When we were in Cozumel, Mexico on a vacation with our children, our son wanted to buy a little trinket for a friend. He was browsing in the store and the shop owners were following him and talking about him in Spanish. The only reason we knew this was because my husband was with our son and he is fluent in Spanish, having grown up in Latin America. The shop owners didn’t know this and were having conversations about how they were going to take advantage of this American teen and charge him more money than the item was worth. They were laughing about this naïve American kid until at checkout, my husband started speaking perfect Spanish and they realized he had heard their conversations!

Perhaps you have experienced something similar in the workplace: Someone needs help with an email, needs to you to take over the phones for a while, asks you to run an errand—you always do it and the person knows it, so they ask often and take advantage of your willingness. There are many times in life when we feel that we are being taken advantage of and as a result feel disrespected. If you are a people pleaser, a genuinely kind person who wants to help, or naïve in a situation, it can be easy for others to take advantage of you.

Some people allow themselves to be doormats because of their own insecurities and low self-worth. They fear rejection, so they allow their personal boundaries to be violated by others, hoping that they will be appreciated and loved. They are trying to gain validation by giving in to unreasonable requests. In effect, they are getting their validation from others instead of relying on God to affirm them.

There is nothing wrong with saying no, setting limits, being assertive, or developing self-respect. In fact, doing all these things keeps you from becoming resentful. Work on becoming more assertive and setting limits with other people so you don’t find yourself in a resentful position. There is a fine line when it comes to helping people and being disrespected or taken advantage of.

We should stop feeling guilty for appropriately saying “no.” Sometimes, we are enabling irresponsibility of others and that is not helpful. Fear that is rooted in a desire for others to love, appreciate, or need us, can lead us to rescue those who should experience their own consequences. That is called enabling—not a healthy type of help. When you set appropriate boundaries, it prevents resentment and forces others to take responsibility for their actions. When asked to violate a boundary, be empowered to take a stand with a polite “no.”

Doormats are generally people who are afraid to say “no” when they need to.  If this is you, recognizing why you are afraid can be a big step in overcoming this problem. It is usually fear. You must deal with the fear, which is almost always rooted in a need to be loved or please others. Instead, work on pleasing God, not man.

If it happens that someone does take advantage of you, we are not to retaliate. Being a doormat is weakness, but choosing forgiveness is strength. “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). God is always looking at the heart. Thus, if we help someone out of a pure motive to help, that is a good thing. But when we do it because we feel pressured, fearful or need to please, that is problematic.

The biggest lesson my husband taught our son during that event of being taken advantage of was to be gracious. When he opened his mouth to speak Spanish, the salesperson knew what he had done. There was no need to rub it in or be rude back. If you are someone who easily gives in to others and then feels bad that you did, be gracious. Find a coach or mentor who can give you honest feedback and help you stop this pattern. Continue to help others, but do so from a motive of love, not pleasing or feeling pressured.

How to respond if someone takes advantage of you

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