This post has been brewing a long time. I’ve reconsidered writing it time and again, afraid someone would read it, take it out of context and be offended…and then it hit me: that’s WHY this happens to me in the first place. I really need a book on how to not be treated like a doormat. Anyone got one?
When looking to see if one existed, I did find a book about how kids of narcissists are frequently doormats. It had never once occurred to me that my childhood had any real bearing on this, but it makes sense. Kids of narcissists are groomed to be people pleasers. The kid of a narcissist is trained to stay in the periphery, only being seen if the parent can use them as a way to get attention. (“Look at my daughter, she won a scholarship!” or “Look at my son, the star quarterback!”) Yet, when the kid is having a hard time, no one can see that, because it doesn’t reflect on the narcissist in a good light. And we’re there to do chores and help keep the facade looking spotless.
I could write posts on posts on posts about growing up getting The Stare, which meant I’d said or done something that made my mom look less than perfect. Things were never her fault; it was always someone else, and often it was me. She’d pass me off on family members and friends to temporarily stay at their house if I was a “problem” at home, aka I took attention away from her. “Your dad needs a break from you,” aka she’d told him some manufactured story about me, a straight-A high school nerd barely allowed out of the house, and it was easier to quiet me than her.
It was so embarrassing. One night, I slept on the floor of a neighbor’s apartment, in the living room, while my mom insisted on sitting in a chair near me, telling the neighbor what I’d “done wrong.” Lights on, 14-year-old me expected to go to sleep at 8pm while they sat and chatted. I remember the neighbor saying “She’s restless.” No, I’m not restless; it’s 8pm, I’m not a toddler and you’re having a loud conversation three feet from me. But conformity was what was expected so I laid there, dreaming of when I was old enough to escape, mortified and wishing for privacy.
If I sound angry, I’m not. That was decades ago and I’ve accepted it all. I’m just kind of amazed still that I made it through relatively unscathed. And because NO ONE did anything. Family members benefited because I’d babysit or clean their house “in exchange for room and board.” I was 13, 14, 15, farmed out so my mom didn’t have to share the spotlight, and NO ONE CARED. No one went against her, no one said no, because they didn’t want to deal with her if they did. Even my dad was complicit by not going to wherever I was and getting me.
I became a shrinking person, tolerating whatever because I had no choice. I’d be quiet because what were my options? Where could I go? My family? No, I’d just end up doing dishes or babysitting, atoning for something I’d never done. Humiliating and soul-sucking…and it so explains why I rushed out of the house as soon as I could, taking desperate steps to be an independent adult. Kids of narcissists grow up being treated like a doormat, it’s ingrained.
What’s also embarrassing is that I’ve taken this long in life to finally put my foot down with the longterm effects. I’m just so done. I’m done being treated like a doormat.
- I’m done being the person who sits and listens to someone go on about problems repeatedly but they have no time for me when I have one.
- I’m done attempting to share a situation and instead of getting the support I’d give, I get a devil’s advocate response because they can’t take the time to actually empathize.
- I’m done being someone’s venting shoulder and then when I mention something heavy, like how I lost a friend to COVID, the text goes dark.
- I’m done giving friends and family discounts for my baked goods, people who use our relationship to get a discount but the invitation to the party they need the food for doesn’t come. (If we’re so close that you expect the discount, why aren’t we close enough for me to attend?)
- I’m done laughing at others’ stories and situations and sympathizing, and then when I get three seconds into my own problem later, they move onto something else. Then later, I get asked again for advice about their issue….
- I’m done running errands for people who don’t even think to ask if it’s convenient for me or even if I’m available.
- I’m done doing random favors for people I barely know because they want to help someone they really know well. (I got a DM while I was at the OC Fair a couple of years back, from someone who saw I was there and wanted me to grab a neon light that their “really sweet elderly coworker” wanted, because they didn’t want to carry it themself when they were there the day before. “You’re so nice, I figured maybe you could help.” True story. Wait, who are you and I should do this for you…why?)
Before I go on, I want to be clear: this is NOT everyone with whom I have a relationship. I have some wonderful friends who do NOT do this to me. I am lucky to have people in my life who care about me and do realize I’m a human with my own issues.
I frequently attract those who need a listening ear. I somehow present myself as someone who doesn’t mind giving up time with her family to put someone else’s family first. I have sat and commiserated for so long, often about the same issues someone doesn’t want to fix, that I have set precedents. I’ve tolerated long conversations that end the second I talk about myself or my family. I’ve put up with petty people who deliberately don’t react to happy things I put on social (particularly those I share about me having fun with other people) or make catty comments when I share something about my home renovation. You know, happy things.
That’s on me. We teach people how to treat us, and I’ve taught people I’ll still be here no matter what.
Thing is, I just am not sure how to not be a doormat. I’m not sure how to somehow turn the tide without alienating those who are guilty of seeing me as a helper first, person second. I’ve tried it before, and it doesn’t end well. People who do this to me typically do it to others. It’s not just me, they tend to seek out people like me. They are used to people doing this with them and they don’t realize the problem is THEM, not the person who they’ve just burned out and used up and sucked dry.
This makes them see themselves as a victim. How dare I say no? How dare I not drop what I’m doing to help you again? They just can’t wrap their heads around the fact that they contribute to the problem. The indignant response just doesn’t allow for them to see things any other way. Their role fits them just like my role as helper, doer and listener has fit me all these years.
But seriously, no more. I’m doing whatever it takes to learn how not to be a doormat. I’m over getting random requests from people I barely know to do them a favor. To inconvenience myself in a way they wouldn’t ask their real friends.
I’m going to keep opening my home to friends. I’ll keep being there when they need me. I truly do love to help people. I want to listen, empathize, commiserate…but I’d like some reciprocation. I’d like to not hear about a party I wasn’t invited to, because, as one friend put it, “Nobody wants to run into their therapist as a party.”
That hit home.
Not everyone I know is a narcissist, as these traits don’t belong just to narcs. It’s not just needy people either. Alphas, dominate personalities, people who are so caught up in their own lives, they don’t see others as having their own equally important lives…it’s just how some people are.
So, how do we not be treated like a doormat?
- Say “no” more. Pick and choose what’s possible and fair, and don’t do the rest. (You need to prove to yourself that YOU matter.)
- Stop feeling guilty unless you do something truly wrong.
- Set limits. Set boundaries. When an emotional vampire starts talking, set a timer.
- And then don’t feel guilty for ending the chat when it rings.
- Prioritize: set values for what’s actually an urgent situation, and choose to be there those times over the casual vents.
- Learn to redirect. Even if this doesn’t stop the doormat situation from happening, you can start setting the tone slowly that you can’t just sit there listening.
- Don’t justify. If you can’t do something, you don’t need to defend your choices. (This one’s HARD and goes against my grain in a big way.)
- Assert yourself: be confident in your own choices and needs. If you don’t stand up for yourself, who will?
- Be kind. No matter what, we don’t need to be an a-hole to not be a doormat.
- Not saying something SAYS something. Sometimes you just need to ignore.
- Don’t let someone else’s behavior towards you — especially if they’re rude or pull away when you allow yourself to no longer be used — change you. Some days, I want to be rude in return. I want to become a harsh person who does nothing for anyone. But these make me something I shouldn’t be, and that’s wrong.
These ideas aren’t perfect. They may be hard to do or may not work at all for some people and/or situations. But we have to start somewhere.
If you’re reading this and seeing shades of your own behavior, think on it a bit. Why would you take advantage of a nice person? And don’t @ me because you feel this hits home or that this is a rant. If it hits home, that’s on you. And this is my website. I’ve switched up a couple of prior posts because someone told me they felt I was too honest or too personal. Uhm, this is my personal blog and sometimes it’s going to get personal.
I don’t know if any of this will really stop me from being a doormat, but maybe it will make me feel more in control. That’s not nothing. I’ll still have the right people in my life, just without the drama and exhaustion the others bring when they place major expectations on me that benefit only them. Over and over.
At least that’s my hope. I’ll let you know how it goes.
And if you’re like me at all, know you’re in good company. We ARE good company. There are a lot of us. I’ve visited many Facebook groups over the last couple of years devoted to empaths and others dealing with similar situations. There are oh so many of us frustrated and at a loss, feeling drained and happy being a hermit…and I own that, I love being a hermit. I do love, and need, to get out sometimes, but there are weeks I happily do not leave my house but maybe once a week to run errands or go on a date night. I’m not what you’d call an introvert, just at peace here amongst my family and my favorite things. It’s a good feeling.
Balance. A happy life is all about balance, so I can achieve that balance more easily when I’m taking all the steps I can to not be treated like a doormat. We’ve got this, right?