In interpersonal relationships, it is likely that you sometimes assume, without being fully aware of it, a passive role that ends up playing against you. Perhaps you implicitly assume that the people you associate with should be “educated”. You assume they should treat you with some respect and even kindness. You assume they shouldn’t hurt you or cross your boundaries.
However, the distance between that “should” and what actually happens is called reality.
When instead of that respect and consideration you find people who try to manipulate you, pressure you, overload you with responsibilities or even treat you badly, you need to change the way you approach those relationships. You may have to teach them how you like to be treated.
Limits, the pending subject
Most people find it difficult to set limits because they have grown up hearing that saying “no” is rude or that they should always be willing to help the others. If those ideas sound familiar to you, chances are you’ve developed a mindset that leads you to constantly put the needs of others before your own. It is likely that you find it difficult to express what you need or ask for what you want, so that you often end up settling for much less than you deserve or even resigning yourself to suffering treatment that you should not tolerate.
When you don’t set limits, you don’t teach people how you would like to be treated. In reality, you convey to them the idea that there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of you and that you are not worth to be respected. When you leave kindness, respect and consideration to their free will, you run the risk of becoming a passive spectator of your own life, allowing others to decide how to treat you.
In reality, every day you teach people how to treat you, based on your reactions to their behaviors. Your response to their kindness or antipathy, for example, reinforces that behavior and increases the probability that it will be repeated or, on the contrary, extinguishes it. We must remember that “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others”, as Brené Brown wrote.
The art of teaching others how to treat you
1. It starts with you
If you want to teach people how to treat you, you should start not with them, but with you. Notice how you talk to yourself and the way you treat yourself. After all, what you demand and expect from others you must also demand from yourself. That will make you a coherent person, which will end up being projected into your behavior and will pay off.
Self love is key. The esteem you have for yourself and the words you speak to yourself are the standard that you must demand of others. People will learn to treat you based on what you accept of yourself. Therefore, teaching others to treat you begins with an exercise in self-awareness. Ask yourself: how do I treat myself? What do I value about myself? What do I want? What do I think I deserve? Start by giving yourself kindness, understanding, and respect, and then ask the others for those same things.
2. Design your instruction manual
Often we expect people to guess our needs and thoughts, but the truth is that most of the time people are too absorbed in their problems and worries to notice what is happening to us or measure the true scope of their behaviors, attitudes, words and actions. For that reason, it’s important that you create a sort of “instruction manual” in which you lay out some ground rules.
Having access to the same “instruction manual” facilitates harmony in interpersonal relationships because it clarifies limits and directly expresses expectations. You can take advantage of a moment in which you are relaxed and in a good mood to bring up the subject, since approaching it in the middle of an argument is counterproductive. Some basic rules of that manual can be: do not insult each other, do not yell, listen carefully, give the benefit of the doubt and only make constructive criticism.
3. Communicate clearly and empathetically
We cannot expect from others what we are not willing to give. Therefore, everything begins with an empathic and clear communication. A big part of teaching others how to treat you is expressing yourself honestly and assertively. Instead of attacking the other or beating around the bush, you must clearly communicate what you need or want.
For example, no matter how angry you are, instead of shouting “You never listen to me”, it is more convenient to say “I wish you would pay attention to me because I have something important to tell you”. In this way you teach that person how you expect them to treat you when they need to express something. This way you eliminate frustration and reproaches from the equation, leaving the door open to a sincere and empathetic dialogue.
4. Treat how you like to be treated
Be the person you want others to be. Treat the others how you like to be treated. If you expect kindness and respect, treat the others kindly and respectfully. If you expect your partner to be romantic and affectionate, do the same for him/her. Everything you emit is returned to you in some way. If you convey anger, inconsideration or indifference, those emotions will come back to you.
It is also important that your behavior is consistent. In other words, if you look like a zen monk when things are going well but as soon as they go wrong you become Hulk, your message will lack coherence. In this way you are unconsciously saying that, depending on the circumstances, it is valid to treat the other badly. Therefore, make sure that the behavior that you want to see in others is established within you. Your example will likely end up setting a precedent in the right direction.
5. Reinforce what you like
The basic principle of operant conditioning still holds true in relationships, which means that how you respond to other people’s behavior toward you can reinforce it and increase the chances that it will happen again in the future. If you give in to an attempt to manipulate, you will reinforce it, and if you respond with anger to a personal attack, you will increase the rage.
Instead, focus on reinforcing the positive behaviors you want to see flourish. For example, you could say: “I appreciate that you listened to me so carefully yesterday” or “I really appreciate the detail you had.” If someone treats you with respect and consideration, go out of your way to express your appreciation. Don’t assume that the other person knows, show them that you appreciated it. This way, they will be more likely to repeat that behavior in the future while the unwanted behaviors must be gradually extinguished.
Adjust your expectations: do not expect pears from the elm
However, remember to keep your expectations in check. This process will take time. The longer the dysfunctional pattern has been around, the longer it will take to undo it. The more ingrained a behavior is, the more difficult it will be to change it, so you will have to be patient.
On the other hand, even if you treat the others as you would like to be treated, you also cannot expect everyone to show the same disposition and respect. Unfortunately, empathy, tolerance, respect or understanding are not universal.
Sometimes you also have to admit that some people won’t learn to treat you better no matter how hard you try. If they need to feel superior because they have a self-esteem problem, they won’t treat you as an equal. If they try to emotionally manipulate you because they have an existential vacuum, they will not take your needs into account.
It doesn’t mean you should let them treat you like dirt, but you should know that if those people don’t learn, it’s not your fault. And it’s not your mission to “fix” them either. That doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to be treated badly. Just let them go. And if necessary, cut the relationship. If the others are not willing to treat you with the respect, kindness, and courtesy that you show them, then they are not worth being a part of your life.