Stop wearing your
Where your backbone
ought to be.
~ Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
It is not always easy to stand up for ourselves. At least it hasn't always
been easy for me.
Years ago, when Bert and I were teaching an adult Sunday School class at our church on "Appropriate Boundaries," a woman came up to me after a class session and asked a question that resonated with my heart. She said,
"Will they be mad at me if I stick up for myself?"
Since Bert is the counselor in the family, and usually has a perfect way to word things, I just looked at him to field her question.
Bert looked at Paulette and said,
"Healthy people may have a little discomfort when you say "no" and take care of yourself, however ultimately they will respect you because you showed respect for yourself and stood up for what is right for you."
Paulette nodded in agreement at Bert's comment.
Bert then paused and waited for that to sink in. Then he said, very softly,
"And if they are not healthy, they may make you pay a price for telling your truth and trying to take care of yourself."
There, in that church classroom, our friend Paulette had a giant "AHA!" moment, as we like to call them. She had a 17 year old son who refused to go to school, work, or even help around the house. She had asked nicely, for six months, for him to get a job or go to school or both. She had begged for help around home. She had threatened, but not followed through.
Nothing changed. She wasn't taken seriously and
she wasn't taken seriously because she gave in.
It's such a vicious cycle. We know what needs to happen, but we don't want
someone to be mad at us so we don't "Rock the boat" by standing up and insisting that things change. We don't hold someone truly accountable for disrespectful behavior. We allow ourselves to be a doormat. That's our part in this cycle.
To say I have been there is an understatement of giant proportion.
I allowed myself to be a doormat in a previous marriage and while I talked and cried and begged, certain very important things did not change. I gave myself away and I threatened to leave multiple times. However I didn't follow through. The stakes were so high. I so wanted my marriage to work that I stayed to keep the promise I made. I didn't want people to know what was going on as I was sad and embarrassed. I wasn't taken seriously because I eventually gave in. Over and over again, I gave in. Just like Paulette.
And then I went to grad school to get a second Masters degree and took a long look in the mirror. I learned so many new skills. My self esteem returned. I started to take responsibility for my part in a failing marriage. People often don't respect people who don't respect themselves. It wasn't a pretty sight.
As Elizabeth Gilbert put it so perfectly...
I needed to stop wearing my wishbone
where my backbone ought to be.
Just like Paulette, I needed to stop begging and start insisting. I needed to
insist that I be treated respectfully. I needed to get help to understand that
just because I was a Christian it did not mean that I should let someone take
advantage of my big heart and walk on me. God would want me to stand up for what was right. God would not ask me to stay in a situation that was abusive to my heart and soul.
And truth be told, I was a huge part of the problem.
Sadly, we teach people how to treat us.
Unhealthy people may take advantage of that. Healthy people will make adjustments and care about the boundaries we set in our lives. As hard as it was, I found my spine again. I started to stand up for me.
I read the book Boundaries and that book
was literally a life- saver!
Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud, the Christian authors of Boundaries,
offer an amazing glimpse into what healthy boundaries look like and why they are so important. Their "how-to" book gave me a starting point for better taking care of me. That's my job, not someone else's.
It is my job to:
* stand up for myself and insist on being treated with dignity and respect
* voice my needs and thoughts and feelings in an appropriate manner
* care about the other person's needs and try to find compromises when
that is possible
* never compromise on my "core values," the values I hold most dear and
* never allow anyone to abuse me verbally, emotionally, physically or
As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "No one can take advantage of you without your permission."
While I couldn't control how someone wanted to treat me, I could control whether or not I allowed that to continue.
After lots of work and counseling and learning and praying and mistake-making, I started to discover the inner strength that God has always given me.
I started to take responsibility for my part of the problem. I had allowed disrespect to go on. I had turned into someone I no longer knew, recognized or even liked or respected. My own behavior was way off base. Time after time I would get upset and then back off. I was so afraid to lose something that was already lost to me. I was so afraid of what this would do to my children. That was my part of it. Just like Paulette, in our Appropriate Boundaries class, I didn't want anyone to be mad at me. I was willing to keep the peace, even if it meant giving up me. Yuk, yuk and double yuk.
I then, thirty five years ago, made a sacred promise to myself and God, that I would stand up for His daughter. I would lovingly and firmly stand up for me, the me He had created. I started to understand that I taught people how to treat me. And some thirty five years later I am walking tall. I found "me" again. I replaced my wishbone with my backbone. Thank God, I did that. It wasn't easy. It wasn't popular. But it was worth it to rock the boat.
I never would have found my beloved husband, Bert, had I not stood up for me and made the hardest decision of my entire life
If you struggle with being a doormat, check out the book Boundaries.
Another book by Dr. Cloud, Necessary Endings, also was a life-saver for me.
And by the grace of God and lots of hard work, and the support of loved ones and family, at long last I truly believed that my life was worth saving!
Friday, March 27, 2015
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