I received the following question:
“My mother-in-law is famous for doing things for everybody. If a baby is born, she makes a blanket; somebody is sick, she takes dinner; that kind of thing. But when she does things for us, something just feels wrong. Afterward she reminds us of her favors, fishes for compliments and gratitude, and meddles in things that are none of her business. I tried to talk to my wife about it, but she pointed out how many good things her mother did for everyone. So how dare I have doubts? My question is, can kindness become a way of manipulating people? Can kindness ever be wrong?”
I’ve observed a great many “kind” people in my life. Some of them are genuinely loving, while others are not.
Years ago I was attending a Real Love group, and the members were eager for me to meet Helen, a sweet little 70-year-old grandmother who was described in terms that would have flattered Mother Teresa. When Helen entered the room and sat down, one glance revealed that she was not at all how the group had idealized her.
I asked her one question: “How is your husband?”
Immediately her hair burst into flame, and she denounced him as ungrateful, unappreciative, and difficult. “No matter what I do for that man,” she said, “he never recognizes it. It’s infuriating.”
I asked her if other people were also ungrateful, and she exploded into a tirade against how ungrateful people were, and how they didn’t help her, and how they didn’t recognize her.
This woman was found everywhere that a baby, sick person, or fund raiser needed help—morning to night. But it became obvious that every time she baked bread or gave somebody a ride in her car, she wasn’t freely offering anything. Instead she felt compelled to be kind.
Helen was raised to believe that helping people was required of “nice people,” and she couldn’t bear to be labeled otherwise. But there was a price to be paid for her feelings of obligation. If she helped anybody, she vigorously expected them to be grateful to her. Just as she felt obligated to serve, she obligated others to shower her with appreciation, understanding, loyalty, cooperation, service in return, praise, and power. She expected a LOT in return for her “kindness.” She also expected a certain amount of safety; the more kind things she did for people, the less they could criticize her.
So, while it’s true that genuine kindness is always an element of Real Love, the appearance of kindness can become a counterfeit of Real Love. “Kindness” can be deceptive, manipulative, self-aggrandizing, and controlling. As we become aware of the difference between real and apparent kindness, we become less likely to be deceived by the counterfeit, and we become less likely to believe that we’re kind ourselves when we’re not.
Free yourself to live a life with peace and happiness.
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