She walked into my office looking a little nervous. This was her first counseling appointment, and I could tell she didn’t quite know what to expect.
“Should I lie down on the couch?” she said, with a nervous laugh.
I could tell she was only sort of joking.
“Well, you can,” I said. “It is pretty comfy. But most people just sit.”
She sat down in front of me, and began sharing her story. Life had not been easy for her by any stretch of the imagination. And through the challenges of her adult life, she had come into contact with some really cruel people. “People have just been so mean to me. I feel like I’ve been bullied my whole life.”
The truth of the matter is that her feelings were true. She felt bullied. She felt attacked. She felt like she had no control in the world around her. No one could tell her those feelings didn’t exist.
But as a counselor, my job isn’t merely to listen to feelings—it’s also to challenge behaviors. Through the course of therapy, I was able to explain to her that no matter who you are or what kind of people you are surrounded by, you teach people how they can and can’t treat you.
That phrase has ruffled some feathers in my counseling practice, and throughout my life in general. It’s a phrase that’s hard to hear—because it puts the responsibility back on us.
I meet so many people who cling to what I call the “victim mentality,” believing they have very little control in their lives. They feel controlled by the world around them, like little pieces on the board game of life, being moved around without their permission.
And the thing is, maybe that was once the case. Maybe there was a time in their childhood when they had little control, when life was unfair, when people were cruel and unloving. Maybe there was darkness and fear; confusion and pain; abandonment and insecurities. Sometimes, life is hard. And sometimes, we are the victim.
But hear me on this: being a victim once, twice, or more doesn’t mean we’re victims for life.
There comes a pivotal time in our adult life that we have to say no to the lie that we are a victim. You see, we are in our most vulnerable place when we feel like we have no control, because that is when we allow ourselves to be controlled. When we surrender to the actions, decisions, and behaviors of others—we let them take the reins of our lives and lead us wherever they please.
Being healthy individuals means that we realize that we have some (although not total) God-given ability to control our lives, our decisions and even our relationships. We can’t control the behaviors of others, but we can always control how we respond to those behaviors, how we interpret those behaviors, and how we allow those behaviors to impact (or not impact) our lives.
We teach people how they can and can’t treat us based on what we allow them to do. Your actions and beliefs about yourself speak so much to the world around you about how they can or cannot treat you. What you will and won’t allow.
You have the ability to walk away when someone is speaking to you cruelly.
You have the choice to reject the lies that are spoken about you and to see them for what they really are.
You have the power to recognize unhealthy patterns of behavior in a relationship and distance yourself from those people.
You have the freedom to say no to doing something that is not in your best interest.
You have the wisdom to define yourself by who God has made you to be not by the things people say, think, or believe about you.
You owe it to yourself to respect and take care yourself as much as God loves you. You are called to love yourself in order to be freed to truly love the people around you.
Teaching people how to treat you begins with what you believe about yourself. You can teach yourself to believe good things, because of a God who believes good things about you. Because of a God who saw that you were worth everything. Because of a God who gave His very life just so that you could live, and breathe and move.
So live, breathe, and move in a way that shows people that you are His beloved, and for that, you are worth being treated well.
Teach people how they can and can’t treat you. And teach them well.
This article was originally published on Truelovedates.com
Debra is a Licensed Professional Counselor, relationship expert, speaker and author of several books, including True Love Dates. Debra is also the creator of the popular relationship advice blog TrueLoveDates.com, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.