We Teach People How To Treat Us…John Page Burton

Whenever we engage in any type of human interaction, we are either directly or subconsciously teaching that person how to treat us. We communicate these messages to our spouse, children, friends, employers, business partners, clients and oftentimes even our next door neighbors. In each interaction, we are setting the tone for how we expect to be treated and we are also defining our boundaries. (Or lack of them) This explains why some of us are willing to draw the line in the sand at the first sign of disrespect or mistreatment, while countless other people allow themselves to be physically and emotionally abused. We are also setting an example that our children are likely to follow. For example, if mom allows dad to call her names or strike her, the son may assume that this is normal behavior between a man and a women. Later in life, he may model this same behavior with his wife. If on the other hand, the son observes the police taking his dad away in handcuffs, he may very well internalize the message that violence against women is not tolerated. Later in life, when disagreements with his wife arise, he is more than likely to engage with her in a non violent manner.

Here are 5 of the most common areas in which we have the opportunity to establish our ground rules of how we expect to be treated.

  • Verbal abuse. Do we allow ourselves to be the brunt of jokes, the target of cut downs, put downs or even religious, sexual or racially insensitive comments? When they occur do we laugh, cry, just shrug it off or do we put our foot down and take a strong stand against the person who is verbally abusive? Our response to someone’s verbal abuse will either end it or accelerate it. Are we willing to use our voice and speak up when we know that something is inappropriate or do we prefer to remain silent?
  • Physical abuse. Physical abuse toward women and children has almost become an epidemic. When physical abuse takes place, are we willing to remove ourselves and our children from the danger or do we attempt to justify the perpetrators behavior? “He or she is under a great deal of stress” is never a reason to allow physical abuse to happen to yourself or your children. Justification is often used by people who are afraid to establish clear cut boundaries surrounding physical abuse.
  • Time. One of our most valuable assets is our time. We live in a fast paced world where each and every minute counts. Recently, a friend got quite upset with me. I had purchased two tickets to a sporting event and I offered one of them to him. We agreed that he would meet me at my house not later than 6:15pm, or sooner. He agreed. At 6:25 I made the decision to leave for the game which started at 7pm. (I later retrieved a voice mail at 6:40pm letting me know that he was at my house and he apologized for running “a little late”) I sold his ticket to a person standing in the ticket line and I enjoyed the game. My friend clearly understands the value that I place on punctuality and accountability.
  • Our personal appearance. Our physiology, our speech, our manner of dress and our personal hygiene speak very loudly to those around us. For example, I have a female client who is very bright and attractive. She is having a very difficult time embracing “middle age”. When she “goes out,” she dresses in provocative outfits that are more appropriate for someone in their mid 20’s. She takes great pride in the fact that men half her age still “hit on her”. However, during a recent coaching session she bemoaned the fact that she couldn’t seem to attract any successful men that were closer to her age. (Possibly because she reminds them of their daughters?) Does anyone else see the incongruent message she is sending? Conversely, I work with a wealthy, male client who is also struggling to embrace middle age. Over the past few years, he has undergone a significant amount of plastic surgery and has become addicted to body building. He believed that by changing his appearance he would become much more attractive to younger women. In one of our recent coaching sessions, he admitted that his ideal mate would be someone around his age who had an established career and who desired to travel the world. He complained that the younger women that he was now attracting were only interested in a “sugar daddy”. In both cases, my clients are actually moving away from what they truly desire, due to the incongruent messages they are sending.  
  • In the working world. The majority of us spend at least 40 hours per week in our work environment. Our work environment can provide us with a wealth of opportunities to teach people how to treat us. Do we allow our boss to take advantage of our time by routinely expecting us to put in extra time without extra compensation? Do they ask us to come in on a Saturday without giving us adequate notice? If so, do we speak up or are we afraid that if we say something we will lose our job? Do we set boundaries around what are acceptable and what are inappropriate conversation topics with co-workers? How do we react when a co-worker, manager or boss directs a sexual comment or innuendo in our direction? How do we dress at work? Do we dress in a casual, provocative, conservative or disheveled manner? Your style of dress will have a significant impact on how you are treated by both your superiors and subordinates. The way we behave in company related social settings goes a long way toward how we are treated by management and even our fellow co-workers. Do we cut loose at happy hour or do we adhere to the “2 drink maximum” rule? Were we the star of last year’s Christmas party or do we interact in a professional manner? In every work related interaction we are teaching people how to treat us.

These are five of the more common areas in life in which we will have the opportunity to teach people how to treat us. If you want to be seen as someone who is reliable, be consistent in keeping your agreements. If you enjoy being the “life of the party” it is important to recognize that some people may be leery about placing you in a role of responsibility. If you value your time, don’t allow people to waste it. If you are struggling to find your ideal relationship partner then become who you desire to attract. If you find yourself in a physical or verbally abusive relationship, LEAVE! Again, we teach people how to treat us! We can effectively do this by setting boundaries and using our voice to let others know when they have encroached upon these boundaries. There is nothing wrong with having high expectations for how we desire to be treated. The sooner we determine what our expectations are, the sooner we can begin living our most authentic life.

I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

18 thoughts on “We Teach People How To Treat Us…John Page Burton

  1. So I am grasping (interpreting) the overall concept of this article but I disagree with the language you are using at times. I resonate more with “we are sharing with others how to treat us.” Teaching other how to treat us implies that we are wanting to “control” another person’s behavior. Whenever we are formulating expectations of another person’s behavior, feelings, or beliefs then we are judging their path and process. Also when we have expectations of our own outcome, behavior, feelings; we are judging ourselves and not honoring the moment. This is a dangerous road. When we are formulating expectations, it seems we want to teach them the “right” way or “our” way of living or acting. Having expectations eliminates participating in the infinite spectrum of choices in any given moment. This is disempowering to have expectations on how others need to act when in front of us and could lead to stress and tension because we cannot every control another person or external variables. Having expectations about another person’s behavior or even our own sets us up to get entrapped into a rule based reality. We need to stop blaming others and playing a victim. This enters into the labyrinth of shoulds which may lead to guilt and disappointment. Learn to take your power back by taking responsibility to own your experience. Release the other to be themselves. If we open ourselves to the infinite array of choice in any given situation we can empower ourselves to be a co-creator. This empowerment will allow us to discern signals and situations and allow ourselves to be co-architects of our experience. We can share with others how we feel about a situation, conflict, conversation, event etc. We can choose to set and negotiate healthy boundaries with the other. We can choose how we want to respond to any given situation such as selling a ticket to a sporting event or leaving a friendship because it no longer resonates with us.

    I agree that it is important to negotiate healthy boundaries. But we can only control ourselves. We can share with others and choose how we respond. There may be consequences to how others treat us. But we cannot expect them to change. Take the focus off the other and focus on yourself. We have the responsibility to own our experience and to choose how we want to respond. This may mean to leave a relationship or a job if we feel it is not serving our highest good.
    After we own our experience and take responsibility we need to release the other person to be their own person. We need to release them to make their own choices and decisions. This may even mean for us to release them to feel offended. We do not know what is “best” for the other person. Even as a counselor we do not really know “what it appropriate, right, or wrong” for another person. We are not them.
    As long as we are approaching with respect and compassion we can speak our truth(share our feelings) and release the other to interpret our signals in their choosing. We cannot control how they respond, react, interpret, behave etc… we need to relinquish our control of the other.
    We can then move into gratitude. Thank the other for helping you learn a lesson. Develop gratitude for being able to experience and participate in the story.
    We can then surrender into love. Love yourself and love the other.
    Mantra : I apologize (ownership/responsibility), I forgive you (release), I thank you (gratitude), I love you


    • Thank you for your feedback. When I refer to “teaching people how to treat us” I am simply saying that how we respond to another persons actions or communications indicates to them how we expect to be treated in the future. For example, If I become physically violent with my spouse and she accepts the abuse she has just sent me a very clear message that It is fine with her if I continue to physically abuse her. If on the other hand she calls the police and has me arrested, she has just sent me a very clear message that she will not tolerate this behavior and I am now very clear on how NOT to treat her in the future if she chooses to stick around. We teach people how to treat us in every interaction. Cheers!


      • I am not resonant when you say “how we expect to be treated in the future” This implies a sense of control or judgment of another persons actions. The focus needs to be on the self. I agree that we have a choice in how we respond… but we need to release the other to choose how they will respond.


  2. It is important to be clear on how we are treating ourselves and how are responses influence others… but it is dangerous to assume that we can control how others treat us.. this implies a sense of control of another.. and also implies that we know what the other should be doing “should be treating us “good” or “right”. We do not really know what is good or right… the choice lies in the self….. and how we respond.. this also means relinquishing control of the toehr and relinquishing expectations of the other


  3. I resonate more with saying ” we share with others how to treat us” . This implies our responsibility to negotiate healthy boundaries.. while focusing on the self and our choices.. and releasing the other to be free to choose thier actions and to have their own feelings… This may be involving semantics… but the way we say thingis very important


  4. I acknowledge and think we are on the same page regarding owning our experience.. and recognizing choices.. and responding to events or situations by our choosing… but the other side of this is releasing the other to make their own choices.. and this means releasing any sense of expectations of how they “need” or “supposed to be have”


  5. we can be the co-architect of our experience and relationship… but it is dangerous to assume that we can expect the other to behave in a certain way… this dives into the arena of control issues.. which may produce many dsyfunctional symptoms
    … I am interested in your feedback.. thanks


  6. Saying it in the manner of “teaching other people how to treat us” is focusing on the other’s behavior and may influence one to develop expectations of how the other is supposed to act…… the focus needs to be on how the individual responds… the change they are looking for needs to occur within the self.. they need to focus on themselves rather than on an external object such as another person… I believe that phrasing this way may influence the perception of wanting to control the other persons behavior… and may lead to further dis-empowerment
    thank you for the conversation.. I look forward to more discussion


      • Setting healthy boundaries, in my perception, is focusing on the self and choosing how we will respond. The other can then recognize there may be consequences for behaving a certain way. We may share our feelings with them. If we do not resonate with their behavior we may continue to share our feelings and/ or leave the relationship if we continue to not find resonance. When we are focusing on the other and using language such as “bad behavior”, we are judging the other person and indicating that we “know” what “good” behavior looks like. Using language like this is dangerous because it enters the land of duality and ruled based realities. People then will fall into the pattern of “expecting” the other to be good or act in accordance to their rules of what it means to be a good partner. This falls back into trying to control the others behavior versus changing our own behavior and response. All in all, I am saying that I believe that it is healthy to focus on the self with looking for changes when we are not resonating with a situation or relationship. There is no such thing as “bad” behavior; it is just another way of acting. “Bad” and “good” are human concepts of duality which are judgments and promote a rule based and dis-empowering reality. Describing things in terms of good and bad is like answering true or false in a multiple choice universe. We do not have to agree with their behavior, or accept it, or resonate and we all-ways have the choice of ending the relationship or behave in a way of our choosing. We can share our feelings and ask the other person to “help” us not feel that way, Which is provoking the helper in them instead of telling them to change their behavior and act in accordance to your ‘rules’ of living.


  7. Pingback: We Teach People How To Treat Us…John Page Burton | John Page Burton

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