1 : One who submits
meekly or offers little resistance to domination, mistreatment, abuse,
or indignities by others
We’ve all heard of and probably
known a few doormats. These are the people pleasers who will do
anything for anyone, sometimes at the expense of their own well-being.
What the above definition doesn’t explain, though, is why.
As a therapist, the answer to
that question is what I am most interested in. What makes someone so
passive? What motivates these people to accept being taken advantage of
or even being abused? If you have characters in your WIP running ragged
and flagging out because they can’t say no, you need to have a
plausible reason why they are this way. Below are two potential
components for the backstory of a doormat.
At the heart of many a doormat
is the yearning for validation. They will take it in any form and do
just about anything to get it. This could be because their parents
never validated them for just being themselves.
You can see how difficult it
might be for someone like this to accept Christ’s unconditional love.
They probably grew up with parents who told them what to do and gave
them attention and love only when they obeyed. This is conditional
love, the overarching reason for many a doormat to submit to others.
When they do so, they are using the best method they know of to get
love or validation.
For those writers who want their
doormat characters to have happy families of origin, then consider a
painful breakup in early adulthood. Maybe the doormat doesn’t want to
risk heartbreak again by offending or disagreeing with his or her
Loss of Value
(I use the example of a female
here because girls are trained from a young age to oblige and defer to
others, so the percentage of female doormats is disproportionate to the
percentage who are male.)
A doormat doesn’t have any idea
how valuable her person or actions are. This would start in childhood,
perhaps because her parents never encouraged or praised her for being
assertive or stepping out on her own. Her self-esteem compass is
broken, if not nonexistent.
The measure of the doormat’s
validity, then, comes from an outside source, such as a
boyfriend/girlfriend or mother/father or best friend. When she meets
the demands of other people, making them happy, the takeaway value for
the doormat is that they are happy with her as well. If they aren’t
happy, then the doormat absorbs the responsibility for making them that
way, and fear takes root that if she doesn’t double over backward to
please these people, then they won’t love her.
Of course, we can’t leave a
character in this mental space. It’s too unhealthy. What can you do to
help “cure” them of their doormat-ness?
This shouldn’t be hard to write
at all. The most likely outcome for someone described above is sheer
exhaustion. The stress of having so much on their plates and not saying
no will finally cave in on them. Many a doormat finally reaches the
conclusion that it’s not worth it.
Of course, this is only a
bandage to the problem, but it’s an effective way to get the doormat’s
attention. She has to reach an inner understanding of what got her
there in the first place.
Another bandage that will serve
to get the doormat to a moldable position of change is to let her
become resentful. A person can’t spend so much energy pleasing others
without paying some sort of price, usually passive-aggressiveness.
Catering to other people for a long time can lead to bitterness and
grudges and will eventually poke holes throughout any relationship,
causing a rupture at anytime.
Here’s where you play therapist.
Someone needs to sit down with this character (yes, a fictional
therapist will do), and have the doormat take a close look at what
triggers his or her submissiveness and why. According to Jay Earley,
psychologist and author of Finding Your Life Purpose,
“People-pleasing behavior comes from fear, from an assumption that
others are in control of you. Healthy behavior comes from genuinely
wanting to be connected to people.”
Have your character ask herself
why she is doing any particular action. Is it because she a) cares
about the person, or b) is she afraid she’ll “lose” him? When the
doormat can answer with a response closer to A, then her actions are
for a more healthy purpose and not driven by the fear of being
Experiment with Them
Eventually the people-pleasing
doormat will have to practice not saying yes to everyone for
everything. She’ll need someone to hold her hand while she role-plays
standing up for herself in a situation. She’ll have tons of anxiety
just saying no, but eventually she’ll get the hang of it.