Monday, January 18, 2016

post estrangement: learning to affirm my rights in a relationship

I used to be a doormat!  

There I said it, I have admitted my shame. 

Yes the truth is out; for most of my life I conducted myself in all my relationships as the "people pleaser".  I believed, mistakenly that I had to please other people in order to deserve their respect and love.  I gauged all my actions on how I could make others happy. 

This went above and beyond generosity and "doing for others", to the far more self-destructive; not standing up for myself.  

I accepted unacceptable behaviour towards myself to avoid causing others the discomfort of accepting responsibility for their inappropriate behaviour towards me.  This meant people got away with putting me down, ridiculing me, showing me disrespect and other actions that left me feeling deeply wounded.  All because I did not want to hurt them by voicing my disapproval of their actions!

Supposedly the reason we become "door mats" is because we need the validation that comes from being loved. Somewhere the mistaken notion is learned that by "not causing a scene" we are creating harmony and people who do not create drama are loved for their pleasantness.

Well, to my chagrin, I have learned that 
relationships don't work that way! 

The doormat instead of being loved is seen as weak and therefore becomes the target for abuse. The message others get is "it is alright to treat this person badly because they won't stand up for themselves.  

  • The insults and the put downs continue and grow more prolific and destructive because we never stood up and said "NO".  
  • The demands and expectations to do for others, grows because we never said "NO".  
  • We are told what to do and when to do and are "expected to do without question" because we have never said "NO". 
  • The disrespect grows because we are seen weak for never saying "NO". 
  • Our goodness and desire to be kind is taken advantage of because we never said "NO"
  • Instead of being valued for being accommodating, we became an easy target because we never said "NO"

Over time this type of relationship has a huge emotional cost. Sooner or later we pay the price in loss of self-worth and self-esteem.  

What I also discovered was that each hurtful event builds up over time. Each wound neglected, adds more emotional discomfort.  Inside the emotional bleeding becomes more and more severe.  The negative thought voices get louder and louder, ever more cruel and more punishing.

Inside I started seething with resentment for every time I was taken advantage of, disrespected, put down etc.  While on the outside I smiled and "kept the peace", on the inside I was crying from each cut and slice.  

Each little wound built up and built up and ate away at my self-esteem and self-worth.  I never had learned how to put a stop to abusive actions and words and so I didn't know how to defend myself.  One day I erupted like a volcano exploding to release the built up pressure.  I said a very uncharacteristic "NO!" 

That was the day my life changed forever.  I acted out of character defending myself.  I showed "anger", an emotion I so rarely allowed myself that it caught people off guard.  

Everything that I knew to be true in my life came tumbling down on that day never to be the same again.  Every relationship I was in, changed that day.  I was a stranger even to myself. 

I have been on a journey of recovery ever since.  From grieving, to learning, to healing; I have discovered that there are two kinds of people in my life.  
  • Those who realized that I had reached the end of my "be pleasant at all costs rope" and realized that they had to change their behaviour toward me as I changed my expectations of how I would allow myself to be treated and 
  • the other group, those people who liked being able to control me and manipulate me and were distraught that I would no longer allow it.  

The first group stood by me as I learned by trial and error (many, many errors) how to not be a "door mat".  The second group disappeared.
  • Part of the learning process has been to develop protective emotional boundaries around me.  
  • Part of the process has been learning to speak up for myself.  
  • Part of the process has been learning how to say "NO." 
  • Part of the process has been learning to respect and care for myself. 

Over time I have learned new skills and have adapted a more self-loving, self-compassionate and self-caring attitude. These have come together into a sort of "pledge to myself".

My Pledge to Myself for Safe Friendships and Relationships.

  1. I will never beg or plead for someone’s attention. Anyone who brings me to that level is not worthy of my affection.
  2. I will not tolerate criticism about my body, age, weight, job or any other insecurity I might have.  Good friends don’t put me down, they raise me up.
  3. I will regularly take a look at my relationships to make sure I am being respected, treated kindly and with love.
  4. I will ask myself, “Would I treat someone else like this?” and if the answer is NO, then I don’t deserve to be treated like that either.
  5. I will trust my gut instinct.  When I have a bad feeling I will trust myself and not push it away and make excuses.
  6. I will remember that I am better of alone than in the company of people who treat me in a toxic manner. I will control and limit the amount of time I spend in the company of people who are toxic to my emotional wellbeing.
  7. I will not allow myself to be spoken to in a condescending or sarcastic or mocking way.  Kind and compassionate people would not patronize me thus, and those who do will be dealt with or removed from my life.
  8. I will not allow anyone to call me names or use any kind of projection on me.
  9. My relationships and friendships will be mutual and equal for I know that love and caring is not about control and power.
  10. If I ever feel insecure about any of these steps I will pause and reflect or seek help from supportive friends.  I will not act on impulsive decisions.  But I will act with forethought and consideration as to what is in my best interests.

Do I feel comfortable yet with my new perspective? 
Not quite! 

However I do realize there is no going back to the way I was. For my own mental health that is not an option. 

  • My kindness is now tempered by an awareness that I will not allow myself to be abused or be taken advantage of.
  • My desire for peace is balanced by my need for my need for personal emotional safety and respect.
  • My compassion toward others is balanced by a compassion toward myself. 

It is a good and healthy place to be and I am thankful that I have been able to find my way to these discoveries. 

Renate Dundys Marrello 
2016 - 01 - 18 

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this write-up of your journey. I am at the very beginning of realising that enough is enough, I cannot live any longer on this earth, living as a doormat. I have definitely been one these past 14 years, in my marriage. That is the saddest realisation of all. I have also found myself become the victim of harassment, threats and projection by a narcissist my brother sadly got suckered into a relationship with. He too suffers this curse, and I am trying slowly to help him also - to realise how our upbringing and personality has formed us into these adults that struggle to assert ourselves.
    I wish you happiness, love and hope for a more peaceful future. Good luck on your journey.