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Why Someone Might Feel Like a Psychological “Doormat”

Why and how we let others take advantage of us.

All too often, we may feel like we are being victimized – being taken advantage of by others. When we experience this kind of mistreatment, particularly if it happens frequently over time, it can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt, and diminished self-worth.

What are some of the reasons that we might feel like others are walking all over us – making us feel like a “doormat”?

Personality Factors

Some people have core personality traits that might make them more likely to experience mistreatment by others. One of the “Big Five” personality traits is Agreeableness. Persons high in the trait of agreeableness tend to try to go along, and get along, with others. Agreeable individuals may tend to give in to others’ requests, and some may routinely put others’ needs ahead of their own. Over time, this can cause others, such as relationship partners, to take advantage because they know their partner will usually give in.

Low self-esteem is another reason why we might allow others to take advantage of us. Low self-esteem can cause one to feel they are less deserving, and, as a result, less likely to stand up for themself.

Low Self-Efficacy. Self-efficacy is one’s beliefs about their ability to do things. If an individual has low self-efficacy concerning their ability to manage relationships, or to meet their own physical and psychological needs, it may lead to an inability to satisfy their needs, resulting in dissatisfaction, anxiety, and depression.

Social Psychological Factors

Feeling like a psychological doormat can also be caused by characteristics of the situation, and emanate from relationships.

  • Imbalanced Relationships. Relationships are all about giving and taking. In a balanced relationship, there is equity between what a partner puts into the relationship, and what they get out of it. However, if a relationship becomes imbalanced, with one partner giving much more than they take, it can lead to feelings of disadvantage. If steps aren’t taken to balance things out, it can lead to real problems – and a diminishment of relationship quality, as well as a desire to terminate the imbalanced relationship.
  • Conflict Avoidance. All interpersonal relationships, whether romantic, familial, professional, or friendships, are prone to conflict. Conflict results from disagreements or when one person’s goals conflict with the other’s. Conflict causes anxiety, and an all-too-common strategy is to engage in conflict avoidance to avoid feelings of discomfort. The problem is that chronic conflict avoidance never leads to resolution of the conflict, and it leaves everyone feeling unfulfilled.
  • Victim Syndrome. Research on bullying suggests that bullies tend to victimize certain individuals. Being a frequent target of bullying is another reason a person might feel like a doormat.

What to Do

Regardless of the source of feeling taken advantage of, a number of steps can be taken to combat “doormat syndrome.”

  • Set Boundaries. It is a good idea to set limits on how much you may give in to others. For example, agreeable persons might allow another an advantage, but must draw the line somewhere. One strategy is “three strikes and you’re out,” which involves “turning the other cheek” once or twice, but drawing a line the third (or second) time and refusing to capitulate.
  • Remove Yourself From the Situation. If you anticipate that another will take advantage of you, and you’ve had enough, simply get out of the situation – break off the encounter, or either put less into, or break off, the relationship.
  • Minimize Conflict Avoidance. Avoiding conflict can is an easy but unproductive, strategy. Be determined to resolve the conflict, either through compromising—asking each party to give up something and meet “halfway"—or through striving for a win-win outcome through collaboration.
  • Manage Guilt and Stop Self-Blame. Learning to deal with your reactions to the unfortunate situation in which someone tries to take advantage is a good strategy. Avoid feeling guilty. Realize when the other person is trying to take advantage of you. Also, try to avoid blaming yourself when you feel as if someone has walked all over you. Vow not to get yourself in that position again, and try to let it go.
More from Ronald E. Riggio Ph.D.
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