The way you behave with others will let them know what you will or won’t take. You teach people how to treat you, so start the education now.
I know you’ve heard this before – you teach people how to treat you. Whether you watch Dr. Phil or not, it’s become one of those phrases that has moved from the television set into the everyday vernacular. There is a reason for that.
When you find yourself in a situation – good or bad – where you are appreciating or loathing the way that someone has been treating you, think about what role you are playing in that dynamic. Have they always acted like this or has their behavior stemmed from your allowing it? Are you not able to get as close to people as you would like because you constantly push people away? Figuring out what you are doing to contribute to a situation is the only way you’re going to be able to change it.
Are You An Enabler?
One of the most common themes that falls under this category is that of enabling. Whether it be with someone who is an addict, an adult child who continues to live at home, or someone who is constantly in your business, enabling plays a huge factor in whether that behavior continues as it is, changes, or just continues without you supporting it.
We all have people that we love – some more than life itself. We would never want any harm to come to those people and many of us would put ourselves in front of a bullet for them. Which is what leads to the cycle of love – guilt – enabling. Fortunately and unfortunately, the three go hand in hand and the cycle is a very difficult process to navigate at times.
Love often unconditional. Our children, our parents, our friends – there are people who you would do anything to help – whether or not it’s in anyone’s best interest. And that’s the rub.
Sometimes we do things that we feel are the right things for someone because they can’t seem to do it themselves – or won’t do it themselves – and the cycle begins. The old saying “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime” states the same thing. If you continue to do for the people you love past the point of their truly needing you to, you are feeding them for only a day at a time. And often, you are depleting yourself a day at a time – whether that be of money, energy, or time. You teach people how to treat you, so maybe it’s time to teach them (and yourself) a different lesson.
Raise Them Right
Another of Dr. Phil’s famous sayings is that we are raising adults, not children. That’s something that I’ve tried to keep in the forefront of my mind since my children were born. It’s not always easy and I sometimes have to check myself (“it’s easier if I do it,” “it’s faster,” “we have to get out the door,” etc.), but it is my job to get my children ready to be adults, not children.
As adults, I want them to want to be with me, not need to be with me. And that is something that I think goes for so many relationships. This is a better way to empower the next generation so that they have a better chance of not falling into the same mistakes that we may have made.
So let’s talk a little bit about the cycle of love – guilt – enabling. When we love people, we naturally want to take care of them. And depending on the recipient, they will either love, appreciate, balk at, and/or cling to those gestures.
If they choose to cling over and over and over to the point where your 20-something college graduate is still living at home, looking for the “right” job, and you resent it, you need to think about what you’ve done to put yourself there What you’ve taught them, how they are treating you, and whether you have mutual respect.
I know you love them and they know you love them, but is what you are currently doing for them (at your own expense and out of guilt) really teaching them to fish? Are you teaching them how to be responsible, pay bills, and be a contributing member of society? Are you sending the right message?
Are they going to go out with friends in a few years and say “Well, my mom never let me…” when they are trying to defend their decisions to the world? And at the same time, do you find yourself defending your child because they just need a little more time or support or money or sleep, while you are secretly stewing and resenting it? You may not be expressing your frustration in words, but your lack of eye contact and body language is likely telling a different story.
Think about what you’ve taught your child about their relationship with you. Enabling doesn’t stop until one of you stops it. And you may be the only person who can. Especially if it’s injuring your relationship with that person (child, romantic relationship, friend, etc.), maybe it’s time to try making a different choice.
Reestablish Your Relationship
Teaching people how to treat us can be unbelievably difficult when we’ve lived the same pattern for so many years, so the best way is by creating a small amount of change to elicit positive behavior.
If an adult in your family asks for $20 every week, doesn’t have a job and you don’t want to continue the pattern, choose a monthly amount for a set amount of time (“I can give you $40 per month between now and September, but after that, I will no longer be able to give you money.”)
If someone is living in your home and you aren’t pleased with the progress or contributions that they are making, give them a move date (in a few months, if you’re being generous), and have them sign something stating so.
If a boyfriend is constantly cheating on you and you wait for him to come back every time (because he now knows he can) – know that if you don’t change your behavior and what you’re allowing, he certainly won’t change his. You will never get a different result.
But here’s the thing – when you decide on any of the above, you must hold to it. You must make them move, you must stop giving them money. If you extend the date or give a little more the very first time or in the future, you’ve just taught them that they can manipulate you into doing not what’s best for you or them, but what’s easiest and has the quickest reward. And you’re back to square one in the old negative pattern.
One important thing to keep in mind is that when you enable someone, you subconsciously encourage someone to be comfortable in manipulative or abusive relationships. They have never learned to trust themselves, have realistic expectations, and delve into their own life because they know you will be there at the end of the day. There are negative results for you and an unfortunate kind of payoff for them – neither of which teaches them to have healthy relationships.
The results from this position of strength may begin in a temper tantrum or the silent treatment from your loved one. Don’t let that sway you. You are providing a different response, so you have to expect a different result. The only person you can control is yourself and once your loved one gets over their fear of rejection, they will see that you are looking out for your own needs as well as theirs.
Teaching people how to treat you is really a combination of knowing what’s right, trusting yourself, and holding your ground. Having a support system is also something that can be crucial, even if it’s just a spouse/partner, family member, friend, or therapist. You cannot do it by yourself and if you have a sounding board along with continued validation, you’re more likely to trust the decisions and boundaries that you know are the right ones.