Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

Lessons from a Recovering Doormat


Mustering Empathy

People can be annoying. NO doubt about it! But I do believe that even when someone does something you know they did purposely against you, there’s a reason, and it’s probably not you. Our behavior often reflects emotions that we’ve experienced, or that are responses to situations in your life. Someone may snap at you for apparently no reason, or say something mean, or do something behind your back, or a number of other negative things. The common response to those things is anger, saying something mean back, keeping the negative emotions alive by complaining to everyone, etc.

I used to do all f those things, especially when I was a DoorMat. When someone did something I felt was wrong, I’d stew over it, long after the incident and complain to anyone who’d listen. “How dare she say that to me?” “Why didn’t he keep his word?” It often stayed with me for a long time. Back then I didn’t realize I took what the person did, magnified it, and kept the negative emotions alive so it continued to hurt me long after it happened. Even when I become more empowered, I still responded to negative behavior the way I always had and felt angry a lot—until it hit me.

People act the way they do from their own negative memories or situations and I needed to have more empathy.

When that light bulb of awareness went on, it illuminated things I hadn’t paid attention to and allowed me to forgive more easily. Years ago I had a friend (Laura) who moved to NY without knowing a soul but me. I did a lot for her during the first few months and she was very grateful. Then she began to do things that were very selfish. Laura hit on a guy who came to my birthday celebration for me, and left with him. While the guy was someone I’d recently met so we weren’t serious, we were just beginning something nice. But I refused to fight for him and ruin my celebration so I focused on fun with friends.

I stopped speaking to Laura. She begged for forgiveness the next day. I told her I wanted no part of her selfishness. She kept calling. Eventually her mom called and said that Laura had made some poor moves because she was scared of being alone. She needed a man in her life so badly that she went after mine. I knew Laura was very lonely being new to NY and mustered some empathy for her. We renewed our friendship, though I was more on my guard.

When someone does you wrong, try to put yourself into the other person’s shoes.

An illness may make them grouchy. A bad relationship can create defenses that are harsh or over the top responses. If you don ‘t have 4 kids, you don’t know the extent it can take on your nerves. If you’re in a good r4elationship and have kids, you may not understand the pain some go through if they’re single with a biological clock ticking. So many factors can create behavior that’s negative. Your friend with 4 kids may resent your freedom and pick on you if you dare share something that you’re worried about. Your single friend may try to cause trouble in your marriage out of jealousy.

Often people don’t even realize what they’re doing. They’re just responding to pain they feel.

Understanding that can make it easier to deal with them without getting nasty, or worse. So next time someone is annoying or doing things you believe aren’t right, try to put yourself in their shoes to understand what might be causing it. Temper your response. Explain how what they do makes you feel, without using unkind words. A kind response can go a long way to changing what the person does to you in the future. As I DoorMat I tolerated behavior until I’d eventually explode, or get sick from carrying around anger. It’s not worth it!

Empathy also helps you understand that when people say or do negative things, it’s usually not about you, so don’t take it personally. Your friend who makes comments about your weight may have had her own painful weight issues and believe she’s helping you. Your cousin who always tries to one-up you at family gatherings may be very insecure and need to do what he can to look good. If it’s at our expense, oh well!

What I’m saying doesn’t mean you should tolerate negative behavior on a regular basis. It’s still wrong.

Sometimes you can completely understand but still not want to deal with intolerable behavior. I made it clear to my friend Laura that I had limits, no matter how unhappy she was. Eventually I ended our friendship, even though there were some good parts to it. But having empathy allowed me to release her with kindness instead of feeling bitter. I wished her well instead of telling her off. Next time you’re angry with someone, step into their shoes to see what might have caused their hurtful behavior. Whether you keep the person in your life or not, it allows you to respond in ways that feel better for you in the long run.
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