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Dear Dr. Debra, 

I live on the same street as our nephew, niece, brother and sister-in-law. My niece often asks me to let her golden retriever out or bring him here to play with my bichon, Sparky. I always say yes, because I love animals and am a good person.


Yesterday, they watched my bichon and said the two dogs were great together. I asked, “Would you watch Sparky when we go to Europe in Dec for 8 days?” His answer was “NO, because i am not home during the day.” However he comes home at lunch to let his dog out or calls me to do it, and I have watched their dog when they went away.


I asked my sister-in-law and she flatly refused, saying “If I wanted a dog, i would have one.” Yet I know she will be watching my niece’s dog all winter, because she is a snowbird and just returned to FL. My feelings are crushed and I’m very upset. My hubby says, “You know what they are, so you should not be surprised.”


I can leave my dog at the kennel, which I have done. But why are families like this? How can I stop being so oversensitive? Right now i have no use for them!!!.




Dear Oversensitive,


It’s hard for people who are good, helpful, and generous to understand when others don’t reciprocate in the same way, especially if it’s a family member. In fact, if you’re sensitive, you can take their behaviors personally and feel hurt.


You’re not going to be less sensitive—that’s just the way you are. However, you can work on not taking things personally. Sounds to me like your family is selfish, and their behavior is not about YOU it’s about THEM. I’m sure there’s other ways they’ve shown they’re not as caring and giving as you are.


It’s important not to ignore the signs that other people don’t give in the same way you do. Don’t assume these types of people are going to be there for you because you’ve always been there for them. There are plenty of people in the world who will take advantage of your time and energy, not because they are necessarily bad people, but because they are self-centered. If you don’t expect people to be different from who they are, you won’t be surprised and hurt by their behavior.


You need to decide if you are going to continue to help out with your family’s dog. If you chose to, you should either do so WITHOUT expectations of them doing anything for you. Or you should tell them up front that you expect reciprocal behavior from them. For example: “I’ll be glad to watch your dog for the weekend while you’re away. However, I expect that you will do the same for Sparky the next time I’m away. Do we have an agreement?”


If they agree, but go back on their word, calmly, but firmly remind them of the agreement. If they still don’t watch your dog (without a valid excuse) then the consequence of that choice is you don’t continue to take care of their animal.


Focus your time and energy on developing relationships with people who are also givers. You’ll see early on in relationships if they are the type of people who are there for you, like you’re there for them. Don’t continue friendships where the reciprocity isn’t equal. Sometimes, you have to create your own “family.”


Best of luck,

Dr. Debra


Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.

Feel free to write Dr. Debra with your questions


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Dr. Debra Holland is also a regular contributor to the Wet Noodle Posse Blog.


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