“We teach people how to treat us; be careful of the lessons you give.”
This was my Facebook status a few days ago, and it seemed to resonate with many of my Facebook friends. I actually grew to learn this lesson some years back, and was very recently reminded of its truth.
Although I’m not a huge Dr.Phil fan, (sorry, Lol), I wholeheartedly agree with his admonition on this subject:
“You either teach people to treat you with dignity and respect, or you don’t. This means you are partly responsible for the [repeated] mistreatment that you get at the hands of someone else. You shape others’ behavior when you teach them what they can get away with and what they cannot.”
My lack of understanding this concept when I was younger, resulted in me accepting what should have been pretty unacceptable behavior from people. As I grew older and began to look at the mistreatment I’d received (in romantic relationships, friendships, work relationships, etc.,), I was able to identify ways in which I taught people that I would accept unacceptable behavior.
I can recall an old boyfriend who repeatedly disrespected our relationship. But because I wanted to forgive and give him (and our relationship) another chance, I took him back, with virtually no consequences to his actions. And like clockwork, every few months, this same disrespectful behavior happened again. At the time, I couldn’t understand it: “Shouldn’t he be so grateful to me that I forgave him with no consequences, that he would never do that disrespectful thing to me again?” Quite the contrary, it’s because there were no consequences that he was taught that it was acceptable behavior.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that forgiveness is a very necessary part of our emotional health. But, in my opinion, forgiving it, and taking it are two totally different things. If we are disrespected, mistreated, put in harm’s way, or disregarded, we must choose how to respond to that mistreatment. And whatever choice we make, sets the precedent and teaches that person what they can and cannot do to us.
I’ve also faced this situation with friends. Friends who were emotionally draining, financially draining, or disrespectful of my time/space. At times I would think, “why does she always dump her problems on me, but is never there when I need an ear?” Or, “why am I always the one she comes to when she needs money?” I realized later that the reason was simple: because I taught her that she could.
Inherent in my compliance, was acceptance. Whether I complied by alwaysbeing there, always loaning the money, or saying nothing at all, I was teaching that I accepted this kind of treatment. And until I changed my acceptance level, I kept getting the same thing.
People do to you exactly what you allow.
Let’s look at this in a very simple and practical setting: You work a 9-to-5 job, and your friend doesn’t. She calls you almost everyday – during the middle of your workday – to talk about absolutely nothing. You’re frustrated but you keep answering the phone. Well, as long you keep answering, you’re teaching her that, “even though I have a 9-to-5, it’s OK for you to call me in the middle of the day to talk about nothing.” If you stop answering between 9am and 5pm, eventually she’s going to learn not to call you during that time (unless it’s an emergency). (And if you’re wondering, yes, I have actually tried this one! It works. Lol )
According to my bff, Dr Phil, if the people in your life treat you in an undesirable way, you have to figure out what you are doing to reinforce, elicit or allow that treatment. For example, when people are aggressive, bossy or controlling toward you — and they still get their way — you have essentially rewarded them for unacceptable behavior.
Take some time to think about how people in your life are treating you. What standards are you accepting right now? If anyone is treating you poorly, pay attention to what message you’re giving them about that behavior.
Commit to teaching people how to treat you, and make sure the lessons are clear.