Being a pushover is something that usually happens because someone is afraid to say no. They don’t want people to be angry with them or disapprove of them, and/or they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Sometimes the person fancies themselves a kind of martyr for the whole world, but most of the time they just have a problem in allowing specific people to take advantage of them. It could be friends, parents, or their children, or anyone else close to them who they think it’s their job to appease.
Often, when trying to help the volunteer martyr, people treat them like the victim. In a sense they are, but only in a consensual sense. They are not being forced to do anything. Even though it may cost them pain or have other consequences, a person always has the option of standing down and withstanding whatever results from that. The reason they let other people take advantage of them is because this is an opportunity to take advantage of the other.
It’s a cycle. The supposed martyr allows the other person to harm or take advantage of them. In return, they get ego gratification and pumped up by their getting to feel like the poor angelic victim or self sacrificing saint. This teaches the seeming attacker or advantage taker that it is okay to harm people because they can. This doesn’t pan out so well with other people, so in order to get their ego gratified by harming someone, they have to return to the volunteer martyr.
In essence, the martyr takes on the role of an enabler, or the drug itself. They feed someone else’s addiction to inflicting harm, but at the same time feed their own addiction to the ego boost that comes with voluntarily being harmed.
So they create a kind of mutually parasitic relationship. Between consenting adults, this might not be such a bad thing if they’re conscious of it, and it has limits. However, when people train their children to be offenders or martyrs, that’s when we’re delving into the dark side.
To train a child to believe that it’s okay to harm people or take advantage of them is a bad survival lesson. These things are not okay, and could get them into serious trouble. If they don’t get into trouble, they will at least leave a path of destruction that will kind of mess up your little plan to not hurt anybody by saying no to them. What necessary hurt you avoid today by being capitulating, will lead to much unnecessary harm tomorrow. This will be your fault because you created that monster and then unleashed it on the world.
How to make it stop? Start by making rules for yourself, not for other people. Figure out what your limits are, and don’t let anyone cross them. It’s not selfish to have limits. It’s not selfish to want to save money or want to have nice things that other people don’t destroy. In fact, when you have boundaries, it teaches those you deal with, that people have boundaries, which is a good survival lesson.
After you’ve decided what you limits are, you can develop policies for how to wage relationships so that people are unlikely to step on you, thinking it’s okay. You can tailor your appearance, language, and habits to express your newfound desire to live as a confident non parasite.
Join these people at 43 Things who want to stop being pushovers.