In English phraseology, a welcome mat is a mat traditionally placed at the entrance to a building, sometimes with a message of welcome written on it. A door mat is effectively the same thing, but the emphasis is on the role of the door mat as servant to the dirt on the feet of the visitor. A welcome mat’s primary role is to welcome guests; a door mat’s primary role is to process the dirt of allcomers.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
I hope this clarifies a difference between the two terms. Put simply:
- You are a welcome mat if you help others to feel well-received into a place of safety
- You are a door mat if you passively allow yourself to be used by others to wipe their dirt onto you
AREN’T THEY EFFECTIVELY THE SAME THING?
You may ask: aren’t a welcome mat and a door mat effectively the same thing? Surely this is just dressing up words with meanings they can’t bear?
This goes to the root of a key dilemma among those who seek to help others, and this article tries to tackle just that issue. The issue is this: at what point does being a servant of others lead to being abused; and, if it does, how should we respond?
THE SUBTLE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RESPECT-BASED SERVICE, AND ABUSE-BASED SERVICE
I would not give away any stories of my counselling clients. But a common thread I have noticed, is that, in their paths to growth, there has come a point when they suddenly seem to understand a distinction between being a welcome mat (respectful relations), and being a door mat (abusive relations).
Perhaps the relationship concerned is a family relationship. Perhaps, for years, the client has allowed a member of their family to behave disrespectfully, to metaphorically wipe their feet on them. Perhaps you know what I mean, and there is someone in your life whom you allow to treat you like that.
HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE BEING A DOOR MAT
I am going to suggest that there are three characteristics of a door mat relationship. They relate to three characteristics of abusive behaviour.
1. IMBALANCE Door mat relationships are consistently unbalanced. One person is always having to ‘walk on eggshells’ for the other, always trying to guess when the next bad mood will come, and how it can be avoided or appeased.
2. ONE-WAY COMMUNICATION A key feature of the imbalance, is that one person regards themselves as a closed book when it comes to open talk; however, they expect the other to give them full and free information at all times. Often, this is borne of distrust or previous abuse experienced by the abuser.
3. UNFAIR CONSEQUENCES You always leave a door mat interaction feeling that, in some way, you have been manipulated into getting the raw end of a deal. This often happens to people at work: a loyal member of staff walks into a meeting aiming to negotiate something fair, and leaves with a list as long as their arm of extra things they have agreed to do, while their boss or co-worker seems to have got away with taking no responsiblity.
HOW TO BEGIN TO TURN THE TIDE
If you want to turn the tide, then there is one thing you’d better get used to. And that is the possibility that your own behaviour is partly what is driving the process. It takes two to tango, and your foot-wiper has found you a good door mat partly because you behave well as a door mat! (Note: this is absolutely not to excuse the behaviour of any abuser.)
Turning the tide involves working on phrases and behaviours which signpost clearly to the foot-wiper that you are not to be taken for granted. The psychology of reward is probably one of the best angles to take on this, so think of your future responses as having 3 stages:
1. REMOVE YOURSELF FOR A WHILE Think of it as taking yourself away for cleaning! You need to break the connection the abuser has built up between their actions and your response. So, for a while, you need to take a step back. Don’t appease, don’t try to please, don’t grovel. Just be clear that, for a while, the usual response is not available.
2. REBALANCE THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION Choose a form of communication you are happy with, and that you feel gives you some control. This may be joint counselling. It may be that you write a letter. Whatever it is, it should be a new form of communication which establishes a new pattern, in which the other now has to give away some of their own information, and compromise some of their own proud behaviour, in order to meet you on equal terms.
3. BE CLEAR ABOUT CONSEQUENCES To change the pattern, you will have to introduce the other to a new system in which the old behaviour won’t work. For instance, if the foot-wiping involved physical violence, then it needs to be clear that the police will be called. If the foot-wiping is a tantrum, then it needs to be clear that you won’t respond until the tantrum is not only over, but acknowledged, and a significant trouble-free time has passed.
You choose how you apply this in your own life. But I am suggesting that you examine your relationships, and identify those in which you have become not a welcome mat, but a door mat. Someone is using you for their own convenience, and it doesn’t feel fair.
You can recognise these relationships because they feel unbalanced and unjust, as though the power is all one-way. And you can turn the tide, and re-establish your confidence, by:
1. Giving yourself time out, without responding in the usual way
2. Communicating in new and more powerful ways, requiring the other to share information with you
3. Being clear with the other as to the consequences if they repeat their old behaviour
The above is a reflection on how we sometimes allow others to inflict upon us their unfair behaviour. It is written from the point of view of re-establishing control in a kind and clear way. However, it is worth, too, analysing yourself to see if you are the one exercising the unfair control. Are you wiping your feet on other people, making them suffer the consequences of your own dirt? If so, how might you allow others more say in the relationship, so that you can be sure you are not abusing them?