Normal ‘no’ conversations usually go something like this: Person 1: ‘Hey! Sam and I are going to the zoo next Saturday, want to come?’ Person 2: ‘Hell no, hate the zoo! I’d be up for meeting you for ice cream after 😉’ -- Person 1: ‘Ugh. I can’t make it tonight, can we reschedule for next Thursday?’ Person 2: ‘I already have plans on Thursday. Sorry :/’ Some people struggle with this basic dynamic. They struggle with disappointing others, they struggle with stating their needs plainly, they struggle with saying no. So they don’t. In so doing, they become a Doormat — a lifelong invitation to be walked over. Instead of ‘no,’ Doormats often use the following phrases, almost reflexively: ‘Ok, that works,’ ‘That’s fine’ ‘Sounds good to me’ ‘Okay, I’ll move stuff around’
Capitulation is their primary language. They have learned to disassociate themselves with their needs, wants, desires, emotions, and commitments.
Doormats come in many types:
The Timids. This individual speaks quietly, just above a whisper. They are skittish and unsure. You fear to say anything too strongly in their presence, lest you blow them over with your certitude. This is your ‘yes, ma’am’ ‘no ‘ma’am’ type who you quickly forget 5 minutes after meeting them, and re-meeting them, and meeting them again. 🤦♀️
The Icy Colds. This person will do what you want but they are passive aggressive about it. They give stone cold looks. They freeze you out. They may mock you. While they let people walk all over them, they have at least enough self-awareness to realize that it shouldn’t be happening, and their behavior suggests that the icy attitude is punishment enough for the crime.
The Chameleons. This is the person that constantly shifts their demeanor and persona based on who is in the room. They are interpersonal Jedis adept at reading the room and determining what version of themselves is needed to please others. Don’t confuse this for a mysterious person: mysteries can be unravelled, chameleons are clouds that keep changing shape. This is the person that, no matter how long you know them, you never actually know them.
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At the end of the day, doormats bend themselves to the whims of others. They painstakingly attempt to be the person others want them to be, and in the process, have a hollow identity. Encountering a doormat gives you that ‘lonely feeling’ in your core that makes you want to buy a one way ticket in the other direction. Which is peak irony, because doormats are doing everything in their power to make you stay.
How do people become doormats?
High exposure to criticism. When people are exposed to intense and repeated criticism, especially in their formative years, they internalize that they are worth very little. They learn to not value their own opinions, preferences, and values. Better not rock the boat. Someone who possess this mindset this will have trouble standing up for anything, let alone themselves.
Lack of connection. People crave human connection. Deep, meaningful, connection. The type where I see you and you see me. Where I feel known and loved. If people experience long periods of isolation, lack of support or interest, or even prolonged levels of superficiality, it makes people thirsty. Thirsty for validation and affirmation. Thirsty for something real. This thirstiness leads to acceptance of behaviors not normally tolerated. I’ll take what I can get. Alas, you become a doormat. You’re the starving man on the desert island eating the musty seaweed to survive.
Sweet disposition. Some children are just born with kinder demeanors and a propensity to please. They don’t like conflict and would rather everyone be in harmony. In the fight vs. flight scenario, this child will flee. Every. Single. Time. Because they are so sweet, they are naturally prone to people walking all over them. Without the proper attention and guidance from the parent, this child can easily grow up to be a doormat. Which leads me to the next point..
Narcissistic influence. This could be a child with a narcissistic parent, or an adult with a narcissistic spouse. Narcissists are consumed with their own brilliance and use others as pawns to gratify their ego and further their aspirations. Narcissists are envious, exploitative, lack empathy, and require constant admiration. At the end of the day, narcissists view the world and everything in it through one lens: how does it relate to me? High levels of exposure to narcissistic abuse can train a person to view themselves not as their own person, but only in relation to others. To stay in a narcissist’s life, you must become a doormat. There is no other option — narcissists plow down anything contrary to their interests.
Okay MaryBeth. I think I’m a bit of a doormat. How on earth do I stop?
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When people identify that they have some doormat tendencies and aim to course-correct, they often make the mistake of swinging too far in the opposite direction. As a recovering doormat, let me warn you against these common extreme (& unhelpful) reactions:
Excessive anger. Instead of saying ‘no I’d rather not’ you get all Maury Show on them. You say no, but angrily. ‘I can’t believe you think I would say yes to that! How dumb do you have to be, do you even know me?’ You just went from doormat to diva (and not the good kind). Anger has its place, but it’s certainly not when you’re saying no. We have to find the sweet spot between ‘pushover’ and ‘angry.’ Between ‘too nice to be valued’ and ‘too mean to be liked.’
Parroting. We know we don’t want to be a doormat, so we find someone who isn’t and emulate them completely. We try to recreate their life in our own. We talk how they talk, dress how they dress, buy the car they drive, etc. We think by collecting all of their artifacts maybe, just maybe, the way they stand up for themselves will rub off on us. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.
Unabomber tendencies. This person throws up their hands and says f*ck it. I clearly can’t function healthily with other people in my life, so I’ll go it alone. They erect their own little Wall of China around their heart. Be careful. That wall you put up? It may block out pain, but it will also block out love.
The above reflexes don’t address the root issues of a Doormat, they just mask them, stifle them, or re-direct them.
>> Here’s what a Doormat needs to do instead.
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Get to know yourself.
Remember Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride? Every time she took up with a new man, she had her eggs prepared however he liked them. She didn’t actually know how she preferred her eggs. When the moment of reckoning came, and she came face to face with her own doormat tendencies, what she did was brilliant. She sat herself down in a diner and ordered every egg imaginable: scrambled, sunny side, poached, over-easy. All with the purpose of deciding once and for all how she liked her eggs. She would no longer be a chameleon. It was a powerful moment with a powerful lesson: know thyself. How do you start? Make a list of all your likes and dislikes. Start with the dislikes. People who don’t use turn signals. Dogs with human names. Josh Groban. And then the likes. Game show hosts. Getting lost in a bookstore. Little adventures in everyday moments. The lists should be long and fun and revealing. There is one rule, though: the likes can’t outnumber the dislikes.
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2. Embrace your quirks. Own the little things that make you you. I can only sleep on the right side of the bed Yellow m&m’s freak me out I get excited to watch Lawrence Welk re-runs on PBS Protein must be placed in the top left corner of a plate I hate missing previews Triangle pizza slices taste WAY better than squares There’s nothing more confident than someone who not just accepts, but fully celebrates, the odd things about themselves. That sort of confidence is attractive. Embrace your quirks — the right sort of people will fall in love with them (and you!). And once you have your circle, who cares about everyone else?
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3. Communicate your boundaries with kindness. A ‘no’ doesn’t have to be delivered with a trumpet; it’s much better paired with playfulness. Here are some examples:
I’m not really a skiing person. I’m much more of a sip-hot-cocoa-in-the-lodge type.
I don’t normally do drive-bys. If you want to pick me up, you’ll have to come to the door ;)
I have 3 major reports due on Friday. If this new project is urgent, tell me, which of the other three should drop in priority?
So, you’ve been canceling on me a lot and I’m beginning to wonder if I’m boring or you are 😂
I prefer a phone call to text. I get to hear your terrific voice that way!
I’m not a vanilla fan, but in the future, a chocolate cupcake may result in a statue in your honor, King of the Cupcakes! xx
Why pair ‘no’ with anger when it goes so much better with kindness, cheekiness, and imagination?
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4. Get (real) friends. Sometimes I slip up. It’s usually when I’m feeling most vulnerable: sick, overspent, or not sleeping enough. I start look down on myself and that opens the door to the doormat mentality. The best people in my life usually call me on it. ‘Hey you seem down, what’s up?’ If you struggle in this area, one of the BEST things you can do is get people around you who actually care about you and will challenge you and get real with you on a weekly basis. People who, when you say ‘I’m fine,’ respond ‘B.S. What’s really going on?’ You need to be a jerk some of the time, and so do they ;)
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5. Prioritize that which makes you stronger. Think about a time in your life where you felt the most grounded, confident, and abundant. Chances are you were regularly doing things that made you feel strong, and as a result, you weren’t willing to put up with the poor behavior of others. In order to reverse doormat mentality, we must habitualize the things that make us stronger. Here are a few of mine:
Exercising 3–4 times a week. Lifting weights, boxing, taking a long walk. When I’m in great shape, it makes me confident.
Going to bed early. When I get 7–8 hours of sleep a night, I wake up refreshed, alert, and engaged. I’m in a mindset to make healthy decisions for myself, especially in relation to how I interact with others.
Reading my mission statement daily. A few years ago, I wrote a mission statement about who I’ve committed to being and what my life would be about. Part of it includes the kind of relationships I seek out and maintain based on qualities that I value — kindness, character, reciprocity, playfulness, honesty, loyalty. I’ve tweaked the statement over the years when new realizations arise about what is important to me. I read the mission statement every morning to remind me of the kind of person I’ve committed to being and who has permission to be in my life. It has become my true north & has proven effective in weeding out the low investment types and the not worthy types — both which trigger the doormat mindset.
Adding value to someone’s day (and expecting nothing in return). Complimenting the barista’s glasses. Sharing what I’m learning from the book I’m reading with a stranger at the bar. Having genuine interactions with others, unselfishly and spontaneously, fills my tank and makes me feel strong.
Contributing to mastery. Reading, listening to a podcast, mastering a new skill. Learning energizes me and makes me feel like I’m moving forward in life. Constantly taking in new ideas and mastering new skills is thrilling and fulfilling.
It’s important that we recognize what makes us feel strong and then make a routine of incorporating those things into our lives on a daily basis.
It’s been 3 years now since I had my ‘Wow, I’m a Doormat’ revelation. I’m happy to report that no’s come easily now. I don’t change who I am to suit the whims of others. I don’t take offense when people challenge me or walk out of my life. My relationships are better, my productivity is better, and most importantly my self perception is much healthier. I got my dignity back.
But MaryBeth, how will I know I’m in a better place?
It’s kind of like waking up 4 months after starting to work out and noticing your muscles are now toned. It comes on gradually and you don’t often see it until you’ve made tremendous progress already. The two strongest indicators of no longer being a Doormat are contentment and abundance.
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Contentment — You finally feel at home in your own life. Feet up. Laughter. Warmth. Respite. That joyful glow born of comfortability in one’s own skin. Contented people attract others because when you are content, people can relax around you. Which brings me to the next point.. Abundance — your life is overflowing with opportunities, joy, friendships. You get up early on a Saturday to take a long walk to the farther coffee shop just because. You’re feeling contrarian today, so you pick a fun and harmless debate with someone. You drive your Jeep on Lake Shore Drive, windows down, with no set destination. Wherever you go, you engage with the people around you because why the heck not? Your cup runneth over.
So, cheers to being a jerk (some of the time). Cheers to no longer being a Doormat. And cheers to that contented and abundant live you deserve. 🥂