The first time I heard this phrase ‘You Teach People How To Treat You’ was from Dr Phil Mcgraw. The idea is that how we behave encourages how other people react to us.
Basically, we give people a ‘pay off’, which keeps them behaving in a certain way. Like when a child keeps being naughty, just to get attention, and the vicious circle continues, because we are too tired to proactively give them attention before they misbehave to get attention; round and round and round!
It’s challenging, because it suggests that we have a part to play in a relationship when someone mistreats us or does something we don’t like. That doesn’t mean that we should feel guilty or take responsibility for someone else’s choices as an adult though.
The good news about it, is that it suggests that although we can’t change them, there can be a change in a relationship just from a change in ourselves (or by changing ourselves we get out of the relationship).
My Mum was a weird example of this. ‘The Wicked Witch Of The West’ we called her. I used to get migraines from just thinking about going to see her. She had an intuitive ability to know your achiles heel, without you ever having told her what was going on; hence the ‘witch’ nickname.
When I was training to be a Reiki Master 13yrs ago, my teacher told me ‘If you don’t sort out your relationship with your mother, you’ll never sort your relationships out’; I cried. But one day I had the guts to say this …
‘When things like xxx are said <can’t remember the specifics, but it was something mean. Notice I didn’t say ‘when YOU say’>, I feel hurt. So if it happens again, I’m going to leave and you can pay someone to pack your stuff up for you‘.
I picked the most amazingly stressful day to do this, when she was being moved from her beautiful victorian flat to warden assisted housing. She looked a bit like a gold-fish for 5 minutes, but that was literally it. 10 years of horribleness over. I couldn’t believe it was that easy. A couple of times afterwards she tried to push the boundaries, but all I said was ‘If we talk about this, we’ll argue and both get upset, so we aren’t going to talk about it’.
Remember when I said about people wanting to feel loved? Well, she must have been getting a pay off from the hurt she saw in us. Maybe it was because it meant that we cared about what she said or did, thus showing that we loved her? Or maybe she felt that there wasn’t enough love in the world, so she had to try and control it. I’ve never been able to pin it down, because she died before I could ask her, and before I understood more about her, by becoming a Mum myself.
There have been other people in my life who ironically ‘should’ have been easier to sort out, but have been more difficult. I suppose that with my mum, if it went wrong the only person really affected was me, whereas with other people there are often other loved ones involved. But it’s still important to calmly and gently make a stand for how you wish to be treated (or loudly if they didn’t hear you first time around).
The same goes for our kids; we teach them how to treat us.
Curly Headed Boy has been resorting to shouting at us (I think he might actually have a slight hearing issue in some way, although it hasn’t been picked up in standard tests). If I reply by shouting back, it just escalates. If I reply at all, he got what he was after. But what I want to teach him is that by being respectful and thoughtful he will get more attention from me (plus that I get a headache from the shouting). So it’s important to make sure that he doesn’t get a pay off from doing something I don’t want him doing.
There are times when I have had to raise the bar and be properly angry with him. I’m not talking about the growing frustration that suddenly pounces out as anger, although in moderation it can certainly work. I’m more talking about sitting him down for a very stern talk about his behaviour. He’s 5 3/4yrs, just about to go into year 1, and has learnt some less attractive habits from his school mates; he’s just testing the boundaries, and it is VERY testing! He needs to know that I respect myself enough to not be willing to hear a rude tone of voice or disrespectful behaviour towards me. In return he has the right to call me up on it, if I don’t follow the same rules towards him.
How to Say It
Here’s how to say it again. Don’t say any more than this, no excuses, no defending yourself, no criticisms of them, no use of the word ‘YOU’. Nothing, just this, and then stick to the consequences. Make sure the consequences are reasonable, not something like ‘I’ll never talk to you again’ or ‘You’ll be on timeout forever’.
- When <xxxx> happens
- I feel <xxxx>
- If it continues, then I will <consequence>
So what is it that your kids (or other people) do that you don’t like? I might be all about the love, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take action. Do you need to stand up for yourself more, or put your foot down?
If you ever need some hints of ideas on how to do this, remember there is my question corner for anonymous questions/advice.
There is also lots of advice about bullying here.
(Please note: If you are in an abusive relationship, then you may need external help and there are loads of organisations who can help you out.)