Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

A guy recently told me he’s miserable because his ex-wife and her kid are living with him until she can afford to move out. She wanted the divorce, moved on and dates other men. Yet he feels an obligation to take care of her and her kid. After all, he’s the man! And men are supposed to take care of women, aren’t they?

NO! Men are not the protectors of the world, just as women aren’t the nurturers.

This guy still loves his ex-wife and is losing his sanity from her indifference toward him and his feelings. Yet he felt—as a man—an obligation to let her stay with him. He’d hurt when she left for a date. He cried if she stayed out all night. It’s hard enough to end a relationship with someone you love. But watching the one you love get on with their life while you suffer is intolerable.

Many guys take a “be a man” approach to situations that need fixing or women who need rescuing. It’s culturally instinctive—one of those stereotypes that many men still adopt.

I dated a guy who told me from the get-go that he was a boy scout. He made a big point of telling me that. Many times. His dad brought him up to help others. Make everyone happy when he could. His emphasis on being a boy scout alerted me that he had problems. He offered to do all sorts of favors for me, to the point of seeming abnormal. Yet he was a nice looking guy, VERY financially stable, in a VERY powerful business with a company he owned.

But his identity revolved around being Mr. Boy Scout.

I think we ended because he got frustrated that I didn’t need him to rush to my aid if something went wrong. Or try to find things to do for me when things were going right. Heaven forbid I tried to do something nice for him! That wasn’t part of his agenda. He had to be the one doing all the giving. It made him feel more like a man!

Often the need to take care of a woman becomes a need to be in control at all times.

It eventually became obvious that Mr. Boy Scout with all that power had a very low self-image and needed to do things and care for others to feel good about himself, often at his own expense. We stopped seeing each other after I gave him some guidance on how to be more self-loving. He was determined to learn how to love himself. I had so much compassion for him and his programmed need to be Mr. Boy Scout.

The cavalier guy I mentioned first sacrifices his comfort and dignity to “be a man.” Meanwhile, Wifey happily takes advantage of “the man” and does what she pleases while his heart breaks and his self-esteem crumbles. I told him to get her out as an act of self-love and sent him chapters from the manuscript of my book, How Do I love Me? Let me Count the Ways. He’s now focusing on getting stronger by being more loving to himself and trusting in his spiritual faith.

It’s important to nurture your own needs and provide yourself with happiness—first. When you’re more self-loving, you begin to love yourself more. Stereotypes that push you to make other people’s need more important than your own well being are ones that need to be broken – fast!

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I was at a diner I like recently and asked my usual waitress if she felt better, since the last time I was there, they said she went home sick. She whispered to me that she’d has a run-in with the manager and got so upset she felt physically ill for 2 days. I asked what happened. Charlotte said the boss picked on her for unfair reasons. Really railed her. Not long ago, I witnessed this same guy lose his temper with a waiter, who quit on the spot. Yet he continues to verbally attack his staff.

There are many people who can’t control their anger or frustration. But, they NEVER have a right to take it out on you!

Charlotte said that she was ready to quit. I admired her because I know she needs this job. So many people complain and accept being yelled at by a colleague or boss. Not saying anything gives them permission to continue it. Yelling back just sinks to that person’s level. The best way to address someone who speaks to or yells at you in a disrespectful manner is to calmly let him or her know they shouldn’t do that—ever!

While it’s important to speak up, your choice of words and the tone you use determines the impact of your response.

When I was a DoorMat, I whined a lot. “Woe is me for being spoken to like that!” “I’m upset that my colleague often loses her temper and directs the venom at me.” But I was too busy being miserable and hurt and angry to say something that would stop it. Just saying you don’t like it, or getting angry back, doesn’t rectify the problem. You must make it clear to the person that it can’t happen again. Some things I’ve found helpful are:

* Don’t get bent out of shape. Losing your own temper gives the person control over you and won’t get you taken seriously. Force yourself to stay calm when you speak. That can rattle someone who’d prefer to rattle you. When you keep your cool, they know you mean business.

* Tell the person it’s inappropriate to take their frustrations out on you. Inappropriate is one of my operative words when dealing with behavior I don’t like. It gets a message across clearly in work situations, better than yelling back!

* If someone yells like Charlotte’s boss did, in such a serious way to make her go home, immediate that it’s unacceptable. Unacceptable is another one of my favorite operative words. It makes clear that you won’t tolerate the behavior, under any circumstance.

* Don’t accept blame for being yelled at. The person might say that you provoked the response. You didn’t do the project fast enough so she lost her temper. You said something that annoyed him. That’s a cop-out! No one has the right to yell at you!

* Take professional action. If there’s someone with a higher position, ask for a meeting and request advice on how to deal with the unacceptable behavior. File a complaint. Keep a written record of the behavior so you have something to show later. Yelling at you is harassment if you’ve warned the person and it doesn’t stop.

* Be prepared to walk, if the yelling at you won’t stop. You shouldn’t accept it. Period.

When Charlotte returned to work, she calmly told the assistant manager that she’d leave for good if it happened again. He spoke to the manager and made him see reason. So far he’s left her alone. She’s a good worker and he didn’t want to lose her.

Accept that verbal attacks are unacceptable. Sometimes we don’t recognize the damage they cause. Being physically hit seems more like abuse. But verbal railing leaves mental scars, that can hurt you even more! Be very careful.

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We watch them on TV, one gorgeous celebrity after another, walking down the red carpet looking perfect. Tight bodies. Wearing form fitting dresses without a drop of the cellulite that plagues the rest of us. Perfection in motion. One perfect body after another.

And we envy them! “Why can’t I look like that?” “How do they stay so slender?”

The March issue of Glamour magazine had an article that shed some light on the secrets of red carpet bodies. Jessica Baumgardner, who ate in a way that most would consider normal, went on what she called a Hollywood diet blitz to see what many celebrities go through to get their slender bodies. She documents her 4-week experience, eating and exercising the way celebs do, in Could You Stick with a Star’s Body Plan? Jessica said she hadn’t exercised in years and was one of the few women in Los Angeles that still ate bread.

Best of all, she felt fine with how she looked!

Still, she agreed to try a version of the crash diet that’s common in celeb circles. Her experience made me wonder how anyone could stay sane living with the kind of regimen she endured for 4 weeks, which is what celebrities often use to slim down before special appearances. The trouble is, when you’re constantly hounded by paparazzi, leaving your house can be a special appearance every day.

Jessica learned why celebs get cranky and do dumb things at times. Or get snippy and short tempered. They’re hungry!

The plan began with a visit to a dietician for an eating plan that was low calorie but nutritious. Up till then, Jessica felt confident about following the plan. But the diet was limited. And expensive for the average person. Organic foods. Lots of veggies, lean protein and nothing that’s processed, which eliminates a majority of things an average person eats.

Jessica worked out 6 days a week. Her carefully prescribed diet was a far cry from her usual eating regimen. Her mood went sour from it. Meals weren’t satisfying. I read this and found myself wondering, is all of this worth having the red carpet bodies we see on TV?

I say, no way! Maintaining a strict diet that eliminates most of the foods you love takes the pleasure out of life!

Of course I watch what I eat when I can and don’t overdo it. I don’t want to gain a lot of weight. But drastically limiting what foods you can eat wouldn’t cut it with me. Eating is fun. Going to a restaurant with your own bag of food or ordering special things that seem boring and tasteless will make it seem not worth going. I know I could be thinner if I was very strict in my diet. But I’m not up for that sacrifice.

Nor would I make exercise a daily job that feels more like work. I have a weight training regimen with a personal trainer and run 3-5 days a week in Central Park. I enjoy it all. Okay, sometimes I don’t enjoy the running when it’s cold. But I do feel good about the accomplishment—pride—satisfaction of conquering something that was tough. But if I truly don’t feel like not going, I don’t.

Most of the time, my diet and doing exercise feels good, not like deprivation or torture.

Self-love is good motivation to get out and work out. And to try your best to avoid foods that will pack on the pounds. I want to maintain the joy in feeling control over my food intake, and also in some of the goodies I allow. I also want to maintain the joy of lifting weights and running. So I’ve accepted that I may never have one of those fabulous Hollywood bodies. Jessica got into much better shape. But, it’s better to balance eating, not curtail all eating pleasures.

Balance. That should be your operative word when deciding how far to take dieting and exercise.

Love yourself enough to keep the joy in all your activities! If you have to go somewhere and want to look in shape, get some Spanx. I confess that I wear them at times. They hold you in and have all different styles to choose from. Yet they’re very comfy. Not like girdles of the old days.

You can look good without being perfect. Clothes that fit well and undergarments like Spanx can accomplish that. So forgive yourself for eating that doughnut or second helping at Mom’s. Have some fries with your sandwich. Just don’t do it regularly. I try to be more prudent during the week and always have treats on the weekend. But, I’d have one during the week too if I was offered something that called my name. ?

Let the celebs be the ones to feel cranky and hungry. Feel sorry for them living with pressure to go to extremes to look good. Eat healthy, treat yourself, and find exercise that you enjoy. That’s what I call living!

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Lately I’ve seen a saying about love that I truly relate to. I don’t know who originally said it. Versions of it have been attributed to several people. I just know that it’s true.

The way to spell love is t-i-m-e.

I said it to someone recently and she looked at me like I spoke a foreign language. She was confused. Didn’t get it at all. Was it a riddle? No! It is the truth.

If you have money, it’s easy to buy things for someone you care about. Even if money is tight, some folks would rather buy something for someone than be there for them. I have friends who buy me things but rarely have time to just hang out. Or help with something I need. Or be there when I need emotional support. I know how busy they are and respect that. I’m crazy busy too! But I know who really loves me by whether or not the person makes the time to see me.

Mom’s tell me their grown kids send flowers or gifts instead of visiting. Many women have complained about a boyfriend or husband who is a work-a-holic. He works and works to have her in a nice house and allow her lots of money to spend. But he’s hardly ever home. And when he is, he wants to do things he enjoys, since he’s hardly ever home. These men often buy toys and other goodies for their kids instead of going to school plays and ball games, reading to them or basically spending any quality time being a Dad.

That’s not loving! It’s compensating for not giving love.

Not making time doesn’t mean you don’t love the person. It does mean they don’t have a lot of importance to you. It’s so easy in this busy world to get so caught up in your stuff that you forget to be loving to those you say you love.

Time is the ultimate gift. It’s truly giving of yourself.

Peter, one of my clients, went on and on about how he didn’t understand why his wife was so unhappy. He’d bought a dream house in the burbs for her to live in. She didn’t have to work. They had three lovely kids. He never questioned what she bought. Peter bragged that because he worked so hard, his wife wanted for nothing. Wrong, I told him. She wanted Peter and he was off traveling for work. His commute was long. Sometimes he stayed over in the city. He got home in time to go to sleep and often worked over the weekend.

He deluded himself that he was giving his wife what she wanted. But she wanted his time, the one thing he wouldn’t give.

Peter argued about the jewelry and gifts he brought back from his trips. He often sent flowers. Wasn’t that good enough to show his love? Wasn’t he being romantic by sending roses? Nope! He was taking the easy way out. Peter really did love his wife but couldn’t spare the time for her, or their kids very often. For all his wife knew his secretary was sending flowers, or picking out the gifts. She wanted to matter to Peter enough for him to want to be with her. But he was buried in the work and deluded himself it was for her, so he couldn’t just be there in person. By the time I got through to him, it was too late. She filed for divorce.

As busy as I am, I always say that if something really matters to me I make time for it. I might not have unlimited time to see someone I care about or to help indefinitely if I have work to do. But I’ll make the effort if that person matters to me. If I find myself making excuses, I realize I don’t care that much about seeing the person. And I know that someone who can’t make time for me is someone I can’t count on, so they get lower in my priorities too.

The way to spell love is t-i-m-e.

Time comes in many flavors. It can be dropping in for a few minutes on a work intensive day to check on a sick friend. Or doing something one on one with a child. Or taking a walk with your romantic partner. Or helping a friend shop for a new car. Or attending an event with someone. Or a gazillion other things that show you’re willing to give time to that person.

While you can’t always do everything for everyone, do you best to at least compromise about being there for the ones in your life who mean the most to you.

During the last years of my Mom’s life, she had Macular Degeneration, which left her visually impaired. She was frustrated at not being able to do many things. Mom was in Florida so I couldn’t just run over. Sometimes it overwhelmed her and she needed to talk and called me. She seemed to have radar for when I was doing 10 things at once on high speed. Or on the phone with a client. She was a good Mom to me. I loved her dearly. So when I’d hear her voice I’d take a deep breath, ask her to hang on a minute while I asked my client if I could call back, and I’d gently tell her it was a very good time to chat.

I felt good being able to return the love I’d gotten from Mom. I know it meant the world to her that I made time to comfort her when she needed it.

Giving someone time is truly a blessing. And don’t forget yourself when you’re spelling love. Make time to relax and take care of yourself. And to have fun! The gift of time costs nothing out of your wallet but as they say in the Master Card commercial, it’s priceless. And if you’re in person, don’t forget to add some hugs!

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