Depression and Codependency: Self Respect versus Serving as a Doormat


             You’re very tired. It’s been a hectic day and what you’d really like to do is just sit for a few minutes.  But instead, with a sigh, you start in on the ironing with resentment simmering inside of you.

            The phone rings and your friend asks if you can give her a lift to work in the morning. It will be tight you realize as you have to drop off your youngest child at school. Clenching your jaw, and putting a smile on your face, you agree to do it.

            The iron is too hot, the shirt gets burned, and your husband also tired after a long day’s work exclaims “Can’t you do anything right?! Look at it, the shirt is ruined!”  

“I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault. I should be more careful,” you blurt out.

When you do tasks you don’t really want to do, resentment kicks in. When putting others first and yourself second becomes a chronic habit, depression sets in.  When you don’t speak up for yourself just to keep the peace, self-esteem lowers. This is a pattern of Codependency. It often underlies eating disorders, alcohol and drug problems, depression and anxiety.

Childhood can set the stage to being a doormat

Frequently early life sets the stage for issues later on. Maybe your parents fought a lot. Perhaps one of them had a drinking problem. As a child, you only wanted to keep the peace in the house and you didn’t want to cause any problems. You worked hard to be a good child.   Unfortunately, this scenario can result in people not standing up for themselves and being unable to express what they need when they grow into adults. In the pursuit of pleasing others, compassion for them begins to outweigh compassion towards yourself. This kind of pattern is formed from emotionally traumatic situations: being yelled at or witnessing yelling is emotionally traumatic by the way. It is emotionally unsafe!

How do I know if I’m a doormat?

It’s not easy to take a good look at yourself.   Sometimes you don’t want to really see what might be there. But perhaps some of the following resonates with you:

  • You do things you really don’t want to do and you resent it
  • You can’t say no; you do everything asked of you
  • You’re afraid to speak up for yourself and say how you feel
  • You often just try to keep the peace, make people happy
  • You’re not sure of what you need in a relationship
  • You don’t feel worthy of being happy
  • You fear failure
  • You base your self-worth on caretaking

Caring for others comes from caring for yourself too.

But there can be healthy caring for others where your self-respect is intact, your boundaries are clear, and your sense of self healthy. Like shaking off a long-term habit, transitioning from being a doormat to a person with self-respect and self-love is not easy.   It’s challenging but it is possible.

First, you must decide that you need to change.

Next, begin a campaign of changing the negative “rut” you are in. Steps along this path can include some of the following. Start by being aware of the negative tape playing in your head and try to replace the self-criticism with positive thoughts. A constant stream of negative thoughts leads only to stress, anxiety and depression. Spend a few minutes every day practicing affirmations. Look into your eyes in the mirror and outloud, tell yourself that you are worthy of love, and deserve respect, and love yourself etc.

Second, remind yourself of your achievements by writing a note to yourself and putting it up on the fridge. Be proud of your accomplishments. Display photos or pictures of things you did well or celebrations of events. Then, make sure you reward yourself for showing self-control, speaking up for yourself or for paying attention to your self-worth. And don’t forget to do something you enjoy or get together with a good friend and tell them about what you have achieved. This will help you move away from feeling powerless and elevate your feelings of self esteem.

As you gain self-control you will begin to stand up for yourself

You are a unique individual with talents and needs and dreams just like everyone else. It’s time to let the world know it ! Make a decision to stand-up for yourself. But, how?   To start with, you need to begin to set the boundaries of what you can and cannot do, keeping in mind your health and your own personal needs. Remember, “No” is a complete sentence!   You don’t need to apologize for saying it nor do you need to feel guilty about how you feel or what you need. The more you give yourself approval, the less you will need to obtain the approval of others. Be aware that when you stop people pleasing, the people won’t be pleased, but that is not your problem, it is theirs. What a relief it is to know that we are not responsible for others feelings or making them happy. That is their job!

Doormat feeling down and depressed or a self-respecting person being assertive and climbing up to vitality

Maybe you’ve recognized the signs and symptoms talked about here. There is help and support available. You first need to commit to taking care of yourself, making your needs known and living independently of others’ opinions and valuations of you. Only then, when you are strong within yourself and have a clear sense of your boundaries, can you truly give to and take care of others.

When you begin to change from doormat to self-confident you might get reactions from others that you won’t like and the temptation will be there to go back to your old self-destructive ways. But have patience with yourself and others. Remember, the “new you” will come as a surprise to others used to seeing you as a doormat. They might not like it and resist. You don’t need to give in to others disrespecting you or hurting you.Be honest with your needs. You owe it to yourself and to others, especially those you love, to express your needs.

And in the end, as the old saying goes, when it comes to this change in your behaviour those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.

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