Who Gets the Most?
by Tova Kreps, LCSW, President and Co-Founder of Wellspring
It’s easy to slip into favoritism. He’s the oldest… She is the only girl… He is the boss, after all… You know she has a temper, so just… He’s an addict and can’t help it… She is the only one in the family who ever… He is the man of the house… That’s just the way she is… He’s very special… She’s old… He has a mental illness… She’s very sick… He can’t help it…
While all of these “reasons” for someone in a relationship to get more goodies than others may be valid for a time, when they begin to form an ongoing imbalance of resources and attention in a relationship or system, the relationship(s) becomes unhealthy. Soon, the fragile mobile will break.
In healthy relationships or systems, everyone counts, not more and not less than everyone else.
Yes, read that sentence again, and let it soak in. Then ask yourself: Who gets the most in your family system?
Who gets the most attention?
Who has the most resources spent on them or the most personal free time?
When decisions are made, whose opinion counts the most?
Who talks the most or is listened to the most?
Whose mood matters most?
Who gets the most affection or praise/admiration?
who does most of the chores or carries the most responsibility?
Who gives in more often in order to resolve a conflict?
Who does the most initiating of relationship connection versus receiving?
Who gets most of the criticism or blame?
Surprisingly, most of us can answer these questions easily, innately knowing the imbalances that exist. To look more closely, take this little assessment and tally the balance of the sharing of life goodies in your relationships.
I call these “goodies” - relationship commodities. When some people consistently receive more relationship commodities than others, it creates unhealthy and unsustainable relationships. What are some of these commodities? attention, positive feedback, praise, affection, resources, and preferential treatment for needs and wants.
God does not show partiality 1 and either should we 2. As a matter of fact, as Christians, we are called to be humble 3, to think of others before ourselves 4, and to attend to what God values more than what the world values 5. God loves the humble 6; He values those who are without status 7. He does not see as the world sees 8. It is easy for us to favor those that the world favors, those with special status, success, birth order, or even special needs. But this is not the way of love. 9
All of these favoritisms create unhealthy relationships. When someone consistently gets more than others, sin is inevitable. Those with power are tempted to abuse their status to get their own way; they are tempted to be greedy, unloving, insensitive and unjust. Those without “goodies” are tempted to be angry, jealous, bitter, to slander, to manipulate, to pursue personal revenge or to give up hope or care. Systems in which someone consistently gets more than others are unsustainable without damage and negative fallout. Those who get less may leave the relationship (because they get healthy) through a divorce, a new job or the ending of a relationship. Or, they may break the system in an attempt to get revenge or to fight to get more themselves. If a system continues in imbalance, it is always at someone’s expense.
One example of a continued unhealthy system may be one with an addict or someone with a mental illness. Those around these people may enable them to receive more than others by catering to their needs, or over-sympathizing with their plights. If the mental illness is narcissism, others may even come to believe what the narcissist believes, that he/she is always the most important person in the room.
Another typical imbalanced system is one with a controlling person. The system is maintained through fear with threats of shame, abandonment, or punishment. “Just do what he says, so he’s not mad…” The controller always gets his/her way at the expense of others, and the damage to the others can be devastating. Victims of controllers may eventually come to believe that they are less valuable, unlovable, or unworthy of receiving good things, affecting every aspect of their lives, especially their relationship with God.
Some unhealthy systems develop inadvertently when there is a chronic illness or special need. While the extra attention may be legitimate, if it is sustained without attention paid to other members of the system, dysfunctional dynamics will ensue.
Lastly, many average relationships, families or organizations develop inequalities because of value systems which favor some people over others. In families, this may be for gender, birth order, age, success, or conformity to family values. In organizations, social status, power, control tactics, gender or other issues may also play in to favoritism.
In healthy systems everyone counts, not more and not less than everyone else. Children should be attended to, but not so much so that parents have no self-care. The elderly or sick need to be cared for, but their caretakers need lives too. It is good for individuals to count more on special occasions or for short seasons, but thankfully, everyone has a birthday!
Does everyone count in your relationships? Do you “outdo one another in showing honor”? 10 To everyone? Regardless of age, gender or status? Does everyone take a turn talking, having opinions, or getting their way? Is everyone noticed and attended to? If not, perhaps it is time for you to be the one to notice the inequities in your relationships and do something about it.
1. Romans 2:11 Acts 10:34
2. Leviticus 19:15
3. Romans 12:16-20
4. Mark 12:31, Matthew 7:12, Philippians 2:3
5. Colossians 3:2, Matthew 6:33
6. Matthew 5:8, Matthew 18:2-4
7. Luke 14:13-14, Matthew 9:11-13
8. 1 Samuel 16:7
9. Romans 13:10, Mark 12:31
10. Romans 12:10