Roadblocks to Adopting the Skills: Am I a Doormat?

Am I Doormat—A People Pleaser?

By acting effectively—by validating my daughter’s or husband’s emotions and/or by accepting that I cannot change them right now—I feel like I am denying my own emotions and letting people walk all over me!

For family members who have spent many years denying their own emotions and letting their spouse or mentally ill child walk all over them, merely validating and accepting can seem both counterproductive and a betrayal of their newfound understanding of their self-worth, a selling out of their new self-pride for a moment of calm. In fact their therapists may have told them to vociferously assert their rights in order to relearn this skill and get in touch with who they are! They seem to need to err on the side of over-expression to learn how not to be a doormat again.

In Family Connections we argue that deliberately choosing to be effective in the moment is asserting one’s selfhood because it reflects one’s own sense of self-worth. It is not the same as giving in to others. It incorporates validating only the valid and accepting (for our own sakes) only that which truly cannot be changed in the moment. Even if we ultimately choose the same course of action that we would have chosen when we were doormats, by doing so mindfully, we are ensuring that we are in charge. We have empowered ourselves by acting effectively.

Whether or not other people still feel that they can treat us as doormats because we seem to be validating and accepting the other and setting aside our own needs, we should now know deep in our own hearts that this is not the case. This calls to mind, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s restraint in response to Iraqi missile attacks during the First Gulf War: “We will respond if and when we please, [but not immediately].” Luckily, in his case, the world recognized that “inaction spoke louder than words,” and President George Bush (the father) commended him repeatedly for his restraint. This, of course, is not always the case.

Furthermore, when acting effectively (even when validating the valid and accepting what cannot be changed), we do not always need to entirely dismiss our own needs. Think of the “C” and “E” in CLEAR: communicate your perception of the situation and grant your needs and feelings expression, even during the validation process. Likewise, sometimes acting effectively also means taking the Middle Path, determining our own limits and learning to communicate and set them clearly and effectively. If those around us realize that we do have limits beyond which we will not be pushed, they will also understand that when we do not seem to set them, this is a calculated move on our parts, not a sign of weakness, but one of strength.

If we can create this kind of home culture then we can walk the tightrope between validating and accepting the other and setting our own limits. In short, we can choose to be effective in taking a CLEAR path and a Middle Path, between being a doormat and over-vociferously stating our case.