By: Jennifer Chu
Are you a doormat? Some of us may have the misunderstanding that as long as we are really, really, really nice to others, people will like us.
Then what happens is that we end up putting our hand up for everything. We always say yes to any request that comes our way, be it reasonable or unreasonable. With all this effort, surely people would appreciate what you do for them, right?
The Creation of a Doormat
I had a client who was newly promoted as a manager, and in his eagerness to prove that he was an approachable and nice manager, he tried to be the most obliging manager ever. Eventually he found himself covering for “sick” team members almost everyday, answering emails at midnight, going into the office during the weekends, and practically doing 95% of the work of his team. By the time my client came to see me, he was completely burnt out, full of resentment and bitterness. He was really confused. He thought that by being really nice to others, he would gain respect from others. Little did he expect that the outcome would be utterly the opposite. They started making more unreasonable requests, taking extra leave at short notice, and stopped worrying about not getting their job done. Basically, people seemed to stop caring about him.
How You Do Things Teaches Others How to Treat You
But how did this all come about? The reality is that when my client decided to put himself last, he behaved in a way that was not respectful of himself. He stopped caring for his own needs, he started treating himself poorly by agreeing to do others’ work for them. And as a result, he was practically modelling to his subordinates to not take him seriously.
Of course, this is a rather extreme example, but it is not uncommon for people to still say yes to a friend when they really do not want to do certain things for them, agreeing to certain viewpoints just to avoid conflicts, or making sure that they don’t show “negative” emotions such as frustration, anger, sadness and anxiety in front of others.
Being a Doormat vs Being a Loving Person
You may ask, does that mean that I should always put myself first, and not care about others? Isn’t that just being a selfish and horrible person? The truth is, we live in a society, and no one can survive by themselves. It’s expected that we help each other, and there are times we want to go out of our way to do things for others. However, it is one thing to make sacrifices for others out of love and care, and it is another if it is out of fear.
Many of the people that I work with who have a tendency to always prioritise others, do so out of fear. It could be fear of not being approve by others, fear for conflict, fear that we are not worthy if we don’t be this extremely helpful person, fear that we are not living up to our own self image as a loving person. Making sacrifices for these reasons often leads to neglecting of our own needs. The tell-tale sign of this would be the accumulated emotions of resentment, bitterness, exhaustion, sadness, and anger. With these emotions, we eventually become someone who is the opposite of who we initially strive to become.
5 Tips for Change
If you relate to these behaviours and emotions associated with being a doormat, perhaps the following few tips would be helpful.
1. Identify your patterns
Where, who and what do you notice about yourself being most obliging? Observe the inner workings of yourself. Ask yourself why do you have to be like this? What are you afraid of? If your doormat behaviour is to serve the function of pleasing everyone, then perhaps asking yourself why do you need to please everyone, and is it even possible to please everyone? Gaining the clarity of what your behaviours are for could help you be more in control of them.
2. Start listening to your needs
What would you rather be doing? Do you actually need a rest, some time alone doing nothing? What are some relaxing and enjoyable things that you love to do? When was the last time you have done something lovely for yourself? A car cannot run on empty fuel. Similarly, without being nourished and recharged through meeting our needs, we would end up feeling completely depleted.
3. Have compassion for yourself
Start by having compassion for your emotions. If you have feelings of resentment and bitterness, don’t judge yourself harshly for having them. It makes sense that if you are always doing things for others, that you would naturally be having these emotions. When someone asks you to do something and you feel that you don’t want to, have compassion for that reaction. Do not feel guilty. Treat yourself like how you would treat others. Stop expecting yourself to be a giving machine. Give yourself that understanding that you deserve.
4. Boundary setting
Are you doing more than you should? What are those things? Can they be delegated or deleted? Saying no to someone could be difficult if you are not used to the idea, perhaps starting with the easiest people, people you know could accept your “no” well. Take your time and build up your boundaries slowly.
5. Reframe your idea of conflict
Disagreeing with someone does not mean fighting or arguing. Disagreement could lead to problem solving, and sometimes emergence of more options. Similar to boundary setting, start by practicing communicating your different viewpoints with people you find most comfortable.
Article supplied with thanks to The Centre for Effective Living.
About the author: Psychologist Jennifer Chu has worked with adults experiencing a range of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, social adjustment issues, stress management, and cross-cultural issues.