What to do When You’re Feeling Used

by | Feb 18, 2020 | Personal Growth

“OMG, I hate all my friends,” a young woman said to me recently, “they only ever call when they need something. I feel so used.”

While “feeling used” is actually an interpretation of an external event rather than a real feeling, it’s an experience that many of us recognize:

  • Perhaps you have a friend who always lets you pick up the check, or who always talks about themselves?

  • They want you to come to their rescue, but are busy when you need something?

  • They rarely say thank you, and regularly ask you for favors.

  • You feel resentful around them because your emotions and needs are neglected

When we think we are being used, its usually because we’ve slipped into disempowered or submissive state. We feel powerless to field the outside world in some way, as if something in the situation exceeds our capacity to cope, redirect or assert ourselves.

Feeling “used” is a classic symptom of people-pleasing, co-dependence and sometimes comes from a deep desire to be looked after. It’s often my inner child in my grown-up body that “feels used.”

  • She thinks I am powerless to protect myself from others’ exploitative ways.

  • She worries that her well-being lies at the mercy of other’s whims and desires.

  • She is afraid of saying no.

  • She is afraid of people’s reactions to her.

  • She stays safe by being an object to serve others’ needs, with no will or mattering of her own.

Good news? Another part of myself is often objecting – sometimes vehemently.

Bad news? If those objections focus on the external world, on rightness and wrongness, or on blame, I will stay disempowered and trapped.

Instead, the way out of “feeling used” actually lies in 3 key steps:

1. Slow Down; Connect with your Reactions.

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” – Aristotle

Whenever you “feel used” it’s often because you’re longing for more mutuality, equality, consideration, mattering … and perhaps you have a pattern of meeting others’ needs above your own.

  • Are you saying yes when you’d rather say no?

  • Are you having a hard time asking for what you want?

  • Are you wishing others could read your mind?

  • Do you wish that you didn’t have to SAY what you want, but that they’d just KNOW it naturally?

  • Are you wanting more trust that this other person has your best interests in mind, and not only their own?

  • Are you wanting more consideration for the impact that this “ask” might have on you?

  • Are you somehow replaying old patterns where you believe that the only way you can have connection, belonging or love is to be useful to others?

  • Does some part of you want to be an object to be used, while another part feels resentful about this?

2. Drop In: Connect with What Matters to YOU.

This is where having a strong literacy of your Feelings and Universal Human Needs comes in super handy!

Take some time to get underneath the interpretation that you are being used, by asking yourself if you might be feeling ….

Sad? Lonely? Frustrated? Indignant? Hurt? Wary? (Here’s a longer list of options).

Next, connect your feelings to what’s important to you – are you wanting more … Trust? Consideration? Appreciation? Mutuality? (Here’s a longer list too)

  • Are you angry with the other person, and having a hard time figuring out how to talk about that in a kind and direct way?

  • Are you feeling wary and uneasy, longing for more transparency, information or consideration?

How you feel matters.

What you need matters.

When your needs aren’t important to you, others are likely to dismiss them too.

3. Show Up: Practice Saying No, and Yes.

  • Give yourself permission to say no. (Here are 50 Ways to Say No if you need them!)

  • Give yourself permission to ask for what you want.

  • Give yourself permission to meet the other person’s needs, but on your terms instead of theirs.

  • Give yourself permission to do what others want, and get nothing back if that meets your own needs for contribution and joy.

The point of this last step is get you fully in touch with the range of options available to you, and for you to move back into being choiceful, creative and empowered – no matter what you decide to do next.

The key point? Whatever it takes to shift your perceptions from things happening to you, to your actively choosing your next step grounded in awareness, compassion and courage.

Additionally, it matters how we hear a message.  Do you know your listening style?  Take my quiz to understand how you make meaning of difficult to hear messages.

Now I’d like to hear from you:

  • When do you feel most “used”?

  • What has helped you shift the dynamic in your own life?

Let me know – Leave a comment below.


  1. Angela Peterson

    When I have stated “no” and exercised it with kindness or with compassion -”That doesn’t work for me right now.” And the other person whom thought I was always a yes person no longer talks with me or wants to have something to do with me – or retaliates against me:
    That is when I know I was being manipulated or most used.

  2. Karen Greer

    Earlier in my life I would feel "used" when I was tired because I gave too much of myself away! As I’m getting older I’m feeling more choiceful and intentional in what I choose to do for others. And I realize I’m "pacing" my life more also. Now I’m more deliberate in my decision making too.

  3. Melissa

    while i agree with much of this article based on what the young woman (who was referenced in the first sentence) said, I see that There is a such thing as being used. Think of rape or scammers like the tinderswindler. I see these 3 steps outlined in the article as very limited in such situations, AT BEST.

    I also worry that readers may see this article as saying that there’s no such thing as being used, I’ve legitminately been used and have been gaslit ABOUT IT by third parties who don’t even know my situation first hand — complete with dismissive remarks about how “being used” is my misunderstanding when they know nothing about my situation, and then they depict term being chalked up as evaluative. I’m concerned that this article will entrench those types of alienating responses further. I really want people to take into considerationthe possiblity that people can legitimately claim to be used in certain tragic instances, I wish to reduce the chances of them being met with unwarranted trivialization and automatic disbelief.

    I bet this response may come as a surprise, and wasn’t in anyway reflective of your desired impact. and i think its still important to highlight this fuller picutre if we are to support a more nonviolent world. do you share any of my views and longings?


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