What do you do when someone is not treating you very well? A friendship, a relationship. Walk away? Return to the abuse and don’t treat them well? Avoid the situations where the poor treatment is occurring? Typically, we respond in all of these ways at one time or another.
Walking away from a situation is often recommended. If staying is likely to escalate matters, it is better to walk away. Other questions arise, however. How long do I stay away? Do I confide in others? Would confiding break trust and make the situation worse? Will things improve when I return? How do we go about improving the relationship?
I have never been a fan of fighting back when treated poorly – not as a regular course of action anyway. At times, we do need to protect ourselves and square off verbally with another who is not treating us well. But if anger and rage become a regular dynamic in our interactions with others – or in specific relationships, it is time to start asking questions. Is something setting me off? Is this relationship worth the hassle? What am I getting out of it? Is it still valuable to me? Fighting may define the space we inhabit in the relationship, but it does not do much to improve either person’s behavior or their enjoyment of one another.
Sticking around, trying to avoid situations that lead to poor treatment often feels like “walking on eggshells”. Sometimes we do this to appease a person so the abuse does not get worse. Other times we may avoid because the other’s behavior is an aberration that we can deal with temporarily. Avoidance can be a valuable short-term response to the relationship improving – or ending. It is not a healthy way to live long term, however.
When we avoid too long, we end up becoming passive and somewhat subversive. Resenting the other person. Feeling hostile, but keeping a smile on our face in front of them. Not expressing our actual feelings so that problems can be worked on.
There is also the assertive method: Let the person know when they are treating you poorly. Not in an angry or rageful response. Tell them simply – as emotionless and matter-of-fact as possible – that it does not feel good and that you would like to be treated better. Attempt to address the issues at hand while leaving the emotional baggage behind. If you get a response that says, “I don’t care how it makes you feel”, you will have other things to think about, such as the value of the relationship. Is the cost of the relationship – the aggravation, the poor treatment – worth the benefit, the attachment that you developed?
Reggie E., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.