by Neil Rosenthal
Note: This is the first of a two-part series.
Are you a doormat? Do you see yourself as having little or no personal power with other people? Do you seek validation from others because you lack confidence in your own abilities and because you have poor self-esteem? Do you feel worthless, accepting a victim/martyr role in your relationships with other people?
If so, other people may think of you-and you may think of yourself-as a doormat. “We can borrow Ed’s tools, he won’t mind. We don’t have to consider what Shirley would like, she’ll go anywhere we decide. Let’s volunteer Sandy for the job, she’s good at doing it quickly and she won’t complain about it.”
Although these traits are at the heart of unselfish, loving, generous and mature behavior, a doormat is not exactly acting loving and mature. A doormat perpetually goes without and acts responsible for others to the exclusion of taking care of themselves. They do for others instead of for themselves.
The name for people who look outside themselves for self-worth, relying on others-or external sources-for self-validation, is the poorly labeled term “co-dependent.” Codependency is at the heart of being a doormat. It is a pattern of learned beliefs and behaviors about how to manipulate other people into needing you and-or loving you because you don’t feel worthy on your own merits.
This pattern of behavior frequently begins “when a parent has become helpless through alcohol, drugs, mental or physical illness or a lifetime of irresponsibility. To survive, children may take over the household at an early age,” writes Lynn Namka in the book The Doormat Syndrome. The child gives up part of himself/herself to take care of parents, siblings or others in the family. The child becomes a miniature adult, feeling responsible for the care of those around them.
Doormats have a secret hope that things will get better. Wanting to believe in a marriage, a relationship or a job so strongly that they overlook personal inconveniences and sacrifices again and again. They may gripe to others, but rarely with the people with whom they need to settle the disagreement or grievance. They believe others prevent them from speaking out, but they aren’t secure enough to say what they feel and need.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, CO, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303. 758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, heartrelationships.com.