Note: This is the first of a two-part series. Click here for part two

Are you a doormat?  Do you see yourself as having little or no personal power with other people?  Do you seek validation from others because you lack confidence in your own abilities and because you have poor self-esteem?  Do you feel worthless, accepting a victim/martyr role in your relationships with other people?

Do you make agreements with other people and then find yourself ignoring those agreements and doing whatever you want?  Do you go to unusual lengths so other people will think well of you, or act ultra-responsible for others and then ignore yourself?  Do you fear abandonment so that you find yourself acting submissive to other people?

If so, other people may think of you—and you may think of yourself—as a doormat.  “We can borrow Ed’s tools, he won’t mind.  We don’t have to consider what Shirley would like, she’ll go anywhere we decide.  Let’s volunteer Sandy for the job, she’s good at doing it quickly and she won’t complain about it.”

Although these traits are at the heart of unselfish, loving, generous and mature behavior, a doormat is not exactly acting loving and mature.  A doormat perpetually goes without and acts responsible for others to the exclusion of taking care of themselves.  They do for others instead of for themselves.

The name for people who look outside themselves for self-worth, relying on others—or external sources—for self-validation, is the poorly labeled term “co-dependent.”  Codependency is at the heart of being a doormat.  It is a pattern of learned beliefs and behaviors about how to manipulate other people into needing you and/or loving you because you don’t feel worthy on your own merits.

This pattern of behavior frequently begins “when a parent has become helpless through alcohol, drugs, mental or physical illness or a lifetime of irresponsibility.  To survive, children may take over the household at an early age,” writes Lynn Namka in the book The Doormat Syndrome.  The child gives up part of himself/herself to take care of parents, siblings or others in the family.  The child becomes a miniature adult, feeling responsible for the care of those around them.

Such traits appear in children who are more sensitive in nature.  Children who feel powerless begin trying to please those who are more dominant.  Such children “validate themselves by what others think and say.  Feeling good inside becomes tied to pleasing others.  They grow up believing that unless they are taking care of someone else, they are not valued,” writes Namka.

Doormats have a secret hope that things will get better.  Wanting to believe in a marriage, a relationship or a job so strongly that they overlook personal inconveniences and sacrifices again and again. They may gripe to others, but rarely with the people with whom they need to settle the disagreement or grievance.  They believe others prevent them from speaking out, but they aren’t secure enough to say what they feel and need.

I will continue this discussion in next week’s column.

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