspective can be found in this 2020 story on YourTango. It states that many divorced women acknowledge that feeling taken for granted by their ex was a contributing factor to their divorce. Conversely, it highlights that others are able to take what might seem like complacency and disinterest within a relationship as a sign of comfort and stability between the two parties.
There’s probably an element of truth in both perspectives — a wrong has only been committed if one person feels taken for granted as a result of another persons actions or apathy towards them. It may bother them, or it may not and that is determined by the individual. In my own case, more often than not I feel aggrieved when the things I do for others are overlooked or assumed, and I’ve tried to unpack why it is that it gets to me as it does.
I’d like to think that I’m not particularly hung up on being given thanks in return for gestures and kindnesses. I appreciate good manners but I’ve only really learned in my forties the genuine power and meaning of living with gratitude and I don’t believe ingratitude from others is solely the issue.
I’m no saint but I’ve demonstrated a desire to serve others throughout life and I routinely to put the needs of family, friends and loved-ones ahead of my own. It feels good to do so and in that way is probably not entirely selfless. Conversely I’ve never expected favours in return or for others to earn my goodwill by paying it forwards. I’m terrible at taking help and especially bad at asking for it.
What rankles the most is when I feel that my interests, opinions and the modest requests I make of others aren’t taken seriously or are paid lip-service without apparent concern or consideration. When I feel like I don’t matter. Anger strikes when my reasonable needs and desires aren’t treated as credible or serious. “How dare they?” I ask myself, as I recall all that I’ve done for them.
When there’s an imbalance or an injustice, that’s when I feel agitated. Is it because I’m too easy-going? Too accommodating? Compliant? A pushover? Who can say?
Maybe I’m over-thinking it?
What It Really Means
When I’m being objective I can see that the issue isn’t in others overlooking all I do for them and merely taking all they can get. Instead, it’s a reflection of how I treat them.
“Being taken for granted is an unpleasant but sincere form of praise. Ironically, the more reliable you are and the less you complain, the more likely you are to be taken for granted.”
I’m taken for granted when my good-deeds and good-will are taken as read. It happens when others assume I’ll act with generosity and compliance. It happens as a result of the precedent that I’ve set through my past actions. As Gretchen Rubin puts it so plainly — it’s that I’ve shown myself to be reliable, happy to help, selfless and uncomplaining in how I treat others in the past that gives them the comfort and permission to take me for granted.
It’s not them, it’s me.
Selfless or Selfish?
While I’ve described myself as selfless, generous and devoted to serving others, that I struggle with being taken for granted would suggest otherwise.
It grinds me down when others seem to feel that my efforts are exerted without personal sacrifice, or without incurring any cost or pain. That they seem able to accept my gestures without acknowledging, appreciating or reciprocating them speaks volumes about how they view me. But what does this really say about me? Is it wrong to feel cheated when I see little pay-back or appreciation for my efforts? Or am I entitled to feel this way?
A kindness should be its own reward. Yet to give and to serve selflessly is often the preserve of those spiritual beings who have given themselves and their lives over entirely to the service of others. Their life is all about enabling the betterment of mankind at the expense of almost everything else.
Is such sacrifice what it takes to negate the need for acknowledgment of one’s efforts? Is that what’s required to bypass the gnawing annoyance when your kindnesses and requests go ignored?
There’s a Balance to be Struck
In most aspects of life we’re in it for what we can get in return for our efforts:
- We say “I love you” in anticipation of a reciprocal response.
- We pay a fair price in expectation of a fair exchange of value.
- We reward our kids for good behaviour and we’re similarly rewarded for an honest day’s work with an honest day’s pay.
Life is interlaced with such exchanges, and the balance of humanity is maintained through fair and proportionate responses to the efforts we put in. When one side of the equation is lacking, everything feels out of balance.
The monk who goes without material goods and strips their life back to the bare essentials is still being rewarded for their service to others, even those who don’t thank them. Their reward comes from the spiritual peace and freedom from attachment — they don’t need overt gratitude or for the favour to be returned to feel good. The act is all they need.
The less woke amongst us shouldn’t feel bad for needing a bit more give-and-take from others if we feel it’s genuinely missing from our lives. No-one deserves to feel taken for granted.
Give and Take, Quid Pro Quo
How we treat others and how they treat us in return is a manifestation of the cause and effect nature of life. How we act, what we do and what we say determines what comes back to us. The efforts we put in (whether in work, education, on the sports field or in practice of our chosen hobbies) will yield results in direct proportion. It’s why most of us crave recognition when we do something good for someone, and feel taken for granted when it doesn’t happen.
We teach it to our kids and we believe in it ourselves. From an early age we condition children that hard work and diligence are recognised and good behaviour, rewarded. I’ve seen it in my kids who feel the injustice when they’ve put in a particularly comprehensive piece of work, only to for their efforts to be overlooked in favour of one of their peers who wasn’t trying.
Kids learn early-on that the reward for their efforts will normally reflect the efforts they’ve put in and they feel rightly cheated when this cause and effect doesn’t play out.
We bring equivalent expectations of reward in proportion to our efforts into adult life. If we feel taken for granted at work then it can erode our motivation our self-belief and the commitment we feel towards our employer can dwindle too.
A2018 study by Insurance Business Magazine identified nine ways that we can feel undervalued and taken for granted at work. These include obvious indicators such as being overlooked for promotion and willingness to work overtime being assumed. It also highlighted that when we aren’t being trained or mentored for growth, it demonstrates that our employer assumes we’re content with staying put — a further clear sign that our good nature being is taken for granted.
In work as in our personal relationships, being taken for granted can deal a blow to our self-esteem and our inner peace. Witnessing unjust promotions awarded to inferior colleagues leaves us wondering where we went wrong? Losing out to inferior competitors feels unjust. When our customers seem ambivalent and unresponsive to our diligent efforts at sales and service, our inner child wails that “it’s not fair”. Our anger at being taken for granted stems from deep within.
Do the Right Thing
The only way around this, or so it seems to me is to accept that gratitude and recognition are in the hands of others. We will each have our own needs and expectations for how our kindnesses and efforts are received and acknowledged. It’s down to the recipient to do with it what they will.
“Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
It would be comforting to believe that each good deed and kindly word is acknowledged, but that’s not in our gift to influence. We forget that there are many other variables and factors outside of our control that determine how it’s received.
The world and the human beings within it represent too big and complex a system to think that we can predict the outcome solely based on what we do, and that goes for relationships, work and every aspect of our lives.
The key takeaway then:
When we do something kind, positive or helpful for someone else, it really has to be because it’s what we want to do for them. We cannot do it for ourselves, or in anticipation of reward, recognition or in the hope of reciprocation.
Only by taking this approach can we ensure that we’ll be okay with however our gesture is received. Only by taking this approach can we be certain to avoid feelings of being taken for granted. It’s easy to say, but potentially hard to do. But isn’t that the way with so much of life?
Moving Forwards with Selflessness and Generosity
We all have a choice about what we do for others and what we expect in return. We can choose to feel embittered and under-appreciated or we can remember that we only influence one side of the equation.
I’ve no desire to withhold the gestures and kindnesses that I extend to those I love and others who I simply want to connect with or help. I’m not going to get caught in a Mexican-standoff of withholding good-will in exchange for thanks. In such a confrontation I’ll continue to be the first to pull the trigger of positive action. I want to feel free to give and contribute positively to the world, in my relationships, in my work and in my daily life without expectation of or need for appreciation.
Attaining this level of selflessness is critical for living a positive life, connecting with and enriching the lives of others and achieving significance and success in my chosen endeavours as a result.
The antidote to feelings of being taken for granted? To remember that the good deed is its own reward, whether it’s recognised and appreciated or not.
Previously Published on medium
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