People forget that they play a part in their relationships. Even I often think, “That person is horrible. There’s nothing I can do about that”. I forget. Even the adults I am dealing with are all children when it comes to life. We are all children. We are all teachable. Teaching an adult how to treat you is the same as when you’re teaching a child. The things that speak loudest are love, consistency and consequences. I have found myself, a number of times, wondering, “Why do you speak to me like that?”. I try to be nice, I try to be pleasant, I try to ‘treat people how I would like to be treated’, but then I am left wondering exactly why do some people think it’s ok to treat you like you are stupid, or like you are annoying them and that that is obviously your fault and you obviously deserve to be spoken to as the annoying pain in the ass that you are.
If someone is speaking rudely, that is a reflection on them. It says that they don’t have the respect to control their tongue and control their emotions and their behaviour because apparently with you – they don’t have to. But that’s the catch – they don’t HAVE TO. I watch this with kids sometimes, and see how they can be perfectly pleasant to their teacher and then complete brats with their mums, or even really rude to their best friend but completely lovely to everyone else. My son was an angel for me, but wouldn’t go to bed when my grandparents would tell him to. Because he knew, if he just didn’t go to bed, they would let him stay up. They weren’t actually going to do anything. There’s something going on with this.
When it comes to parenting children I firmly believe that the behaviour you get is the behaviour you will allow, and the way you do that well is you model the behaviour you expect, and then you set clear expectations, and then apply suitable rewards and consequences as consistently as humanly possible and then you reap the rewards of your sometimes arduous and thankless work. I’ve actually considered writing a book on that subject, but what happens when you’re not dealing with a child? What happens if you’re dealing with an adult?
I believe in the adage ‘you teach people how to treat you’, and I have also mentioned in the past (and will also go into greater depth), about toxic people and how to avoid them like the plague. People who consistently bring you down and treat you like crap, I have said it before; avoid them. Don’t allow yourself to be subjected to that. Pick better friends. But what if the person who is starting to treat you nastily is not generally like that? That for the most part they are your closest friend, and an ally, someone who normally builds you up and you usually face the world together? What if that person is just obviously going through something and is falling into patterns of poor behaviour and negativity and somehow you’re finding more and more that this is becoming the new normal. For me, that’s happened to me in certain situations and it’s left me questioning: if I wouldn’t allow my son or daughter to talk to me like that or even look at me with that sort of facial expression because it’s clearly one of loathing – why would I allow an adult to do that? How did I allow this to sneak up and become like this? More importantly, how do I change it?
Without breaking the confidence of people close to me, I had to learn with a particular family member from a very early age, that their bad behaviour would not be tolerated. This was someone very close to me, who I loved dearly, and who wasn’t quite ‘well’ at the time. As a young person (and I mean young – I left home at 15 remember) I had to teach adults around me that if they came to my house, and spoke rudely, or were drunk or abusive they would have to leave. I had to learn to create safe spaces for myself, and consistently enforce boundaries that kept it that way. A lot of the times that just meant I didn’t have a relationship with that person or people at all. I was in my early twenties when I went to the Salvation Army (someone had suggested that I visit one of their social workers because they had lots of experience with this sort of thing), and I had to learn how to love someone without letting them ruin the ‘safe space’ that I had created in my home for myself and my little boy. I learnt that there is a difference between loving and supporting someone, and letting them bring their whirlwind of crap into your life.
What was happening prior to this meeting was I had a great routine, a settled home environment and a small boy with a bath time and a bed time and a read-a-book-before-bed time and someone would show up on the doorstep with all of their drama. If I wasn’t feeling too strong, or I’d had a hard day myself, I wouldn’t know what to do, other than let them in, allow them to take up all of my space and my energy, ruin my routine, help themselves to the cupboard and drink me out of milk and coffee, stay up all night because they couldn’t sleep (and then keep me awake), and then complain when the next day, I was up making noise because I had a small child and housework to do. You could imagine the effect this was having on me. Now regardless of what was going on for that other person, it was a drama of their own making. Not my fault, and not my problem, but they were super skilled in the art of making me feel like it was my problem and that if I loved them then I should look after them. I was very easy to manipulate because I didn’t want to rock the boat and I didn’t have strong boundaries. But this is what I did after meeting with the social worker:
I wrote a list of all the unspoken rules about a home. Everything from, ‘Ask, before you help yourself’, which in some cases, isn’t the case, but usually if you’re close with someone there is a level of respect that says if someone is low on milk you don’t use it all. In this case, ‘Ask before you help yourself’ became important because that person didn’t have that foresight.
I also wrote down other rules like ‘Unless you have made prior arrangements by phone call or face to face conversation, do NOT show up unannounced past 8pm’. Most people, again, don’t just rock up to someones house at 10pm and expect to be let in and entertained. It’s an unspoken rule, almost common courtesy. But it’s an unspoken rule that was important to me. I spelt out everything very, very clearly and also included ‘No alcohol, on your person, or IN your person’, as I didn’t want someone drunk or getting drunk in my home with me and my baby. Not fair. Not wanted. That’s the rules.
As I wrote the rules, all the while realising how ridiculous it was that I had to spell this stuff out, I realised this stuff was really important to me, and super important in creating a safe, stable environment for me and my little family. When I finished writing, I printed it out and what I did next was something way out of the ordinary. I printed it, I laminated it, and I stuck in on the front door. Now, if random people knocked on the door they could read these weird rules that were there for the world to see. But I didn’t care. I didn’t care what strangers thought of me, and those who knew me knew the rules, and the ones who needed to see them now didn’t have a choice. It also meant that instead of having inconsistent boundaries (which looked like sometimes letting them in late and on the very odd occasion when I felt strong enough turning them away), instead of that inconsistency, I had a way to keep consistent. The rules were there, not just for them to see, but for ME.
Now what happened, even on a ‘weak’ day,when I wanted to avoid confrontation, if someone knocked on the door at 9:30 at night, I would go to the window and point to the sign. I would almost play it like I didn’t even write them myself. I’d be like, “Michelle wrote those rules, take it up with her another day – when it’s NOT 9:30 at night”. I would rely on the fact that the person who wrote those rules was in a sane, stable, right state of mind, and I believed in her, even when I didn’t believe in myself. Yes, it sounds mental, but anyone who suffers with anxiety and depression knows that some days you’re strong and capable and other days you don’t even feel like the same person. So on days when I felt incapable, I would just defer to the rules, and remember that the person who did write the rules wrote the right ones.
So, all this learning leaves me with something for the day to day, if you’re living with someone who is crossing your boundaries, or treating you how you DON’T want to be treated. The biggest thing, dealing with children, or spouses, or family members or friends, is first DECIDE what you want. Get clear on what you want. Write it out. What are your expectations? How do you want your home life to look? Then, write out all the rules. Make them clear. Even the ones that sound silly and like people should know them anyways.
Once you have a list, then think about the consequences. Make the consequences suitable and easy to enforce. They don’t have to be complicated, and if you’re unsure what is suitable, have a chat with someone who you know has a really stable, loving home environment or better yet have a chat with someone who does this sort of thing professionally – like a family counsellor.
When it came to that particular family member, if they showed up late and unannounced or intoxicated they simply weren’t allowed in. Eventually, through sheer consistency and application of the rules and consequences, that person realised that if they didn’t phone first, they didn’t come in, and if they broke the rules, they’d have to leave. It changed the whole situation and I was able to end up having a relationship with my family member that was so much more healthier (and enjoyable for me).
This was in the case of not living with that person but if it’s someone you live with, perhaps it’s a matter of explaining the rules (that apply for everyone in the home, yourself, your kids, long lost cousin that lives in the garage, or parents alike), and when they step over the mark, let them know. “Please don’t speak to me like that”, or “If you’re going to behave like this, I’m going to have to ask you to leave OR, if you are going to act like this then I am going to have to leave you here and take myself elsewhere”. Whatever it is. Keep it clear and keep it consistent. Same thing every time they break that rule and eventually they’ll get it. The consequences have to be appropriate for the action.
Obviously if you are in danger of domestic violence this doesn’t apply. In that case, get yourself out and get yourself away and get yourself some professional help and don’t go back until you do. Violence is NEVER ok and is NOT something that this particular technique applies to. Violence is breaking all the rules at once and the consequence for that should always be that I leave you until you get enough help to ensure that that NEVER happens again and that’s not just, ‘I trust you’ve had enough time to think about your actions’, it’s PROFESSIONAL HELP. Or you don’t go back ever. It doesn’t mean you stop loving them. It means you love them from a distance and you love yourself enough to make sure you’re out of harm's way and you love THEM enough to ensure that they don’t behave like that towards you or because that’s not ok for you OR for them.
This stuff is super important and if you’re navigating this all alone get some support. Whether that’s al-anon if you’re dealing with an alcoholic family member or a family counsellor or even a couple of friends who understand what you’re trying to achieve who can hold you accountable and ask you the hard questions like “Did you enforce the consequences that you said you would?” when it happens again and you’re doing nothing but bitching about it … Whatever it is, just don’t feel like you have to do it alone.
If you have tried anything that works when it comes to teaching other people how to treat you, let me know, I would love to share that with our audience. I don’t pretend to have ALL the answers, I DON’T. I just know what has worked for me previously. But I am super keen to hear from other people as well and share our collective wisdom.
Remember that teaching people to treat you well, is a process. It happens over a period of time. Consistency is key. Boundaries are key. Above all, love is key, because if you don’t love and respect others, teaching them to treat you well is next to impossible. Something to remember as well, is the importance of leading by example. Show people how you want them to treat you. Treat others as you would like to be treated, but also, love and respect yourself and treat yourself the way you want others to treat you. Don’t allow negativity and awfulness to surround you whether you’re with others or on your own. Go back to last week’s podcast if you need to and learn how to be kind to yourself. It all starts with you. Self respect is an inside job and people with great self respect get the best results.