We teach people how to treat us.
The first time someone said this to me, I had 100 examples of how this statement was not only wrong, but insulting. I mean, I certainly didn’t TEACH that taxi driver to cut me off!
But of course, I was missing the point. And I was frustrated, because on some level, I knew this statement had some truth to it. It wasn’t a coincidence that I kept falling into similar patterns of feeling overworked and taken advantage of. Like it or not, I was the common denominator. And as depressing as that was, there was a silver lining. If I played a role, it meant I also had some control to change it. You can too.
The primary reason people treat us poorly is because we fail to create clear boundaries. We say one thing, but our tone and body language say another. We treat others with respect, but fail to cut people off when they cross a line. Whether due to a need to be liked, fear of retaliation, or an inability to trust our instincts, we remain pleasant, even to people who suck the life out of us.
We teach people how to treat us. We teach them how much abuse, drama and disrespect we’re willing to take. When we neglect our own needs and boundaries, others notice this and figure it’s fine for them to do it too. Whether family drama, colleagues that bully, or the barber who is consistently late each month, we convince ourselves it’s easier to avoid conflict, or fall back on spiritual beliefs that tell us we should demonstrate kindness.
But in some cases, conflict IS kindness. To both us and the person harming us. Because if we can’t take care of ourselves, there’s nothing left for the ones we care about. How much time and energy are the people who don’t respect you taking from the ones who consistently love and support you?
Are you bringing a bad mood home because your Boss is dumping on you at the office? Maybe you have nothing left for your partner because your whacky friend is going through another dramatic crisis. Perhaps it’s you who is suffering, constantly worrying that you’ll “set off” that angry person in your life.
I’m a big believer in tolerance and kindness and while that will likely always be my starting point, I’ve also realized there is merit to my personal boundaries and value (on both sides) in teaching these to others. It IS possible to both set clear boundaries and show compassion. They are not mutually exclusive.
We teach people how to treat us. When we respond to emails on the weekend, more people will email us on the weekend.
We teach people how to treat us. When our colleague is late (again!) and we shrug it off, you can bet she will be late next time.
We teach people how to treat us. When we want to say “no”, but relent and agree, we’re teaching others we can be cajoled into doing things.
We teach people how to treat us. What will you teach people today?