Aretha spelled it out... why can't I?
June 15, 2011 1:45 PM   Subscribe

How can I stop being a pushover?

So recently, I've been told I'm a pushover. Hate to agree with it but yes, it's true and thus I'm not getting respect from so called "friends." For example, I'll text one and instead of her getting back to me, I won't hear from her but she'll gladly get back to my best friend, first, if she tries to contact her for the same thing. That's just one example out of hundreds from "friends" who don't respect me. I go out of my way for some people only to get lukewarm responses. I'm tired of it and I need change. How can I gracefully go about earning respect? Any methods? I've always been very nice to people, never rocking the boat. So, what the hell?
posted by InterestedInKnowing to Human Relations (23 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I feel for you. When you always extend yourself people don't feel the need to 'value' that extension? Does that make sense?

There is a cold nasty reptillian like currency of social coin. You aren't very good at hoarding your stash. So, sometimes you get thought of second, because your friends know youll be around regardless, like What About Bob. Question is, do you really want to be manipulative about your own exchange rate like that? You can start being just a littttttle bit witholding, to leave people wanting for just a little more....even if subconsciously. And it might even work. But do you want to do that? It is a tough one. I don't know the right answer but it is a real thing for sure.
posted by ian1977 at 1:50 PM on June 15, 2011

I go out of my way for some people ...I've always been very nice to people

That could be the problem. If you react to mistreatment by bending over backwards to be accommodating, you're rewarding the disrespect.

Stand up for yourself. If you don't like something, say so.
posted by jon1270 at 1:52 PM on June 15, 2011

This is a tricky one. The real answer is to get new friends, and the ones who actually like you and value you as a person will make the effort to stay in touch. And with new people you meet, advocate for yourself and your feelings if shit is making you feel bad or uncomfortable.
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:53 PM on June 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

The way to get respect is to provide consequences for those who don't treat you respectfully. If your friends don't appreciate it when you do them favors, quit doing them favors already. And if they ask you, "Hey, how come you didn't offer to give me a ride to work like you usually do?" Tell them, "Well, it seemed like you didn't appreciate it much, so I figured I should make other plans."
posted by milk white peacock at 1:57 PM on June 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Here's the deal: when I treat a person like that it's because I don't like them. I hate to be harsh, but is it possible that your friends aren't... very good friends?

Either way, I recommend trying to not care about them. Don't text, don't call. If they as if you want to go to the Olive Garden but you can't stand the goddamned Olive Garden, say so (not "I HATE YOUR CHOICES," but, "naw, I really don't like the olive garden. I'll probably sit this one out.") If they ask for $20, just say no, no excuses. Eventually they'll start to respect you because, like jon1270, you're not rewarding them. Or they'll ignore you too, and you'll be out a pack of "friends." Pretty sure that would be a blessing anyway -- that way, you can make new friends based on the idea that you're looking for people to respect you and treat you as an equal.
posted by AmandaA at 2:00 PM on June 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

Never wanting to rock the boat is your problem.

I've been known to be a pushover, too. I think one of the reasons why I'm perceived as a pushover is that I'm used to be very agreeable with certain friends and I'm a people-pleaser. I would go along with their choice of movie or restaurant. If they wanted to share a bottle of red wine (and I just wanted a glass of white), I'd share the red. I no longer agree to things I have no interest in just to please others or to appear easy-going. You can still be easy going and get what you want.

If you agree all of the time and are afraid of ruffling feathers, stop. I'm not saying to be contrary or opinionated for the sake of it but don't be afraid to say and get what you really want without feeling bad about it. Don't agree if you don't agree -- if you disliked (or didn't understand it, or liked parts of it, or whatever) the movie you just saw with your friends, say so. Tell the truth. People will respect you more. I like my go with the flow personality but sometimes I can be too accommodating. When this happens it appears the individual has no ideas or opinions and people can perceive the person as weak and uninteresting.
posted by Fairchild at 2:02 PM on June 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

A pushover is different from someone who does favours for people. Do not give up on the second just to change the first -- being a generous person is a good thing. Agree when you actually agree, or agree when you don't care. Give when you want to give, but give without expecting the same from others. (This is . . . hard to do.) If people mistreat you, or are assholes, or whatever, you don't need to accept that, but game playing ("he got back to so-and-so first") and score keeping ("I did two favours and she did none") are unpleasant.
posted by jeather at 2:10 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Read "When I Say No I Feel Guilty" quote Hansel in Zoolander, it changed my whole perspective on shit. It comes down to self-worth, and how much you value and respect yourself. I always thought of myself as having high self-esteem, but I had a hard time being assertive. When it came down to it I realized that I considered other people's thought, feelings, and desires more important than my own. It's important to get to the bottom of why you are like this if you really want to change it. This behavior is prevalent in children of alcoholics/addicts, so if that is your situation, that may be an angle worth exploring.

And be prepared to lose friends (which, by the sound of it, is probably not a bad thing)--a lot of people are happy to be the more dominant shot-callers in relationships and if you try to switch up the dynamic on them, they see it as a rapid departure from your personality (as they know it, anyway) and might think you're just being an a-hole.
posted by lovableiago at 2:17 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The thing is, your friends are simply acting in line with your own valuation. You "go out of your way for some people", you've "always been very nice" and you are "never rocking the boat"... no matter how you are treated.

If you don't seem to care how you are treated, many other people won't, either. Aren't your feelings and opinions just as important and valid as those of others? No? Then there's the root cause.

To be brutally honest, you're being too "nice", and "nice" can actually be cowardly. You're not sharing who you really are with the world. Show the world who you really are - and it'd be awesome if you are indeed a generous person who does favors without scorekeeping or playing games like jeather said. But genuinely - otherwise, that's just another type of gameplaying.
posted by likeso at 2:18 PM on June 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

What would your best friend do if other friend did not text her back right away? Maybe you should try doing that.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 2:35 PM on June 15, 2011

This is a tough one...and I know how you feel. While I'm not a push over, I'm definitely more of a passive aggressive person with the occasional thrust of dominance. I agree that when you're too nice and too responsive with certain friends they will begin to treat you with less respect because they know you'll always be there no matter what. At the end of the day some of these people are probably not as good of friends as you think. And some just subconsciously take advantage of your kindness and pushover personality. You can change things though without being a ahole. First, from now on if some doesn't return a phone call or a text, temporarily discontinue contact with them. It make take a little while but you'll start to hear from these people with texts or calls saying hey where have you been? Then you brush if off saying you've been busy but it's great to hear from you. Don't be negative but don't be overly eager. Also, start voicing your opinion more. Don't be afraid to disagree or tell someone you don't like the way they've been treating you. Don't be a baby about it, but confidently stand your ground. Finally, there are some people in this world who don't appreciate a good friend. In the end, it's best to eliminate these people from your life. They're using you and it's not cool. Hope all this helps.
posted by ljs30 at 2:40 PM on June 15, 2011

These "friends" of yours who never respond to you - when you are together, when connection does occur, how does that connection feel to you? Do you feel supported, validated, loved, respected? I am trying to better understand what you are getting out of these "friendships" to see if they truly meet the "definition" of friendship. If you say yes, you feel validated, supported, loved, respected in person, then I would think you could call these folks out on their behavior. I have found people to be increasingly flaky as technology has entered our lives in greater amounts. But if you say, no, actually, I pass my time with them, I'm happier being with anyone rather than being alone, I would really evaluate if these people are good friends to you. Friends are people who are there for you not just in fun times, but when you really need someone to listen, not judge, they show up. You also mention your best friend - have you talked to her about this? I am sorry that you feel rejected/disrespected by these people. I personally think it is quite brave of you to risk being rejected by continually reaching out to people you want to build bonds with (many of us avoid that type of risk). And I think it's important to periodically reevaluate that risk when it's not paying off for you, and only hurts you. If talking to your best friend, talking to these people (an even great risk) about the disrespect, do not lead to a resolution that you are happy with, perhaps a new friend group that welcomes you is what you need. That certainly takes time to build, but you should feel held and supported by your community, not disrespected and dismissed.
posted by anya32 at 3:02 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, as a side note -- a "friend" who engages in that type of treatment/behavior isn't a true friend, and said "friend" should surely be reconsidered as to whether they're really a friend or not.

As for the un-pushover-ifying of yourself, I've had similar desires for myself years ago when I was in high school and still living at home.

I remember some utility service of our home having a recurring problem (phone or internet service, can't remember). My Dad asked me to handle the situation. I called up the company and spoke with a service rep. I was very kind and passive/submissive, as I usually am. The rep was giving me the runaround, basically saying "Sorry, deal with it. Have a good day."

I reported to my Dad about the deadend I had hit, and felt that that would be the end of the issue. He very calmly took the phone from me and called the company back.

While on the phone, he was calm, but very stern -- and unaccommodating of any nonsense the previous rep had dished to me. Watching this happen impacted me -- he wasn't afraid (or at least acted like it).

I pondered and analyzed that situation, and why I hadn't been able to do the same. I realized it was because I was afraid -- afraid of the rep getting upset with me, "punishing" me, mocking me, being in a "superior" position to me. Realizing this was the key element in helping me to see the core problem, and thus change it.

And so I suggest that you ask yourself why you won't do it, because only then and only through you will you be able to see and internalize what exactly is stopping you from speaking up/taking a stand/etc. This is crucial to fixing the problem, and will be vastly more beneficial to you than mere topical suggestions of how to actually stand up for yourself (which are still important, but should come after you soul-search to determine why you let yourself get pushed over).

Think of a specific situation where you've been pushed-over. Close your eyes and remember it, feel and imagine exactly what it was like. Feel the feelings of the moment you got "pushed over" (even if it was by not speaking up). Feel the frustration of realizing that you just pushed over. And then PAUSE!

Now ask yourself -- why did/didn't I do that? What inside my mind stopped me from calling her out for treating me so rudely? Was I afraid of X happening? Did I think that Y might come about if I did? Was it that Z would have changed?

From my past experience and uninformed opinion, I'd say it's an element of fear (like it was with myself). I realized that I was afraid of the other person rising above me and ridiculing/subduing me; I was afraid of the other person getting angry/offended/hostile; I was afraid of losing things, like a house utility or a "friendship".

Once I realized what exactly I was worried about that prevented me from speaking/standing up, I then thought -- What's the worst that could happen? I then imagined the absolute worst possible scenario (the service rep starts screaming at me over the phone; the service rep starts crying; the service rep cancels our internet; the service rep starts throwing chairs and hurts a fellow employee ;)

I think imagining potential consequences (and obviously imagining the "worst" of what obviously wouldn't happen), helped me to realize that essentially -- it would not kill me. Period. There was no chance that I was going to die if I spoke up and stood myself up. I accepted the worst that could happen, and realized that while they would be uncomfortable circumstances, life would easily go on.

"In a year from now, if the worst possible scenario or reaction happens, will it still plague my thoughts and bring regret on me that I direly wish I could go back and change?"

In nearly all situations, I chuckled and realized that I probably wouldn't even remember the event happening (but based on my concerns over the matter, I realized I WOULD still remember and feel haunted by my lack of ability to feel confident and stand up for mysefl!)

Standing up for one's self is no doubt uncomfortable. I don't feel it ever gets easy, it just gets "easier". But like any new thing or ability we're learning, each success makes the next attempt all the more easier. So once you've figured out the 'what', you have to specifically plan for the 'how' (and realize that it's going to be uncomfortable and probably make your stomach somersault).

Now, the final phase -- Ponder on the future. Armed with knowing the root cause and source of the problem, the source of the pain that causes you to feel this way because you let yourself get pushed over, imagine the NEXT time that it will happen. Imagine a similar situation you've been in where you've been pushed over, but in the future. Imagine someone specific, and make it very vivid and specific. Try to imagine it like it's already a memory, even though you know it's coming toward you from the future.

Now as that imaginary situation starts to unfold, calmly prepare yourself for what you're going to do and what you're going to say, specifically how you are finally going to stand up for yourself to THAT person. Tell yourself that you KNOW it's going to feel uncomfortable and awkward, but remind yourself that you EXPECTED that, that you anticipated those feelings would come and that they are nothing unexpected. Tell yourself (still in this imaginary future "memory") that there is NO other way about it, that you cannot wait for the day when 'standing up' just suddenly feels as easy and calming as a ray of sunshine on a newborn puppy's face (because it never does). Tell yourself that you HAVE to go through this, and that once you do, a world of pain, fear, and feelings of self-defeate will vastly be faded into the past.

Armed with that mental preparation in this future "memory", prepare for what you're going to say and do when the moment comes. For example, if the "friend" in this memory is blabbing on about how they're not going to be able to keep the dinner arrangement you've made because of some obviously invalid/lame excuse, get ready to say what you would want to say. I'd suggest physically typing it out on a computer. Start by writing out (to the other person in the memory) how you feel at that moment. Don't worry about exact wording or phrasing, just write out how they're making you feel because of what they're doing.

After you've written out the paragraph or so, go back over and refine it. Remember that typically, the essence of standing up for yourself is communicating how you feel to someone (usually after they have treated you unfairly). Thus, write out what you would say to that person to communicate how they are making you feel by their action, and then tell them how they can make it RIGHT.

The manifest purpose of standing up for one's self is to communicate the specific problem of the 'abuser' to the abuser, and then to offer them a solution/suggestion to rectify it. Simply, and along the lines of "Jane, (PROBLEM) I am a little flustered/offended that you're cancelling our dinner arrangement like this, and with what I feel is a reason that could have been avoided (OR doesn't hold much merit/shouldn't take precedence to our friendship/etc). (SOLUTION) I would appreciate if you wouldn't mind rescheduling your pilates session (car inpsection/annual squirrel hunt/etc). If you can't, I would really appreciate next time if you would give me earlier warning."

Condense your paragraph down (like I should condense this answer down :), then say it out loud to yourself. Hear yourself speak the words, and imagine yourself saying them to that person in that situation. I believe hearing yourself read out the paragraph, hearing yourself finally stand up for yourself, will greatly help prepare you to do it when the time comes. I believe part of your mind will remember standing up for yourself out LOUD (even though you were alone at the time, thinking of an imaginary situation). Say it to the offender in your mind. Imagine they're reaction and observe it, remembering to think "What's the worst that could happen?". Imagine different reactions, and ask yourself if you'd be ready to accept them (like if standing up for yourself to that person in that situation would result in breaking the friendship). Would you be ready to accept all of them happening (realizing that you would probably be better off in all of them... well, probably short of an expletive-filled tirade of justice to an abusive boss. Debatable :)

And that's it! Now armed with that "memory", you'll be far and above prepped and ready for the inevitable time someone tries to push you over and get away with it. You'll have already done it in the "past" (even through imagination), and you won't be surprised by the feelings of fear/worry/discomfort. You'll know the drill inside and out, and will (hopefully) be ready to accept the worst of possible reactions from the abuser. And as to your situation, if it means losing that person as a "friend" -- PERFECT! Anyone who treats you like that and doesn't apologize or accept you defending your dealt injustice, is better off being erased from your life. There are many more people out there who will make a better friend and treat you better.

Finally, a closing note that just came to mind: You don't HAVE to make standing up for yourself awkward or painful. In fact, I believe the greatest way of standing up for yourself is with humor -- it communicates the message and also helps both people (hopefully) chuckle and feel good about the situation, while still realizing the blunder and noting to not repeat it in the future.

Example: "Wow Mortimer, so after two years of being out of contact with each other, after finally setting up our triumphant reunion of friendship over a plate of IHOP flapjacks tomorrow night, you're now telling me that ComicCon 2011 is calling your name like the voice of destiny across the wind. It hurts man, it hurts real bad (grabbing heart, showing honest grimmace of pain). But you know what, if our friendship is going to take a backseat to anyone, at least it's to the Man of Steel in his blue, skin-tight spandex. Note to self (looking up into the air) -- find pair of blue spandex pants to win Mortimer's loyalties. (warmly smirk, maybe even wink).

As long as you're not pouting-ly dramatic or scathingly sarcastic, it should communicate well your issue while disarming the potential conflict, but still teaching the offender a lesson. Of course, this method of humor might not always be feasible (I feel it usually is feasible in most cases), as some issues of being walked on need the gravity and weight of being communicated to the other person seriously, causing them awkward discomfort for the offense that they've caused.

Good luck!
posted by coldblackice at 3:02 PM on June 15, 2011 [15 favorites]

Ouch, sorry for the doctoral thesis I just unloaded! I didn't realize how much I rambled :/
posted by coldblackice at 3:03 PM on June 15, 2011

I was the youngest in my family for 10 years, and didn't have a voice, really. I learned to be assertive in some things, but my family would still blow me off, and I think I tend to get bullied.

I realized that in order for others to take me seriously, I had to take myself seriously, in a good way, hopefully not a pompous "takes herself too seriously" way. It's all about attitude. I try to assume that people will listen, I try to treat myself as someone whose ideas are obviously valid, whose suggestions should be heard, who should be listened to. It has worked in many ways. In my family, because there's an entrenched system, there's more pushback. I do my best to cheerfully pretend that it doesn't exist, and continue to act as if I deserve to be heard.

With friends who don't respond to an invitation, invite somebody else. I wouldn't necessarily dump anybody, but prioritize the friends who treat you well.

Changing your own attitude about yourself is a good 1st step.
posted by theora55 at 3:44 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

These don't sound like very good friends.

But, this example has nothing to do with being a pushover. Do you have any examples in which you behave like and are treated like a pushover? I'm wondering if you're barking up the wrong tree by worrying about respect, when maybe what you should be worrying about is whether these hundreds of people actually like you and consider you to be a friend.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:03 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

How are you feeling like a pushover? That is someone who gets taken advantage of. It doesn't seem like that's the case here. Seems like you are "doing things for people" not out of generosity, but in expectation of ... something.

And how are you defining respect? It sort of sounds like you don't feel respected unless people hop-to when you come calling. Is it possible you aren't giving them as much respect as you are wanting back? I wouldn't feel very respected if a friend did something for me and then measured my response to them for completeness.
posted by gjc at 6:41 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've always been like this in wanting to please people thinking I will earn friends. I go to birthdays, sometimes driving 4 hours cause they really wanted to hang with me. But there is something to be said when you're in need and they don't come around for you, never. Something is wrong there and it's not that I'm collecting brownie points for a favor to be done for me is that I never have any favors from these same people and I rarely ever ask. I rarely ever do! I give people the same courtesy of respect in not ignoring their messages, always paying back what I owe them, and showing I care. Do I get the same treatment back? Nope. I always lived by the mantra "do unto others as you would have them to unto you." I'm starting to believe that's bullcrap.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 2:41 AM on June 16, 2011

The fact that you mention hundreds of friends who don't respect you makes me wonder if you're spreading yourself too thin on that front. Hundreds is way too many to be actual friends with. It might work better to cultivate a handful of close friendships.

Do these people live near you? (Four hours is a long drive for a birthday party.) If not, work on making friends with people in your city/town.

Beyond that, being nice and doing favors for people isn't how people make friends. It could weird some people out, it could help you with some people, but overall it's probably mostly irrelevant. Check out threads on making friends here, here, here and here.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:39 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

No... I don't have hundreds of friends lol, hundreds of EXAMPLES that I put up with from "friends." That's what I want to clarify. I have a few close buddies and many acquaintances. But my problem is that I'm often fooled by people who act like my close friend, so I go out my way for them only to get piles of crap returned.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 7:28 AM on June 16, 2011

For me the difference came in realizing I was always reacting to friends instead of acting of my own free will. Someone asked for something, I would try to give it, and then I resented them when I was giving something I didn't want to give or doing something I didn't want to do.

I sat down and re-evaluated my life. Who were the people I Actively wanted to be around? What did I Want to do with them? What did I want from life and friendships?

You sound angry at your "friends" because they aren't behaving the way you think they should. You being giving won't change who they are and how they behave. You only have control over yourself and your actions. Start choosing to act in ways that make you happy for yourself and healthy relationships, not for how they might be reflected back to you.

Lastly, therapy was a huge help to me in realizing my own role in trying to "give" my way into friendships, and in realizing what I actually wanted from life... and then actually maintaining the boundaries that make all my relationships healthier and happier.
posted by ldthomps at 8:28 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think you sound angry. I think you sound frustrated. I can sympathize, as I've been going through something similar. Here's the bits I picked up.

1) Beware your own friendship passivity. If you aren't asking your friends on outings, phoning them to chat, or asking for a favor or two now and then, you aren't putting in the effort to build a solid friendship and set the tone of how much attention you think is normal. It takes some vulnerability on your side. You don't plant a neat garden and then leave it alone for two months and wonder why it is an ungroomed mess and full of weeds, right?

2) Beware your own low self esteem that will want you to withdraw when you are going through a hard time. It's a form of self-absorption, even if it's negative. You can't see the effect your absence has on others because you are so focused on yourself. You can't tell if they are missing you or not. They could easily misinterpret it as you being upset at them for some reason, leaving them wondering what they did wrong.

3) Don't try to control other people's behavior through your own. Don't try to make yourself into the person you think others want around. Sometimes it's hard to separate yourself from the group mind if you're so used to anticipating what others want. (I always lived by the mantra "do unto others as you would have them to unto you.") Know how to put yourself first, and then choose.

Something that sticks with me is that you train people how to interact with you. It's true that some people are just jerks, and some people won't mesh well enough to be a good friend, but the best you can do is notice the people who do respond favorably and focus on them.

I've started reading Jane Austen's books because I hear they are really good for teaching about friendships and social relationships and manners. (I got the idea from this.) I've started Sense and Sensibility. And you know, I think it will help.
posted by griselda at 2:32 PM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

griselda I have to say as an introvert, when I'm going through hard times I definitely withdraw because if I don't, all I want to talk about is how am I going to get through this momentarily bad phase. I don't want to put that energy on them either. So, it's better for me to withdraw when I'm in a negative mood, I feel.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 6:53 AM on June 18, 2011

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