How To Stop Being a Pushover in Relationships

Updated: Sep 19, 2020

"When you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself" -Paulo Coelho

Are you comfortable expressing exactly how you feel?

Or does even the mere possibility of you inconveniencing someone else spark a liiiiittle anxiety.

As a full-time recovering people pleaser, I've found myself at the end of conversations, situations, and even relationships, in the passenger seat. I've pushed many of my opinions and desires to the side, in hopes that my "consideration" would act as a vehicle towards gaining acceptance and validation from others.

It hasn't.

Here are a few signs that you, too, may have some pushover tendencies:

  • you hate confrontation and try to avoid it at all costs

  • you have a hard time saying "no" to people

  • you compromise yourself in order to convenience others

  • "no worries" and "it's okay" are your go-to responses

  • friends with benefits is basically the norm

  • you constantly feel like the effort you put in isn't reciprocated

  • you over-apologize

  • you don't set clear boundaries

  • people are constantly taking advantage of your time, and your energy

Pushovers are pros at burying their feelings and hiding their true selves from others.

The underlying reason for this varies, but understand this - it is not genetic. Acting like a doormat for people to walk all over isn't hardwired into your brain. Nor is it tattooed anywhere on your personality. Acting like a pushover is simply a habit. A behavior pattern that you've repeated for so long- it's become hard to shake. It's been learned, and thus can most definitely be UNlearned. Prodded out of those hard-to-reach corners of your subconscious.

1. Dig Up The Roots

Children are like sponges - they absorb their surroundings in order to make sense of the world around them.

Think back to your childhood.

If you felt neglected as a child, then there's probably some fear lodged into the corners of your subconscious mind. And it's those fears - fear of abandonment, of your emotions not being acknowledged or validated, of not being worthy or good enough - that have been guiding your passive behaviors.

Dig up your roots.

Identify them. Process them. Then with time, you'll learn how to yank them out in order to heal and grow.

2. Know Yourself

When you don't know who you are or what you stand for, you're automatically robbing anyone else from finding out. In order to communicate your desires, fears, ambitions, opinions, and weaknesses to another person, you must first know what they are.

Makes sense, but when push comes to shove...pushovers are naturally more inclined to push those emotions to the side, out of fear that they will be rejected because of them. Your opinions deserve to be valued just as much as the other person.

3. Build Up Your Confidence

To be confident in yourself is to trust yourself; to trust that what you have to say matters.

A healthy amount of confidence lives in the landscape of your mind. The way you speak to yourself has a direct effect on your capacity to believe in yourself.

Think about it.

You're about to deliver a speech that you've been rehearsing like crazy. You've adequately prepared, so there's no reason you should fail.

But when you walk out onto the stage, your lungs quickly deflate, as you're confronted with an audience of about 1,000 people. What do you do?

Scenario 1: your inner critic starts wreaking havoc, saying things like:

"wow there's no way I can speak in front of this many people"

"I'm going to screw up and make a fool of myself"

Scenario 2: you take control of your reality by taking control of your thoughts. A bit stunned at first, you're able to calm yourself down by affirming your competence and capability to deliver this speech just like you've rehearsed:

"I've practiced this speech so many times, the flow of words is ingrained in my mind"

"I can do this. I've practiced. I am ready."

"All that we are is a result of what we have thought" -Buddha

The way you speak to yourself helps create your reality. Choose your thoughts wisely.

4. Communicate with Conviction in Relationships

Speak loud and clear, without allowing any "ums" or signs of hesitation to interfere. Pushovers ruin relationships by not fully expressing their true selves. By softening your opinions to avoid confrontation, you are killing your relationship.

How can you expect to build an intimate relationship with someone when you're not showing up as your authentic self? In order to have a healthy relationship, you have to be assertive when communicating your wants and needs - otherwise they'll have no idea how to acknowledge and validate them.

Cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist Linda Bebbington does a wonderful job explaining the different approaches to communicating:

A: Aggressive — Standing up for your own rights while disrespecting the rights of others. For example, being argumentative, not listening to the other, being violent or bullying.

B: Passive — Respecting the rights of others but not yourself. For example, allowing others to get away with poor behaviour, not sticking to boundaries, inability to say ‘no’ or meeting the needs of others while your own go unmet.

C: Passive-aggressive — Pretending to respect the rights of others, while disrespecting them indirectly. For example, winding someone up, being sarcastic, gossiping, sabotaging or sulking. The main feature of passive-aggression is that it’s indirect and sometimes underhand.

D: Assertive — Standing up for your own rights, while respecting the rights of others. For example, setting boundaries, verbalising clear consequences for poor behaviour, compromising and listening to another’s point of view.

Which method do you think your communication style falls into?

It can take time to shed your fears around being assertive, and that's okay. But in order to build up your courage, you've got to practice.

Some examples:

"That makes me feel ________"

"I feel ________ when you ________"

"It makes me feel ________ when ________"

If you don't communicate how you feel, then the other person has no chance of getting to know the real you.

Expressing your authentic self in a kind tone should never be fuel for conflict. And if it is, well then that's a big red flag.

5. Set Some Boundaries

Setting up boundaries creates a blueprint of how you'd like to be treated. Healthy boundaries do not naturally appear in a relationship; they have to be first be created, then communicated, and respected.

Be self-aware.

The first step in creating healthy boundaries is self-awareness. You have to know what you like and what you dislike; what makes you feel comfortable and what doesn't. Know this, so that the other person has the means to treat you the way you'd like to be treated.

Be clear.

So much conflict arises from misunderstandings. This type of conflict is both needless and avoidable. If you have a problem with something, say it. Be clear about your boundary while also being clear about your love. Effective communication is a beautiful, productive thing.

Imagine yourself openly expressing your desires, and having those desires met by another person with respect and consideration. How would your life change, if suddenly you started showing up as your most genuine, authentic self, no matter the audience?

Know yourself, value your energy, and exchange it wisely.

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