Doormat’s Anonymous: How Not to Be a Doormat

Hello, I’m Marly. I’m a recovering doormat. I thought I’d share with you my tips on how not to be a doormat.

A photograph of a doormat by Marly illustrating the point of shedding doormat tendencies.

To make sure I really understood what I was talking about, I looked up doormat in the dictionary. Two definitions seemed relevant. A doormat is:

  • a mat placed in a doorway, on which people wipe the grime off their shoes.
  • a submissive person who allows others to dominate them.

For those of you who think this is an affliction reserved only for women, Bob Walkenhorst is here to prove you wrong. He just changed the terminology a little bit in his song, Punching Bag. He croons, “Ain’t going down, bound and gagged, I ain’t gonna be your punching bag.”

It’s a perfect song for a recovering Doormat. Along with this quote:

The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them. — Maya Angelou

I’ve sometimes described my own Doormat ways as reminiscent of a golden retriever. I’m constantly running myself ragged trying to get people to like me. Fetch that stick? Sure! Get out of your way, you scream? Oh, ok. I can do that too. The Pixar movie, Up comes to mind where the golden retriever has a collar that allows him to speak. He says via his collar, “I have just met you and I love you.”

A photograph of a golden retriever. Learn How Not to Be a Doormat through this playful, but thoughtful post

Sweet, eh? What could go wrong with that?

I mean, don’t we all want to be liked? Loved?

Doesn’t it make sense that the best way to get people to love us is to love them first?

In fact, the whole “more is more” mentality comes into play here. If you love them extra hard, then that means they’ll love you back even more! Right?

On paper that seems like a good strategy, but in reality it’s riddled with flaws.

The first flaw that comes to mind is people. People are complex. The good people out there see the Doormat person as someone who just tries too hard. It’s annoying. Especially if they see the true value that person has to offer. It’s not easy to watch a Doormat devaluing (and degrading) him or herself.

Then there are the Users. They are drawn to doormats like dirt flaking from the bottom of an uninvited guest’s shoe! You want to give your talent away? The Users will take that and then some, without so much as a thank you in the end. In fact, they might even end up feeling a little disgruntled at you for not giving a little more.

It’s a sobering reality to face – that there are people who feel entitled to steal your talents and present it as their own. And that they’re in your life because you opened the door and welcomed them?

That’s what we call salt on a self-inflicted wound.

How Not to Be a Doormat

Recognizing Doormat characteristics is the first step to recovery. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • You want people to like you. (This one should come with a “Danger! Will Robinson” sign attached to it)
  • You volunteer your time to people who don’t say thanks
  • You’re afraid to say “no” for fear the person you’re trying to please might get mad or not want to work with you anymore
  • Even after getting burned time after time, you’re eager to forgive and put that unpleasant thing they did or said to you in the past
  • You want to show/prove to the other person that you’re a good friend/partner/worker

These characteristics seem harmless, but are fraught with problems. Wanting people to like you is the granddaddy of them all.

There’s a woman in my life, Marty, who I like to refer to as my adopted mother. Marty tells it to me like this, “If only one of you can be happy, it might as well be you.” That’s an important thing to remember because oftentimes Users are not the happiest people in the world.

Doormats also like to be fixers. We like to think we can fix those Users and make them happy. That our optimistic, golden retriever selves can provide enough happiness for everyone.

Oh, if only that were possible.

The truth is, Users are like dark holes. They will suck the happiness out of you like a Dementor at Hogwarts. And then when your happiness is finally depleted, they move on to their next victim.

It’s why we Doormats are such convenient prey. Easy pickings. We want to be liked so much we give and give, and then we even forgive their bad behavior.

If you don’t like being a doormat, then get off the floor. – Al Anon

I’m (finally) starting to realize my Doormatty ways and I’m taking charge. I know I won’t recover from this all at once. Learning How Not to Be a Doormat is something that takes time.

The thing is, I do like to be liked. I crave it like a Soy Chocolate Chip Frapacino on a hot summer’s day.

I also like the feeling of making other people happy. Sometimes I feel like I have this radiator of happiness; it feels so good to share with others.

I plan to continue that, but I’m just going to be careful about on whom I choose to bestow my happy vibes. Very, very careful.

Care to join me on my Doormat’s Anonymous program? Because you know what they say, recovering doormats love company. Is that what they say? I’m not so sure about that, but you get the idea.

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14 Responses to Doormat’s Anonymous: How Not to Be a Doormat

  1. I’ve never been this way but I’ve found that rejecting doormats has been very traumatic for them so it is really hard to be diplomatic yet not a user. I’m always appreciative but I see how others just use and it irks me. I feel bad for those who think they have to prove something by doing actions they don’t want to do. It makes me want to be the fixer in the relationship!

    • Oh, I’m so jealous (in a good way) of people like you! You have this intrinsic ability to stand up for yourself when needed.

      Like Shannon. I wanna be like Shannon! I wanna be, wanna be, wanna be like Shannon! (Remember that “Like Mike” commercial? That’s how you have to sing that.)

  2. My best friend in high school was a bit like a “doormat” (it sounds kind of harsh when you say it like that!). She would apologize for everything and do anything to please every single person she could. I’m kind of jealous of her willingness to please, but I do try to tell her that she doesn’t have to be perfect all the time! Thanks for your sentimental post. I’ll pass it on to her 🙂

  3. I feel you. I have been the same way for most of my life. In high school my mom would force me to say no to people because I was constantly doing them favors. You can only bend over backwards for so long. And sometimes it takes something really terrible to realize how bad it had gotten. I had a boyfriend who took advantage of my need to help him for several years, and I ended up with $6,000 in credit card debt. Stay strong!

  4. I am the opposite of a doormat, when I meet someone I wonder if I’ll like THEM, I could care less if they like me 🙂 I’m not a user though, I tend to get annoyed at the subservience traits and have definitely drawn boundaries with people before. And propping up their confidence gets tiring too, like you said, you can’t fix people.

  5. I think we all have a little doormat in us unfortunately. Good for you for working on this. I think we all want people to like us. I’m willing to help everyone but once I figure out they are a user, I’m done. Done, done, done. xoxo Marly!

  6. As a recently reformed Doormat, I say, Thank You for this post! A friend of mine always says, “there’s a word in our language. Really easy. One syllable. Two letters. NO.” I finally took that to heart, ditching a User who was posing as a boyfriend, and saying No to a few other people who just wanted to take advantage of my kindness – without ever so much as a thank you or kind gesture in return. Standing up for yourself feels good, so I plan to do more in the future! Doormats Anonymous? Sign me up! 🙂

    • Lee, we are kindred spirits. I can feel it! I agree that after a lifetime of dormatty ways, it sure feels good to stand up for yourself. Now I just hope I don’t go over to the other side. I’ll be hell on wheels for awhile. Watch out world – Lee and I are doormats no more!

  7. I hate to refer to myself as a doormat because, in general, I’m not. My eldest son (adult) seems to think that I have an endless supply of money and emotional tolerance. He continues to manipulate me and draw me into his crap. I get drawn in because I want to save/fix him. I think I have finally had enough. It’s really hard because I have been trying to rescue him for so long, it feels weird to not be doing it. I want the rest of my life to be for me and my wonderful husband. Just for today, I’m not giving in.

    • Good for you, Maureen! I don’t think we do anyone any favors by giving in when it’s against our better judgment. My very best to you! Marly

  8. I love the article and it served me well to read it and I loved: The truth is, “Users are like dark holes. They will suck the happiness out of you like a Dementor at Hogwarts. And then when your happiness is finally depleted, they move on to their next victim.”

    I am the family doormat.. yes. I have seven brothers and sisters and having finally blown my top and literally removed them from my life, I feel for the first time happy. I am truly happy because for 10 years, I tried to make them happy. They choose not to be happy. I liked being thus and felt they should be, too. Not so. They are not happy because they want the attention that an empty saddened life brings them, the pity potty. Ha! I flushed that toilet and got rid of the crap! I have one brother who stood next to me and told me that all of the moments in my life where they treated me badly was my fault. WHAT? That seemed illogical and they were getting away with hurting me, but only because I let them. Not any more. I am not going to dodge that very insightful criticism. I will own it and now, what joy I felt from helping them (which was not really joy- more self sacrifice) I am going to replace with feeling good from helping those who truly want to be happy. Thank you for helping and I can confide that I am a happy person who will gladly share your pearls with the unhappy people who now hear me say, “No.” with a smile of course.

    • Hi Joan. Thanks for your comment. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me, particularly because this last week I learned that the woman referenced in this post, Marty, whom I referred to as my adopted mom, passed away. I’m beyond heartbroken about it. She changed my life in so many ways and one of my favorite quotes from her is in this post: If only one of you is happy, it might as well be you.

      I think she would tell you the same thing. It sounds like you have some unhappy people in your life. No matter what you do, they will continue to be unhappy. So, rather than trying to fill their dark hole of emptiness, you’ve chosen to heal your own wounds and find happiness. I’m so proud of you!

      It’s NOT easy to do what you’ve done. Finding peace and happiness takes courage. And you are on the path. Sending you a great big ol’ virtual hug right now!

      I think this makes you and me part of the DNM club – DOORMATS NO MORE! Better yet, we’re now part of the happy people club!


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