How to not be a doormat: 5 key steps

Do you often feel overwhelmed at work, saying yes when you really want to say no, feel afraid to say the wrong thing and lose a friendship, or think that disagreeing with someone is wrong or mean?

If you relate to any of these scenarios, it can reveal that you might be living life as a doormat.

Trying to not be a doormat may feel intimidating. It’s important to take steps to regain respect (with yourself and your peers) so that you can gain confidence in being who you really are in your day-to-day and start living your best life.

Life and people will walk all over you and make your life more difficult than it needs to be when you don’t have boundaries or self-respect. When you stop being a doormat and start communicating authentically and assertively, you’ll gain more respect from your peers and feel more fulfillment from life.

In this post, we’ll explore the steps required to stop being a doormat and gain respect in your life that you deserve by …

  1. Understanding yourself and who you want to be
  2. Creating your boundaries – the rules and limits you’ll abide by for yourself and that you will uphold in other situations (social, professional, relationships, etc.)
  3. Finding a support team to help keep you on track (because you’re not alone in this process)
  4. Practicing your new boundaries and building confidence
  5. Staying consistent and revisiting your boundaries whenever you’re discouraged

How to know if you’re being a doormat in life and relationships

Can you relate to any of these scenarios?

  • Someone you enjoy spending time with asks if you’re free on a Tuesday night, but you already have plans made. You say yes because you’re afraid that your friend may lose interest in you if you say no (or ask for a different time). You end up rushing frantically through prior-made plans in order to make it to plans with your friend.
  • You’re overburdened with work and other obligations. A friend asks if you “have time for a quick chat this evening.” Knowing that these quick chats often take over an hour and that you’re already strapped for time, you still say yes … and later regret it (or worse, resent them for taking your time, even if it’s not their fault) because you now don’t have time to get caught up on other important tasks.
  • You finished your last assignment at work and are just about to clock-out when a coworker (or boss, or subordinate) asks for help on a different assignment. Despite needing to decompress from a long day (or week), you say, “sure, no problem” and stay a little later to help.
  • At home, you begin to find items out of place for days at a time. Rather than approach other members of the household with a gentle reminder about it, you take it upon yourself to tidy up only because you’re afraid of the confrontation or difficult conversation.
  • When deciding on where to go to dinner with your group of friends, you regularly say “I don’t know” or “I don’t care, whatever the group wants to do.” Even if you may be open and flexible on dinner choices, you also know that you can’t see yourself speaking up about a restaurant you want (or don’t want) to eat at.

I’ve been in each one of these scenarios in some form or another.

If you were nodding to any of these… you may be unconsciously (or consciously) letting people walk all over you. Most people don’t have intentions to walk over your boundaries. They simply don’t know what they are because you’re not putting them up.

You might not be putting up your boundaries for a number of reasons. Chances are, as a doormat you may have beliefs about yourself and the rest of the world that’s holding you back. Ellen Hendriksen, a writer at Quiet Revolution talks about 3 common limiting beliefs that people with doormat habits have and how to change those beliefs while still being respectful.

It’s useful to become aware of when these doormat tendencies are causing issues in your life. Once you know, you can move forward with making changes in yourself.

Consequences of being a doormat

By now, you probably already know some of these consequences of living life with doormat habits:

  • Your schedule is filled to the brim – mostly with obligations that drain you
  • You get “bottom of the barrel” opportunities at work
  • You rarely have time for yourself and you forfeit it for others, every time
  • When you do speak up, you’re often unheard or overlooked
  • You go out of your way to help someone, even if they won’t do the same for you
  • You’re constantly doing chores and tasks that aren’t your responsibility
  • You often live in a state of anxiousness, resent, or overwhelm
  • You feel “stuck” in your situation and don’t think it’s possible to make positive change

What are some of the consequences of being a doormat in your life?

Benefits when you stop being a doormat to others

When you stop being a doormat, life begins to open up in a variety of ways that are unique to you.

Here are common benefits you will notice as establish boundaries and gain respect in your life:

  • More control over your schedule
  • Less guilt for taking care of yourself
  • Less time overthinking every interaction
  • More time for yourself (to relax and have fun with activities and people that you enjoy)
  • Less stress from unnecessary obligations
  • Get more respect from people around you, including friends, family, co-workers, bosses, partners, and even strangers
  • You will feel more confident in telling people no (to things you don’t want to do)
  • You will be noticed (seen and heard) more often because you vocalize your opinions with confidence
  • You shed the label of being the person at work or among friends that can easily be walked over
  • You start to get more of what you want out of life, work, and relationships because you have the courage to speak up for what you want

There are many more, many of which are unique to your journey of shedding the doormat identity and living more authentically.

The most important benefit is finding a confidence and knowing within yourself that you’re far more valuable than you’ve let yourself and others believe.

How to not be a doormat: 5 key steps

You will gain more confidence as you understand yourself, establish boundaries, and make changes. Your fears won’t have the same grip on you as they did before as you begin to stand up for your boundaries. That confidence will be radiating and captivating to others. “Coincidentally,” people will start to pay more attention to you and respect you and your boundaries.

Let’s get started with rebuilding respect for ourselves:

Laying the foundation

Before we begin, we need to lay the foundation by going inwards and learning more about ourselves through introspection, clarification, and making decisions about who we want to be.

Find some time alone where you can be as uninterrupted as possible. The fewer distractions and more time you have available, the better.

It may be difficult to block off time for yourself (and not give it away to others). Consider this your first challenge. Start this process right now or take this moment to schedule it into your calendar.

Once you begin, turn off all notifications (phone, computer, etc.) and find somewhere quiet and peaceful. If you’re in a household, let others know that you would like to not be interrupted for however long you’ve set aside.

1. Begin learning who you are – and deciding who you want to be

Each person is at a different stage in their journey of personal development. No matter where you are, take this time to get in tune with yourself through meditation, reflection, journaling, walking or any other method that gets you into a state of introspection.

Remember NOT to use your phone. Each time you check your phone you pull yourself out of that introspective state. The longer you spend completely alone with your thoughts, the better quality your internal answers will be for these questions and prompts.

Questions to ask yourself (focus on the ones that you feel drawn to or that challenge you):

  • Who am I, deep down in my heart, if I wasn’t afraid of what people thought? Let yourself daydream as you find your life purpose in this stage of your life
  • Who do I want to be in the next 5 to 10 years? What qualities does that person have?
  • What have I done in my life that I’m proud of?
  • What are some recent situations where I have held back to speak up?
  • What are my personal values? (You can ask yourself why you admire the people you do; that can reveal values that are important to you)
  • How have people treated me in the past – that I do not appreciate? (What has happened in the past that has made me angry or upset?)
  • What kind of people do I want to be around (friends, coworkers, etc.) that will support and challenge me in positive ways?
  • When I am happiest, where am I or what am I doing?

Helpful articles on Ideapod for self-discovery

Learning about yourself is an ongoing process. This process creates a foundation for you to be more authentic, which makes speaking up and protecting boundaries much easier later on.

This is your time to shine – take the time you need to really dig deep. Even if it might not feel like it yet, you’re worth the time to get to know. Everything from this point on will grow from how connected you are to your inner truth.

If you don’t feel like you value or love yourself yet, keep spending time with yourself as you continue this process. (Check out this article about ways to start loving yourself.)

2. Create boundaries for yourself

With a better understanding of who you are in this moment and who you want to become, your boundaries act as a shield to protect your resources – including your time, emotional energy, money, and personal health.

Create your boundaries

Creating boundaries can be as simple or as intricate as you’d like. Remember, this whole process is about you and your personal needs. Everyone’s boundaries will look different: give yourself permission to “be bold” and honest as you set your boundaries.

Allow yourself to do it imperfectly. You can always come back and revise your list of boundaries in the future.

Identify the areas of your life that you want to have more control over or need to protect. This is your chance to get specific about your needs.

If you need inspiration, review your notes and thoughts from your explorations in the first step of “who you are” and “who you want to be.”

Look at boundaries as “rules” or “limits” that you want yourself and others to adhere to.

There are 3 common categories of boundaries:

  • physical (personal space and touch considerations – including interactions with other people in social situations)
  • mental (thoughts and opinions)
  • emotional (feelings)

Go through each category (physical, mental, and emotional) and decide on which areas require new or updated boundaries.

Use the following prompts to help you get started with creating your boundaries:

  • “I will / I will not _”
  • “I have a right to ask for _”
  • “People may / may not _”
  • “To protect my (time, energy, health), it’s okay to _”

Use language that’s direct and clear. “I will” is better than “I may.”

Your boundaries are rules or limits that you use for yourself, your relationships, your environment, and so on. Here are a few examples you can use to inspire your own:

  • “I will keep my personal relationships separate from my professional relationships.” This will require you to communicate and schedule appointments through your professional channels/environment.
  • “I will not say yes to new plans, appointments, obligations, (whatever it is for you) until I’ve had at least 2 minutes by myself to consider it.” People with doormat habits will often say yes to new opportunities or requests before they’ve even had a chance to think if they have the time or energy to take it on.
  • “I will set a maximum meeting/conversation time so that I always have an easy out.” Don’t let casual meetings and conversations be so open-ended, because you may feel pressured to stay longer than you’re willing or have time for. When scheduling a meeting, or right at the beginning, mention that you only have 30 minutes to chat and then you have to get back to work. (This is one boundary I have begun to use that has immediately reduced my anxiousness when scheduling conversation time with others.)
  • “I will not spend time on social media or watch TV until I’ve completed my important tasks for the day.” Boundaries can also involve yourself. In my life, it’s easy for people to overstep my boundaries unknowingly, because of not keeping boundaries for myself. It’s much easier for people to respect you once you respect yourself (by sticking to your own boundaries).
  • You can use a “non-negotiables” list for any area of your life. “I will / will not ___” and do your best to adhere to them anytime they arise, for example:
    • “I will not check my phone in the morning until I’ve journaled.”
    • “I will not check social media until I’ve spent 15 minutes working on my dream/vision.”
    • “I will never go more than 2 consecutive days without meditating [or any habit you are implementing].”
    • “I will only agree to appointments after consulting my schedule and myself.”
    • “No caffeine after 6:00 pm.”
    • “I will wake up at 8:00 am every single day, including weekends.”

Implement new boundaries one or two at a time (as opposed to 5+ at a time). Only move onto new boundaries when those new boundaries have become effortless to maintain.

You can take your boundaries one step further by choosing a negative outcome if you don’t uphold your boundary. If you set a boundary, don’t stick to it, and don’t deal with the unwanted outcome, then you will continue to not take yourself seriously. Check out step 3 about creating consequences for your boundaries in this article by Marta Kagan on Medium.

“When you make an idle threat — like leaving a relationship that you’re not actually willing or prepared to leave — and then don’t follow through, the only thing you’re accomplishing is teaching the other person you’re all talk and no action and giving them a perfect excuse to continue the same old behavior.” – Marta Kagan

This is where I sometimes fall short: making a claim or an intention and then letting it fall to the side “because nobody will notice.” My area of growth for boundaries and self-respect is to follow through with my intentions and in accepting the negative outcome if I don’t.

I put too much of my attention on what other people will think if I do or don’t maintain a boundary (or any action in my life), rather than focusing on the fact that the impact of making changes (or not making them) is primarily for my benefit and not for you or anyone else.

Whatever boundary you set, make sure that you put in all the effort you can to follow through with it. Having a support partner or group can help keep you accountable, which is the next step:

Establishing boundaries takes time and practice. Don’t get discouraged if people don’t adapt to your new changes right away (including yourself). Brush yourself off and keep trying.

3. Learn that you’re not alone and build a support group around yourself

This process gets easier if you can have at least one other person around you that you can reach out to for help. Although the goal is to maintain boundaries on your own, there is nothing wrong with asking for help from people you respect and trust.

Be selective in who you ask for help from. Not everyone will have your best interests at heart nor will be able to provide support in the ways you may need. Consider the people you would reach out to in times of need, when you’re stressed, or who you may go to when looking for advice on life.

Your personal support needs are unique to you: you may need occasional check-ins (to make sure you are sticking to your new boundaries) or you may need to verbally practice talking about your new boundaries.

Reach out to at least one person you trust and ask if they would be willing to help you in your process of keeping boundaries.

4. Start building confidence by standing up for your boundaries

The hardest part to stop being a doormat is to uphold the new boundaries you’ve set. This requires individuals to be more assertive in their life, which can take time and persistence to develop. This is normal and to be expected, especially if you’re not used to speaking up, taking a stand for your beliefs, or going against the grain.

In an article by Sharon Martin, LCSW, being assertive allows you to respect others (including yourself) and be respected by your peers as you communicate your thoughts and needs in a clear, direct, and authentic way.

Here are some tips for assertive communication:

  • Use “I” statements to express what you feel or observe in an objectionable manner. Explore Non-Violent Communication (NVC) to learn how to communicate in a way that helps you authentically express without making assumptions about others’ intentions.
  • Understand what you need or are feeling before making requests and statements.
  • Be open to challenging conversations and situations. Do your best to plan in advance so that you feel more prepared. It may take time to develop comfort with these situations. You will get better at them as you continue to practice keeping your boundaries.
  • Remember that you have as much of a right to make requests as the person youre talking to (or is making requests of you).
  • Review your list of boundaries to keep them at the top of your memory when interacting with others.
  • Do not devalue yourself nor put yourself below anyone. Everyone is equal and has the same rights to communicate authentically, including you.

As someone who has struggled with assertiveness and maintaining boundaries, I’ve realized that I need to teach myself how to speak up. It’s an ongoing process, especially the more passive, quiet, or “doormat-like” you have been up until now.

Here are a few ways I’ve practiced “speaking up” and getting more comfortable with my voice and holding a more assertive, authentic presence:

1) Watch Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on the impact of presence – such as “power posing” – your post and how you hold yourself makes a big difference on how you talk to others (including yourself)

Check your posture right now. Are you slouched over your phone or keyboard? Were you slouched back in a relaxed manner?

Try it right now: sit/stand up straight, push your shoulders back, sit all the way back against the seat, raise your chin, and look straight forward (not down – even if that means holding your phone up). Take a deep breath. How do you feel?

2) Practice speaking slower and louder by reading out loud your favorite books, blog posts, emails, your text messages before you hit send, and so on

I’ve spent hours reading books aloud by myself to get used to speaking slower, louder, and clearer before I felt comfortable practicing it with others. I’ve also spent a lot of time improving my posture.

3) Practice looking people in the eyes (most doormats will look away from the person they are talking to)

My tendency to look away from people I’m talking to or straight down as I’m going about my day had this effect of making me feel “below other people” or less confident in my day-to-day.

If looking people in the eyes is difficult, practice making yourself look at someone in the eyes ONCE in your next conversation. Then after that, try it twice. Then, for 2 seconds in a row. Then 3. Then 5. … See where I’m going?

Keep pushing through the discomfort until it no longer feels terrifying.

Developing assertive habits (even if it begins alone in the comfort of home) is important for maintaining boundaries and building respect for yourself. Without self-respect, it’s difficult for others to respect you.

Start teaching others how you want to be treated. If people have been walking all over you already, it’s time to speak up. It’s okay if it’s uncomfortable or if you don’t communicate your thoughts as well as you want when you’re starting out. It gets easier and as people realize that you’re taking a stand. Some will respect your new boundaries. Others will require some time to adjust, and others may not respect it at all).

When someone crosses your boundary and you don’t do anything about it, it reinforces to them that you’re fine with their behavior. They may not have any intention to cross your boundary, but if they don’t know it’s not okay (and don’t know your preferences) then they have no way to know how you want to be treated.

Exercise: practice saying “no” to requests that you don’t want to do and anything else that goes against your new boundaries and values. Start small with easier opportunities as they present themselves. The goal is to ease yourself into the process until you get more comfortable and confident, not to be perfect.

Here  are a few scenarios to practice saying “no”:

  • Say “no” to yourself to get on social media for a “quick minute” when you know it’s going to cause you to get distracted for 30 minutes.
  • When someone asks if you “have a quick minute to talk,” you can say, “I can’t right now, but check back with me in an hour” or “I can’t right now, but how about (this suggested time)?”
  • Declining a request for help from a work colleague when you’re already overburdened with work (or simply do not want to take on the task).
  • For those struggling to say no in the first place … go find a mirror, by yourself, and practice saying “no,” “no, thank you,” “I’m unavailable,” and similar phrases until you feel more comfortable. Sometimes doormats are not used to the actual physical/verbal process of declining a request and need to show themselves that they have the ability to utter these phrases. (This is one I’ve had to work on.)

5. Stay consistent with your efforts and keep moving forward

As with any habit and changes in life, persistence and consistency is the key to making them stick. It’s no different when trying to stop being a doormat in life and reduce people-pleasing tendencies. Remind yourself that you don’t need to make this change overnight.

For the first month of making a change, review your list of boundaries, values, and your vision for yourself at least once a day. It can also be helpful to practice saying different “no” phrases.

As situations arise, practice the different stages of “speaking up” over the following months until the process becomes habitual:

  1. Look back at previous interactions to see if you missed an opportunity to speak up or stay true to your boundaries.
  2. If you did, acknowledge it and mentally rehearse what you would have liked to have done instead.
  3. Become more aware of these opportunities as they show up.
  4. Start being more vocal and assertive as you communicate with others in order to hold your boundaries and say what is true for you in that moment.
  5. Be gentle on yourself when you miss opportunities or don’t speak up in the way that you want.

Don’t let negative reactions keep you from continuing to make an effort as you put in the effort to speak up, stand your ground, or otherwise be authentic. Most people want you to be genuine but they may need some time to adjust to the “new you” without doormat behavior. Others will adopt the changes quickly. On the other hand, some may not adapt easily and may remain resistant to your change.

No matter what happens, it’s important that you stay true to your vision and intention for yourself with your boundaries and growing level of assertiveness. Repetition and consistency is crucial. You may be surprised at how fast it is to stop being a doormat once you start assertively engaging with situations where you can stand up for yourself.

Don’t forget … it’s a journey and it’s worth it

Any change is gradual and often uncomfortable in the beginning. The changes you make will have a ripple effect, starting with you and impacting others after.

The assertiveness and self-confidence you create will have a positive impact on the rest of your life. As you speak up, people will start to pay attention and respect you more. When you stop letting people and distractions walk over you and you respectfully decline overburdening requests, you’ll free up time for yourself and reduce stress.

The biggest impact will be the change you have on yourself through newfound authenticity, confidence, and assertiveness. By understanding yourself and taking a stand for who you are and what you will and won’t allow, you’ll have more control over your life.

If you’re a doormat today and ready to move on, remember these steps:

  1. Learn who you are (and who you want to be)
  2. Establish your boundaries (i.e., what you will and won’t allow)
  3. Create a support group (and realize you’re not alone in this process)
  4. Start speaking up (and confronting situations with your new boundaries)
  5. Be persistent in your efforts, don’t let bad situations stop you from continuing, and regularly revisit your boundaries and vision for yourself

Start today by asking yourself, “When life or people walk all over me: how does it make me feel, how much responsibility am I taking on that’s not mine, and what am I missing out on?”

Then follow it up with, “… and what am I going to do about it?”

Share with us one new boundary you want to implement in your life in the comments below.

Stop being a doormat to others by giving up these 4 dangerous beliefs

As a bonus, here are four dangerous beliefs we often hold about what it means to live a good life. We often adopt these beliefs in order to please other people, but they prevent us from living a life we love.

Check out these beliefs and see if they are limiting you from living your life with personal power.

dude 1 How to not be a doormat: 5 key steps

1. You hold yourself to higher standards than you do of others

People who keep on giving in to the demands of those around them often value the opinions and choices of others more than their own: others can make demands, but you feel that your needs or plans are not important and it’s okay to go along with what others have in mind.

You know that you’d rather sit out in the sun, but Mary hates the sun so you agree to sit inside where you freeze half to death in the air con.

Thing is, you feel it’s selfish to insist on what you want but you don’t think it’s selfish of Mary to insist on what she wants.

This is the kind of double standard that sabotages one’s autonomy – you’re always doing what others want and live with the vague feeling that you are being taken advantage of.

2. You’re only worthy if you serve others

Another famous double standard that can really mess with your life is the belief that serving others is the thing that makes your life worth living.

Here’s the double standard: you’re only worthy if you serve, but others don’t have to serve in order to be worthy, they are worthy just by being alive.

amazed How to not be a doormat: 5 key steps

3. You believe it’s important to be a good person

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it brings with it a whole list of implied harmful beliefs on what makes a good person, such as:

  • Nice means helping everyone and being agreeable all the time, whether you want to or not.
  • It’s not nice to say “no.”
  • It’s nice to go along with what others want.
  • Nice people put the needs of others first.
  • People won’t like me if I’m not nice to them.

The end game of the desire to be nice is invariably becoming a people pleaser and the problem with that is that nobody respects a people pleaser.

You worry that it’s not nice to say “no” and at the same time you end up feeling unhappy, angry or frustrated when people are not nice back.

Forget it. You’re not going to win any favors by being nice.

Consider this:

It’s also “nice” to be honest. Most people appreciate that and usually handle it very well. You’ll be pleasantly surprised the first time you try it.

There will be a backlash, especially if you have always been agreeable in the past. Be prepared for that.

Stand up for yourself in a calm, honest, and respectful way. It’s called being assertive. It’s a learned behavior, but you learned to count didn’t you?

You can learn this too.

4. Standing up for yourself will lead to conflict

Well, this is half your problem, isn’t it?

You are a people pleaser not only because you value being a good person, but also because you hate conflict and standing up for yourself is bound to cause some unpleasant interactions, especially if you have always put the needs of others first.

It might be a good idea to actually admit that you have decided to change your behavior. Don’t say you don’t want to be a people pleaser anymore – say I need to manage my time better.

Don’t say you’re tired of always being there for everyone – say I need more time for myself; there are things I need to attend to.

You could say: I know I always come across as ambivalent so no one knows what I think and what I want. I’m trying to change that.

Don’t make it about them and their demands. It’s not. It’s your problem. You can still be a nice person. You can still do stuff for others, just not at your own expense and sense of self-worth.

Austin Pranger

Austin Pranger

Hi. (: I’m Austin. I’m documenting my journey of life through mastering and teaching West Coast Swing, developing a local swing community, becoming minimalist, writing, and optimizing life.

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.