"Take these broken wings and learn to fly/All your life/You were only waiting for this moment to arise"
December 8, 2011 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Help me learn to not be such a doormat – and maybe get a tattoo to remind me not to be one.

So I realize the answer to this question will, by default be ‘get a therapist’. And I fully plan to get one; I just started a new job and have a new insurance plan to wrangle through – but finding and getting a therapist is definitely high on my To Do list. This is a related question though on what I can do in the meantime. It’s not intended to be a shortcut to therapy – just something I was curious about from other people, since my Google searches for ‘don’t be a doormat’ imagery just isn’t working…

I’m wondering how I can learn not to be a doormat or passive person when it comes to putting my needs as a priority. Because one of my parents left when I was very young I have issues of abandonment – staying in relationships (friendships, romantic relationships – even jobs) longer than I should even if I’m not happy because of a fear that I’ll be alone. I’m desperate to avoid conflict and confrontation, and am a people pleaser because I figure if someone else is happy they will like me enough so they won’t leave. (Yes, it’s pathetic enough just writing this – and apologies for the length here).

I go thorough this cycle of experiencing something bad (someone being awful to me in a relationship, for example) and me still staying with them. I then get mad at myself for realizing I’m not happy because I’m not standing up for what I believe in or who I am – but I’m too ‘weak’ or doormat-like to leave. The cycle repeats, and I realize I need to get off that ferris wheel. I come to these conclusions like now where I have these epiphany-like moments of true realization. Yet I seem to forget the epiphanies and don’t change my behavior. I keep on giving these other people the benefit of the doubt and still have them in my life whereas I would think less dysfunctional people would say, “hey, why are you friends with this person again? Good friends don’t put you down”.

I’m realizing that having these negative people in my life doesn’t help me and I need to change my reaction to them. I’d like to rely less on my fears and be strong enough on my own. I know people often will get a tattoo to commemorate an important life event, a rite of passage - or something they love or have learned. I’ve wanted to get a tattoo for a long time, but could never decide on an image. Is there an image I could get on me somewhere highly visible (like on my hands?) that I could have that could remind me to stay on the positive and true to myself path – something I could look at and remember that I need to not forget these important epiphanies about who I am and what I value? I realize in therapy I will work on my self esteem, and learn to become more comfortable with being alone – or to see that I can be alone, strong, and self reliant and not constantly needing approval from others. Short of getting a tattoo of ‘to thine own self be true’ on me (ow), what image is something that represents the idea of what I’ve posted here? What represents strength, resilience, commitment to one’s values, learning, growth? I've thought about getting a tree, but want it to be a symbol that could be small on my wrist or something.

Any ideas? Even a source book for iconography online would be good. I know there are lots of tattoo sites out there - I'm looking more for the images I can use for a tattoo.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I have a skull-and-crossbones tattoo (I swear, I got it before pirates were "a thing".) I'm a chronic people-pleaser whose own needs always come last, which is something I am always going to struggle with. My history with pirates involves a bit of a complicated story involving a scary (but thankfully temporary) medical condition that involved an eyepatch, which led to a slight obsession researching actual pirates, which led to frequent use of the phrase "Pirates don't ask. They take." The skull-and-crossbones tattoo is a small visual reminder to me to take whatever it is I need, when I need it, for a change.

This sounds awfully tool-ish written out this way.
posted by SeedStitch at 9:58 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I’m wondering how I can learn not to be a doormat or passive person when it comes to putting my needs as a priority.

Tackling the issues the very moment they arise is really important. When someone says or does something that alerts your "not okay/not nice" feelings, in that very moment you must act. Say something, do something, let your inner, "No!" guide you. Even if you feel stupid, just BREAK THE HABIT OF STAYING FROZEN.

In short: the first step to not being a doormat is not being one *in the moment*.

And if that's hard, well, just remember by that by letting things slide you are hurting yourself now AND later, rather than standing up for yourself now and perhaps avoiding future issues entirely.

You won't spare yourself a confrontation by not acting, rather you're just setting one up down the line and adding passive-aggression to the mix.

This is the royal road to dignity. You deserve it.
posted by devymetal at 10:00 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would get the line "And this, too, shall pass away."

I think of that whenever I'm scared of a change or feel stuck.

"It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: "And this, too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!" -Abraham Lincoln

Best of luck. You'll be fine.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:03 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

As someone with deep abandonment fears myself, I can only say that I completely understand where you're coming from.

I had the desire to get a tattoo once myself, for similar reasons - I was thinking of getting a lotus because they are beautiful flowers that arise out of the mud. I have a difficult past too and though its a little toolish to think of yourself as a flower, it was nice imagery, and good to think that I can be someone who has worked hard to rise above and beyond my circumstances. I may still get it (though it irks me that every person who has every taken a yoga class and owns a pair of lululemon pants seems to have one now but that's neither here nor there.)

What about a blackbird, by the way? The title of your post obviously means something to you...
posted by Eudaimonia at 10:13 AM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

Sometimes you have to crash and burn before a stronger self can rise up again. This recovering doormat has a Phoenix tattoo.
posted by cocoagirl at 10:27 AM on December 8, 2011

tell yourself these two things: "because i deserve it" and "goodness is the only investment that never fails." don't think of yourself as a doormat, think of yourself as passive but capable of getting what you want because that's what you deserve. passive people choose to steer clear from conflict, but if you frame conflict differently than your approach to conflict may be different too.

people always assume that conflict is about winning and having one over the other person or a situation, but the goal for conflict should be for both parties to feel better after everything that has happened. so, in order to do this you need to be direct, create a safe space for both yourself and the other person, be honest, and if you are comfortable with people like friends or SO's and trust them then disclose your very intimate feelings.

for what it's worth, you are stronger than you think but you need to tell yourself that more often. it seems like the more you say statements like "i'm too weak" and "i'm passive" and etc.. the more inclined you are to believe it's true.

instead, tell yourself that you are great, that you are capable of many things, that you are someone that values honesty and that you will give honesty to other people even if they don't like it.

don't give people so many chances, yes people screw up (that's also inevitable) but some people screw up way too many times and don't deserve to be in your life. this doesn't imply that you are "mean" but it implies that you deserve nothing but the best. you need a support system consisting of people that are going to benefit you just as much as you want to benefit them. but, you aren't going to get that by avoiding conflict and trying to please everyone.
posted by sincerely-s at 10:40 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

To me, the key has been figuring out what I want so that I know when people are pushing me away from it. I was always so focused on making other people happy, focused on their feelings, that I had no idea what mine were. So spend some time thinking about what you want, how you want to be treated, what kind of partner would make you happy. Then the next step is to not just react in the knee-jerk, well-rehearsed way that you always have. When somebody says or does something, take a moment and think about how that makes you feel and whether that behavior fits with your internal image of how people should treat you (and here's a hint: you deserve all the love and attention that you've been showering other people with). If the behavior is unacceptable, then stop it now (and be ready to be really uncomfortable doing this); you'll get used to it, though, and you'll discover that the consequences are very good in the long term. In the short term, they'll be unpleasant because the people you know are used to you letting them get away with things; they'll whine and bitch, but just remember that your feelings matter. You matter and you deserve to have somebody fight for you. Until you find yourself a supportive partner, that will be you, but you can do it. I'm learning to do it, and so can you.

And you know what my supportive partner says to me when I have a hard time with this? "Be brave; remember, good things happen when you're brave!" And he's right.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:17 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

This may be a little obvious given your title, but clearly it's meaningful to you -- a blackbird?

Or you can always get a little cartoon of a doormat baring its fangs to bite someone about to step on it. :)
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:52 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tattoo suggestion: bamboo.

Bamboo has great spiritual significance in east asian culture. It's a symbol of endurance, flexibility, and strength. Something that bends under adversity but does not break and always comes back to its original position. And growth? I don't think there is anything else that grows faster than bamboo.

If you're interested, look up the 'Three winter friends'. Bamboo, pine and plum have great significance and there are tons of art work out there.
posted by 7life at 11:55 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

When you're in a bad situation, consider how you would advise your best friend in a similar situation. Then try to follow your own advice.
posted by maurreen at 11:57 AM on December 8, 2011

Tyrannosaurus Rex.
posted by steinwald at 2:03 PM on December 8, 2011

"Don't tread on me."
posted by kamikazegopher at 3:57 PM on December 8, 2011

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