“I hate the way people take advantage of me,” a young man said to me recently.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I’m always doing favors for my friends, but they rarely return the favors. When I ask for help, they always have excuses.”
His complaint was one I’ve heard many times, from many different people. Many people feel mistreated by friends and family, leading to feelings of resentment and bitterness.
But where is the problem? Is it really with your family and friends? Possibly. But, might the problem also reside within you? Allow me to explain.
I learned a powerful lesson a number of years ago. I had asked my friend out to lunch and then, when the day arrived, I forgot about the lunch engagement, leaving my friend stranded.
I apologized profusely and my friend agreed to meet the following week. I offered to buy lunch for standing him up. However, the following week I made the same mistake. Somehow, embarrassingly, I forgot the lunch engagement.
This time my friend was not so forgiving. When I asked to meet again for lunch, again apologizing and agreeing to pay for lunch, he firmly confronted me.
“No, David,” he said. “I’m not going to meet again. You’ve stood me up twice. When you think of a way to make up for this I might reconsider, but until then I’m not going to meet you for lunch.”
Wow! My friend was being tough, right? Or, was he simply setting some firm boundaries and teaching me that he would not tolerate being mistreated?
Scripture tells us, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) This is commonly referred to as The Golden Rule and is so appropriate to many situations. I had treated my friend in a way I would never want to be treated.
My friend left me in a bind: how would I make it up to him? What was it going to take to rectify the situation and restore our friendship? After some consideration, I decided to send him a gift basket of special foods I knew he liked along with a gift certificate for dinner for he and his wife. I wrote him a sincere apology and asked if we could try once more for lunch. He agreed and our friendship was restored.
What are other considerations when it comes to teaching people how to treat us? Here are a few suggestions:
First, make your expectations clear. People cannot read our minds and so it is important that we let others know how we want and expect to be treated. Tell people your preferences and make the strength of those preferences clear. While you cannot control others, like my friend, you can control what you do and don’t do, and what you will and won’t tolerate.
Second, hold to strong boundaries. If someone violates your boundaries, it is quite likely that your boundaries aren’t strong or clear enough. Notice that my friend refused to meet me for lunch after my second mishap. You, too, manage yourself. You, too, determine what you will allow to happen to you.
Third, monitor and reinforce those boundaries. You will need to monitor your boundaries. You will need to watch, look, and listen carefully so that you notice how others treat you. You will need to pay close attention to how you feel, being mindful of whether others are respecting you and your preferences.
Fourth, establish consequences for those choosing to ignore your boundaries. Again, while you cannot give people clear consequences for their poor behavior, you can withdraw your friendship from them. You can let others know you are displeased with them and that their behavior has harmed you. You can withdraw fellowship and ask for a restorative gesture before resuming contact with them.
Finally, revisit your boundaries periodically. Boundaries must be reviewed. Your feelings will tell you if you are being respected. Your feelings will indicate whether you are pleased with the friendship or if you feel mistreated. Pay close attention to your thoughts and feelings to determine the health of the relationship.
Can you see that you have a direct impact on how others treat you? Can you see that you have a role to play in whether others treat you with respect of take advantage of you? Don’t allow yourself to slip into bitterness. Review your boundaries. If you would like further help, we are here for you. Please send responses to me at [email protected] and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website and learn about our Personal and Marriage Intensives as well as our newly formed Subscription Group, Thrive, for women struggling from emotional abuse.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Vasilisa_k