Doormat Syndrome

Feeling like a doormat in this life? Consider whether you are a victim or active volunteer…

Most of us humans want to do good in this world. We want to help people. And this is a beautiful thing. But there is a fine yet distinct line between helping other and losing ourselves in the process.

Pilot Philosophy

The pilot’s directive in case of a flight emergency is always the same: put your oxygen mask on first.

Yet in life, many of us tend to ignore our own needs in order to care for another. 

Living in the Gray

Nothing is black or white in this life. There’s gray. There are, of course, times when we put aside our own needs to attend to another. When:

  • an infant needs to be fed
  • a loved one is close to the end of their life
  • someone is in danger

But even in the examples above, there is gray: 

  • The infant can be fed within 5–10 minutes
  • You can get something to eat/go to the restroom at the hospital during your vigil
  • You can call an ambulance/the police without putting yourself in direct danger (again, even here the situation is filled with gray based on the nature and scope of danger)

Recognizing Patterns

My cousin regularly caters to her grown children and subsequently complains that they don’t appreciate her and treat her like a doormat. If she has plans, and they arrive, unannounced from out of town, she changes her plans. Some are carnivores and some are vegan. Regardless, the expectation is that “mom” (my cousin) will “take care of it.”

So she…

  • shops, prepares, and serves the meals to her grown children’s families’ tastes. Then she washes up the kitchen — solo.
  • does her children’s and grandchildren’s laundry
  • cleans the house after them daily

And then they leave and don’t call her unless they need money.

My cousin’s pattern:

Doormat + Complainer=Resentment and Helplessness

Victim or Volunteer

A wise therapist said:

If there’s a negative situation you keep experiencing, you have to ask yourself: What am I getting out of it?

There’s always a positive in the negative. There’s always some kind of reward we receive that keeps us stuck in that negative pattern.

My cousin might complain, but it is never to her daughters or their husbands. She will complain to the rest of the family. She will complain to friends. But she stays quiet when it comes to the source of her unhappiness.

Why? I can’t speak for her. One reason might be fear — the fear of what might happen if she tells her grown children how she truly fells.

“My grandchildren are my whole life.” We become the stories we regularly say to ourselves and others. 

Another potential reason? There’s a comfort in the roles we play for a long time. My cousin is quite comfortable in her victim role. It’s a false safety net, trapping her in its familiar web.

Growth happens when we step out of our comfort zone.

It is uncomfortable to sit with the notion that she is a volunteer, not a victim. It is uncomfortable to sit with one’s responsibility for an unpleasant experience.

The late First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt wisely said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Nothing is stopping my cousin from speaking up, allowing the figurative chips to fall in her self-caged prison.YOU are the author of your life. What’s your narrative going to be? (GIPHY)

The Greatest Storyteller

The greatest storyteller is the one reading this right now. It’s YOU. Whether you are a victim or a volunteer is always up to you. If you don’t like the narrative, change it.

Changing a narrative is not so simple as “okay, now I am no longer a victim.” That is the physical equivalent of a child shoving their strewn toys under their bed. The mess has simply moved and still not dealt with. 

Changing the narrative requires great courage. The willingness to see the patterns we’ve created and the WHY behind those patterns.

Only when we’ve looked with both eyes open can we start planting new seeds and growing a different, empowering narrative — with you as the hero.

Dating Myth: The Closing Window

The idea that a woman’s potential to meet a man “before the window closes” creates a fear that manifests in unhealthy choices.

*Ann recently went on a date with a 5’9” man. At the end of the evening, the man said, “I like you. You’re cute. I’d like to see you again. But you’ll need to ditch the heels. We can’t have you looking taller than me.”

Ann is 5’ 8” sans heels. Apparently, Ann’s height directly affects her date’s ability to…er date her (or at the very least, stand beside her in public).

“Were you attracted to him?” I asked.

“He owns his own real estate company and drives a Lamborghini.”

“But are you attracted to him?”

She sighed and made a face like one would when offered leftovers from two nights ago. “It’s different at my age. You’ll see. You have to consider different things than you do in your 20’s and 30’s. So, he’s sensitive about his height and he seems a little needy. But he likes me, and he wants to take care of me. I don’t want to be alone. I need someone like him.”

Our talk went on, covering everything from his clean teeth to his affectionate texts. Still, my friend never did answer the attraction question. 

Ann’s divorce isn’t final. She has three girls to raise and at forty, she says “a woman’s window closes quickly. A man has plenty of time. The window remains open for them.”

But I boldly disagree with my dear friend. The “closing window” is a myth, an illusion perpetuated by the cousin of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). This fear causes women and men alike to make choices out of some invisible pressure cooker. It is up to each of us to recognize the myth and do what YOU think works best for YOU, not what the mythical fear whispers (if not screams).

I am not stating that compromise isn’t a part of dating and personal relationships in general. But there is a fine but distinct difference between compromise and settling, between choosing to be with someone out of interest and choosing someone to purely have a “someone.”

Love can be found in the least expected places by people at any stage of life. And while the hunger to experience that love is real, there is nothing lonelier than spending time in the wrong company. 

*Name is altered to retain privacy.

“Serving Boundaries”

A dog feeling the strain of someone’s lack of boundaries…

Last week, I had the pleasure of virtually speaking at an Author Talk with Rabbi Dan Gordon and his Temple Beth Torah congregants to promote my new book, The Friendship Diet. The book explores the deep, often-overlooked connection between our edible and emotional nutrition.

One of the participants asked a powerful question about boundaries that I would like to address here now: “How do you create important boundaries when you encounter “cilantro” that you don’t like?”

The cilantro is a metaphor in my book, referring to times when we encounter something we don’t care for the taste of (in my case cilantro) yet tend to ignore in an effort to please others. When we continue to ingest our respective “cilantros” we can feel bitter over time, if not downright sick to our spiritual and physical gut.

So back to the insightful question that was asked at the Author Talk: 

“How do you create important boundaries when you encounter “cilantro” that you don’t like?”

Those boundaries are going to look different based on the nature of the relationship. After all, the boundaries involved in limiting your child’s screen time is going to look very different from the boundaries invisibly erected between an intimate couple and what they share about say, their past romantic relationships.

Yet regardless of what kind of boundaries we are wanting to create in the face of said “cilantro,” they will all begin to manifest as a natural by-product of the internal work YOU do.

There’s a famous quote by motivational speaker, Tony Gaskins:

 “You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.”

Chances are, if you are receiving a dish of poor boundaries, you are serving a plate of low self-esteem. Change externally needs to start by altering our perceptions internally. When you care about how you feel first—regardless of what is going on externally in your life, you are sending a signal to others that you matter. That invisible but powerful signal is real and will affect all of your relationships, from your partner to your colleagues.

For many, learning that poor boundaries is often a by-product of low or weak self-esteem is a tough pill to swallow. There’s a reason growth is usually associated with pain. On the other side of that pill is clarity and awareness—beautiful harbingers of inner growth and change.

I encourage you to do the guided writing prompts in my book, The Friendship Diet. If the pandemic isn’t a time to examine the inner contents of our metaphorical fridges, I don’t know when is!

I’ll close with some auditory and visual food for thought with the link to our Author Talk: (Available on YouTube)