Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

Revenge is usually considered a negative quality. Getting even often hurts you because what goes around, comes back to you. Plus, it keeps you immersed in the negative energy of what the person did. Depending on the circumstances, the best way to get even is to stoke the person’s guilt about what they did. Most people know when they do something wrong or that you won’t like. Often you respond with a tongue-lashing—letting them know over and over what they did to you and how you feel about it.

That doesn’t usually get you the response you want. I recently wrote about how to Turn Confrontation into Communication and discussed how people don’t hear you objectively if you’re jumping down their throats. Besides them not wanting to hear it, this approach backfires for another reason. Often people convince themselves that what they did wasn’t so terrible but do know it wasn’t right. But when you yell and accuse and get nasty, the person uses that as a distorted backwards justification of their actions. “I know I was wrong to do that but—after the way she just yelled at me, she deserved it!”

When someone does you wrong, he/she wants to be told off, even if they don’t like it. Then they can apologize and feel better. Often people feel resolved once they make excuses and apologize. Once that happens they let go of their guilt about what they did. So don’t let them! If you want to get back at those who did you wrong, dodge their apologies. Instead of acknowledging them, say something that shows it means nothing to you, like “whatever.” Don’t say “Okay” or anything else that indicates acceptance of the excuse or forgiveness. Be nice, friendly, and courteous but don’t show you accept what their excuses. “Whatever!”

Then they still know they’re wrong and feel no absolution since you didn’t yell, or accept their apologies or excuses.

For example, I had a client, Trina, whose husband often stayed late at work but never called to let her know. When she began working with me she was a consummate DoorMat and would keep his dinner warm and serve it to him whenever he arrived. Sometimes he got in fairly late. She’d beg him to call and alert her to the time he’d get home but he’d shrug her off and say he was too busy to remember. He’d always arrive saying his was sorry and give her reasons for his delay.

Trina knew they were legit but just asked for a call, especially since their kids got upset when daddy didn’t show up without warning. And it interfered with her getting to bed early. I told her the next time he did it she should put his dinner in the fridge and go to bed. Even if she was up when she heard his car, shut the light and fake being asleep. And, refuse to accept apologies and excuses the next day.

Trina was excited at our next session. She made believe she was sleeping when his car pulled in. Hubby looked in and made a little noise as if to get her attention but she laid there with her eyes closed. The next morning he immediately began his apologies and excuses. She cut him off before he could get them out and said she had to get the kids ready for school. He followed her around, trying to get his excuses in. When he said he wanted to apologize for not calling, she just said in an even tone, “I don’t’ want to hear anything I’ve heard many times.” When he continued trying to justify not calling, she kept saying “Whatever.”

Hubby kept trying to explain and apologize. He even emailed Trina but she didn’t respond. He needed her forgiveness, or a scolding like he usually got so he could let go of his guilt and move on. She gave him neither. When he got home on time the next day, he again tried to explain. This time Trina just said, with a smile, “Same old, same old.” Because she was still sweet he couldn’t read her. The next night he called to say he wouldn’t be home till 9. She thanked him for letting her know. Now he does it whenever he’ll be late. She feels like she has some control for the first time!

Try this technique when someone does something you don’t like, that they’ve done before and you feel like you can’t get good resolution. If he explains why he didn’t call. “Whatever!” She apologizes for not returning your hair dryer—again. “Whatever!” Shrug off excuses. Not letting them apologize turns the guilt inward. Accepting apologies helps them move on. Why help them? I nicely cut people off when I’m hearing the same old, same old. Whatever! It shows you’re not buying lame words and many will shape up from that message much sooner than from nagging or getting angry. And it keeps you from getting too aggravated.

Letting someone feel guilty about what they did (even if you don’t know it, they are!) is a much healthier way to get even and puts you in the driver’s seat. Trust me, people know when they’ve done wrong. Your lack of a response is the best way to get them back.

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