This week Anonymous asked a question in the comments on my first post of this blog, Recovering from DoorMat Syndrome. The answer wasn’t simple and there are lessons in this situation that can help many of you so I’m addressing it here. Anon (who I’ll identify as “she” though I have no idea about who this person is) explained that for years she’s cared for her neighbor’s pets when they go away—several times a month. The husband travels for work and his wife usually accompanies him. Anon has compassion for the animals since if she doesn’t care for them, nobody does. But it’s taking its toll on her as it’s a bit of work and time. But Anon has her own dog to look after.
Anon works from home sometimes, like I do, and people often think that means we’re on call for their needs since we’re home.
When the wife had surgery and was on crutches, Anon was asked to look in on her. She wrote that she had the flu but felt obligated to check up on the wife. Anon had a lot of work to do and felt worse than the wife on crutches, who was able to travel with her husband on them but needed Anon to help when she was home. Anon feels obligated to keep helping and has compassion for the pets. Kind people can get a stronger sense of obligation to pick up other people’s pieces when compassion is strong. There are lessons in this:
Lesson 1: Being home DOES NOT mean available to others for favors!
Anon is concerned that if she says no, they can see she’s “home and available.” You’re entitled to take care of your own needs, including enjoying free time if you have some. Since I work at home, people think I can listen to their problems at any time or get together for lunch or keep them company when they have free time. It used to drive me crazy until I learned the truth. You have a right to be busy when you’re home, even if you’re busy reading a book.
Lesson 2: You do NOT have to give your time away just because you have some or others think you can rearrange your schedule for them.
Your time is YOUR time. YOURS! To share or use for what YOU like. I’ve had to set some strong boundaries with people who thought it was okay to call or stop by any time. Unless I say otherwise, I’m off-limits during the week from 9-6. My boss is tough about this. I’M the boss and make rules to take care of ME. It’s important to do have them with people who feel they can infringe on your time.
Lesson 3: Instead of saying no each time, let people know what restriction you have for giving time to others.
Of course you should help when you can. But in the case of Anon, she wasn’t asked for favors. Her neighbors assumed it as a given when they “asked.” Anon calls it asking. I don’t. It was basically telling her when they’d be away and thanks for helping out. Asking offers a choice. It was never Anon’s choice. It was her permanent job, on a frequent basis.
Lesson 4: DoorMats delude themselves about calling obligation favors. But it’s not a favor if was not your choice or desire to do it.
Being a DoorMat stirs obligations. Recovering from it give you choices. It’s better to avoid any favors that can become habits by always saying yes. Then people expect you too, as in Anon’s case. She got herself into a rut she feels stuck in. And you can’t blame people who take advantage if YOU let them! It’s your responsibility to set boundaries and help people break the habit of always expecting you to help out with something. You can learn the Power of Saying No!
Lesson 5: Someone else’s situation isn’t your responsibility.
The glue that keeps Anon stuck is compassion for her neighbor’s pets. Anon says that nobody will care for them if she doesn’t. Somehow I think the neighbors will have to find another solution, or the neighbors should be reported for abuse. THEIR animals aren’t her responsibility. The neighbors enjoy traveling together several times a month while Anon plays the martyr at home, for the sake of the pets. When I was a DoorMat I’d have done the same thing! Today I’d tell them they must make other arrangements, and they will. Or they can get rid of their pets since they’re gone so much.
Lesson 6: No one can take advantage of you unless you say yes!
You can turn people down and set boundaries. It’s your choice to acquiesce to a request. Think before you say yes. You can say no without saying no. The neighbors give Anon gifts for her services. She doesn’t need them. Some people think they can buy someone’s favors. But they don’t make up for what she loses. This situation makes Anon unhappy. That’s a good reason to tell them that it’s become too much for her and she can’t do it anymore. Maybe once in a while. But not several times a month for days.
There’s no need to explain too much. You don’t owe the recipient of your favors a lengthy excuse since you’re doing nothing wrong by bowing out. Explain that it’s interfering with other things you have to do or that it wears you out too much or whatever comes to mind. Don’t apologize profusely. I’d preface it with “I’ve been doing____ for years and hope that you appreciate what it took for me to do it but I can’t continue for many reasons.” You don’t have to tell the reasons. It’s your RIGHT to choose how you spend your time. Suggest they find a teen in the neighborhood that they can pay to do it. Continue to be friendly.
Lesson 7: Being a good person (neighbor, friend, co-worker etc.) does not mean sacrificing your time, pleasure, sanity, health.
Anon also said that the neighbors do other annoying things but she tries to be a good neighbor despite this. Redefine good neighbor. Wave hello. Bring their trashcan to the curb if it rolls away. Loan some sugar. But being a permanent pet caretaker is above and beyond, unless you love them so much you look forward to spending time with them. Of course it’s fine to do favors when you don’t mind or want to help someone you care about.
But when you find yourself complaining about it or resenting the person, it’s time to stop!
Years ago I had a friend who traveled for work a month at a time occasionally. I offered to get her mail and water her few plants once a week. I knew how much it meant to her to know her place was in safe hands and was happy to do it. It was no big deal to walk to her place once a week. Watering took about 10 minutes. I love taking a walk and there was no schedule to contend with like caring for pets. If I was a day or 2 early or late it didn’t matter. She always brought me over the top gifts, which were unnecessary, and took me out for a nice dinner when she returned. But I just did it to give a friend peace of mind while traveling.
Anon’s neighbors aren’t her friends. They’re her burden. I advise her to take steps to end this obligation. If it’s uncomfortable, slowly back out. Make excuse
s request by request until you break their habit of asking. DoorMats jump to do favors at their own expense, which is NOT NICE. Nice people on top set boundaries.
Kindness doesn’t mean always helping out. It means doing what you can when you can. Be kind to yourself and set boundaries with others! You’ll be happy you did!