“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” ~Maya Angelou
Several months ago, I moved into a new house. During the inspection of my old house, I was expecting to receive my whole security deposit back.
I didn’t. The landlady took advantage of the situation and withheld part of my deposit.
She charged me the price of cleaning the whole house even though I was only renting a room in the house. And she charged for me something that was already damaged when I moved in, falsely claiming that I was the one who damaged the item.
There really wasn’t much I could do. The amount of money she was keeping wasn’t enough to make legal action worthwhile. Nor, obviously, could I force her to give me the money.
What made the situation even worse is that I had repeatedly gone out of my way to help the landlady. Whenever she asked me for a simple favor, I did my best to oblige.
The truth is that I considered her a friend. Yet in the end, all she cared about was money.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a calm, easy-going person. It takes a lot to get me upset.
This got me upset. I ranted. I raved. I yelled. All to no avail.
I was completely powerless to change the situation, which is probably what caused me to react the way I did.
I’m not proud of how I acted in this situation. I obviously felt quite frustrated and my feeling of powerlessness fueled my anger.
At the same time, I know that I could have handled the situation better, that I could have behaved in a more mature way.
Since this happened several months ago, I’ve had plenty of time and emotional distance to think through what I could have done differently.
When possible, prepare ahead of time for the worst.
I was caught off guard. Before the meeting with my ex-landlady, I never considered the possibility that she might withhold part of my deposit.
If I had a do-over, I would have mentally prepared myself ahead of time for this possibility. The benefit of preparing for the worst is that I would have overestimated the amount she might withhold.
I still would have been upset about not getting my full deposit back, but much less so.
Advocate for yourself without losing control.
Even if you’re in a situation in which the other person has control, you can still advocate for your position. You can try to get the other person to see your point of view and perhaps negotiate an agreement.
Losing control, however, doesn’t allow the other person to hear our point of view and rarely gets us what we want.
Instead, losing control can cause situations to degenerate quickly and can lead us to act in ways that we later regret.
If you calmly advocate for yourself, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your way. But losing control does guarantee that you won’t get what you want.
Take the higher road and preserve your integrity.
If the other person has complete or almost complete power over the situation and they refuse to compromise or negotiate, you’re probably best off taking the higher road and preserving your integrity.
Be the bigger person. Just because someone else chooses to act without integrity, that doesn’t mean that we have to follow them.
My yelling and ranting and raving accomplished nothing, except to make myself look foolish. And to lower my opinion of myself.
I don’t want to be the type of person who yells and rants and raves. I want to be the type of person who can assert my position calmly. That’s where my integrity is.
Acknowledge your own imperfections.
The truth is that I’m far from perfect.
Have I ever engaged in similar behavior, being less than honest with someone else, taking advantage of someone else? The answer is yes.
In Byron Katie’s The Work, she asks us to do “turnarounds” in which we look inward at our own behavior rather than focus outward on other people’s behavior.
When I did this, I was able to generate a list of times when I’ve taken advantage of other people, just like my ex-landlady took advantage of me.
If we want others to be honest in their dealings with us, we need to start by changing our own behavior first. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
Forgive the other person.
You don’t have to like the other person’s behavior. But you can still forgive them for the choices they’ve made.
Forgiveness isn’t about the other person; forgiveness is about maintaining our own peace of mind. Forgiveness allows us to let go of anger and return to a state of peace.
On the other hand, holding onto anger gains us nothing, causes us more pain, and keeps us stuck in the path.
Get help or eliminate the person from your life.
In my situation, there was no need to have ongoing contact with the woman who took advantage of me.
But that’s not always the case. You might be in a situation where someone who is a regular part of your life is taking advantage of you.
If you are, then you need to take a good hard look at the situation and decide how you want to handle it.
You might choose to eliminate the person from your life if they’re unwilling to accept responsibility and change their behavior.
If you can’t eliminate the person from your life, then another option is to elicit help or support from someone else. Someone who has more power to change the situation then what you have.
Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve been taken advantage of by someone you trusted. And you felt powerless to do anything about it.
In the end, we can’t control others’ behavior, but we can control our own. We do have power over our own choices.
We might feel helpless in these situations, but the reality is that we’re anything but helpless. The next time you’re in a situation where someone is taking advantage of you, I encourage you to take a pause and mindfully decide how you want to handle the situation.
Sad woman image via Shutterstock