To be a doormat or not to be a doormat – is there a question?

To be a doormat or not to be a doormat – is there a question?

  • July 12, 2014

Is there ever a good reason to be someone else’s doormat? No way. Definitely. Maybe.

‘I can’t let her take advantage of me like that!’  ‘I’m tired of being his doormat!’  I hear this a lot from my clients.

Our human tendency is to look for hard and fast rules to help us navigate through the maze of our complex lives. In the case of the human doormat, the most common rule of thumb I hear is: Don’t be one. Unfortunately, it’s rarely that simple.

Please don’t get me wrong: I am not advocating that we all aspire to doormat status. I have enough personal experience in that position to know that it is rather detrimental to one’s overall sense of well-being.

There are, however, circumstances where it might make sense to be a doormat, at least temporarily and with appropriate protective gear. You may have some reasons of your own – or not. Here are mine:

* All things considered, I may prefer to stay where I am. While being a doormat does not fit with my principles, I may not want to leave my particular spot in my family, my profession, or my circle of friends, because there are other overriding factors that are more important to me.

* Choosing to be a doormat can be a smart move. I’ll swallow my pride and allow you to step on me, and use that as negotiation capital later. (We could have a long discourse here that people will likely view this move as ‘manipulative’ if you’re a woman, and ‘strategic’ if you’re a man. But I’ll save that one for another post.)

* I’m paying my dues and learning the ropes from the ground up. (Pun intended.) In my early days as a conflict resolver, I volunteered for a court program providing free mediation services to litigants. Some attorneys felt that since they were not paying me they were somehow entitled to treat me like their personal doormat. I’ll spare you the details. Needless to say, I outgrew that role very quickly. I still volunteer, but in a markedly elevated position. (Pun intended.)

* I’m not really a doormat, but a stepping stone. If he needs to step on someone to get through a rough part on his journey, I may choose to be the helpful foot rest until he’s ready for the next step. I forgive and move on. Maybe he’ll thank me later, maybe he won’t. It was my choice to be his stepping stone, so I’m fine either way.

Once I choose to be a doormat, I have a decision to make: what kind of doormat do I want to be?

* Gracious. If someone is nasty to me, I don’t have to be nasty in return. I may be on the ground, but I don’t have to take the low road.

* Alert. I may be a gracious doormat, but I’m not a helpless victim. I don’t have to give everyone full authority to beat me up. Even doormats have limits. I’ll put on my protective gear and be sure to keep my guard up. I’ll remember to evade, redirect, or at least block. It may be hard to play offense from the ground, but I can still be smart about defense.

If you’re looking for a bright line on whether or when it’s okay to be a doormat, I’m sorry to say that I haven’t found one. It’s an entirely personal decision, depending on your particular circumstances.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
(Eleanor Roosevelt)

For me, the buck stops at self-respect. But this, too, is a very fuzzy line in the sand that’s entirely personal. We all have different thresholds (okay, enough with the puns) on where respect and compassion for others clashes with respect and compassion for yourself.

If you’re not sure whether you’ve crossed the line, you may benefit from talking to a neutral third person to get a new perspective. Family members, friends, coworkers and spiritual advisors can be a good source. Be aware, though, that they may have their own stake in your situation with conflicting allegiances to both you and the person stepping on you. Some situations call for a psychologist, a life coach, or a conflict coach – someone whose only agenda is to help you.

If you feel a situation has gone too far, trust your instincts and pick yourself up from the ground. Don’t wait. If you need help getting off the ground, ask for it.

To be a doormat or not to be a doormat? Only you can answer this question, and there is no clear line. I do offer these guiding lights:

Respect yourself.

You don’t have to do this alone.

When you’re on the ground, there’s only one way to go: UP.

Whether you stay on the ground or pick yourself up is your choice.

The earth upon which we fall is the same ground which enables us to push ourselves up again.
(Proverb)