Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
October 2007 - Volume 07, No. 7
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Givers and Takers in Relationships Part 2 of 4 - Takers

This month’s newsletter comes in four parts - published weekly through this month. The overall topic is
Givers and Takers in Relationships

I began this series with an introduction of the nature and prevalence of partners in relationships being characterized as givers and takers. Now let me spell out in greater detail the phenomenon of being a Taker in a relationship.

The words giver and taker already have some moral weight to them. Most have a sense that it's good to give, and bad to take. We have a build-in reluctance to take the last cookie on the plate, at least without the permission of the hostess or others in the vicinity. Most of us were trained as a child not to take another child's toy. We are (hopefully) taught to curb that 4-year-old ego “I want what I want when I want it - right now!” In the same vein, most of us were trained in the religious virtue of being a “cheerful giver.” (St. Paul, II Corinthians 9:7)

So how is it that, with all this cultural emphasis toward “giving” there are so many “takers” out there? Many clients come with a feeling of betrayal that they have done so much “giving” and when they need something, there is nobody to “give” back. Those to whom they have given so much, just take more - and little or nothing comes back.

Perhaps it's primary genetic wiring. Perhaps it's early life experience. Perhaps it's parenting. I've seen all three. But there is a street savvy wisdom that emerges, claiming that the only way you're going to get what you want is to “just take it”.

And takers can be very attractive people. Some even taking on a folk hero status - perhaps from a hidden resentment that the rest of us can't “do that too.” In our audience sports, we cheer for the one who can get out there and take best. Taking is winning. It's true in the economic world as well - those who can get the most are those who get rewarded the most. In business seminars they are heros for our emulation. Our rock stars know well the persona of the taker is the key to fame and fortune - just ask their managers.

In the world of sales, it's the narcissist, the one who thinks solely in terms of his own ego needs, who has the “inner balls” to be the most aggressive and successful salesperson. Paradoxically, they're also the best in posturing as givers. Sometimes it takes a pretty good “BS detector” to tell the difference. I see it most in the subtle emptiness of their relationship abilities.

A sad psychological maxim is that takers insist on seeing themselves as givers - and they will be the first to tell you so, and the very last to see themselves as otherwise. In my thirty years of practice, I'd say this has been true about 80% of the time. The process of change for these folks to become less narcissistic, especially for the sake of their domestic relationships, is a lengthy difficult process at best, and counts for almost every grey hair I have (or have lost). The psychological profile of the taker includes a psychological bind that prevents him or her from seeing themselves accurately here. That's why there's always an aura of unreality and/or emptiness surrounding these people. The shell of excitement and success by which they cover and protect this inner sadness is what others “fall in love” with - as many of my clients sadly have come to realize.

The sense of betrayal we come to feel when we've been “taken” is often analogous to the inner sense of betrayal the taker carries deep in his or her psyche, but is forbidden by an ancient bind from ever acknowledging. That's why takers characteristically have difficulty with any experience of anxiety (and again, cannot let themselves know this).

Warning Signs

Here are a few clues - ‘before the wedding', so to speak - that your partner may be a taker. I'll assume here that the taker is a male and the attracted party is a female - though the opposite is frequently the case as well.

- When dining out, how does he treat waitresses (or waiters)? And how well does he tip? How he treats service personnel is a pretty accurate barometer how he will eventually be treating you.
- In general, how does he treat those of lower social standing? Also, how does he act in the presence of those of higher social standing?
- Is he hungry for praise - and grumpy when he doesn't get ‘enough'?
- Does he take more than he really needs, when opportunity provides it?
- Is there an air of entitlement - that he deserves what he has or wants?
- Does he get upset when honestly challenged or criticized? (Be careful here, because the taker can be skilled in transferring or projecting his or her own anger onto the partner, then blaming the partner for being the angry one.)
- Here's a specific ‘test': Accuse your partner that he/she lacks empathy. Takers generally lack the capacity for empathy - but don't know it's missing. So they develop a pseudo empathy, and when challenged as I suggest, get very anxious, defensive and angry.

The primary key to recognizing a taker is to know yourself well enough that you are not blinded by their skill. The inscription, “Know Thyself,” from the ancient forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, still carries its wisdom. I count it as a primary purpose of good psychotherapy to pursue this vital self-knowledge. And in many cases, it entails a difficult struggle.

Next, in Part 3 of this series, I'll look more deeply into the Giver, including the over-giver.

Then the series will conclude with Part 4 - Resolving giver/taker relationships.

In the meantime, as always, pay attention!

Comments (3)

  • givers and takers

    this article was/is so on target for what I am experiencing today. Sadly too, the givers never want to see it :(

    — Velinda, 8/27/2012
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    knidlymaymn, 4/28/2013
  • AMaizing

    I am trying to recover after a shocking break up. I am still having moments when I have to struggle with a huge guilt feeling and the thought that I was taking too much out of balance so my Prince jsut run out of his magic care... This article has a tickle effect all over me. I was in a realationship with a person for 4.5 years. I would like to tell about it somebody who does know ther difference...

    — Lisa, 9/16/2013

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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