Whether romantic, friendly or familial, we have all experienced at least one relationship that could be considered unhealthy. One that does a disservice to both parties.
We don’t always recognize when it causes more harm than good but hopefully, when we do, we either change course and turn it into a healthier one or just walk away.
One of the shortest and what I consider to be a near perfect book about co-dependent relationships is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
While widely considered a children’s book, the relationship depicted—one between a boy (the taker) and a tree (the giver)—is too complicated for a child to understand or appreciate the message.
The story is open to interpretation.
Some see it as a beautiful story about a parent’s unconditional love for a child. Others see it as story about an abusive and selfish relationship.
It has also been called a story about our relationship with nature.
From childhood to adulthood, the boy repeatedly takes from the tree until all that is left is a stump. Stripped bare of all it has to give, the tree offers the stump as a seat for the boy, now an old man. Not once does the boy say thank you and the tree never says no.
I never saw this story as a healthy message of love.
Regardless of whether or not it is a parent/child relationship depicted in the story, I saw a dysfunctional dynamic going on.
One takes and takes, draining another of all its resources, while the other never considers that all of their giving is causing self-harm.
Whenever I see or experience these types of relationships, I’m always reminded of The Giving Tree. It puts things in perspective for me. At first glance, it might seem like a simple narrative, but it is actually a complex one.
Whether we are the giver or the taker, it’s worth examining our own role in the relationships we have.
Do we ask for too much without willing to give back?
Do we give too much without questioning if it’s hurting us?
It’s all about balance and compromise.
Yes, it is okay to ask for what we need but within reason. And we also have the right to say no to something if it drains us of our physical and mental well-being.
To the givers: Never give more than you get back or you risk losing yourself to someone else’s demands. It’s easy to be taken advantage of more than you think it is. If you are not getting anything in return, if there is no expression of gratitude, then perhaps it is time to stop giving. The relationship will either shift to a reciprocal one or end completely.
To the takers: Give back to those who give to you. Acts of selflessness are beneficial to everyone. Ask yourself if what is being asked of another is reasonable or fair. No one should feel obligated to fulfill your requests. Say “Thank You.”
It may take years to break the patterns and heal from a co-dependent relationship. It doesn’t happen overnight and if we still need a little guidance to help us along, there’s always The Giving Tree:
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein