“Nothing happens”, “do not worry, everything is fine”, “I understand you, we let it go”… These and other types of responses give shape to the doormat effect, to that exhausting situation in which a person forgives and gives up, lowers the face and allows to be violated almost repeatedly. Little by little, self-esteem is so touched and trampled that it runs the risk of leading to situations of great helplessness.
Let’s face it, we live in a society where forgiveness is assumed to be that virtue we should practice every day. This dimension is associated with human magnanimity, and is inspired in turn by those spiritual and religious currents that so often condition us. However, for our psychological well-being it is necessary to understand that there are limits and exceptions.
Not everything is subject to forgiveness. Moreover, forgiveness will always be adequate when there is something of value, something that generates benefits for both parties. Sometimes, it is necessary to take this step to let go of a stage and start a new one free of a weight that we were missing momentum. Sometimes, we give in and forgive because the person matters to us, because the lived grievance is not especially harmful and we assume that we will be able to live with it.
Forgiveness and the act of forgiving are sometimes part of a therapeutic process, we have it clear. However, in other cases it is necessary to know how to ponder. There are specific circumstances in which it would not be advisable or acceptable to yield. An example of this is when we coexist or have a narcissistic personality close to us, someone who, conscious of their actions, will be forgiven again and again, will further expand their attack and constant violation.
“To err is human. Forgiving is divine, but repeating the same mistake again and again is stupid.”
-Cardenal Jaime Sin-
The doormat effect, what does it consist of?
The doormat effect has been a subject of study in the field of personality psychology for some years. Thus, works such as those carried out by psychologists Lee Louchies and Ernest J. Finkel, from Northwestern University (Illinois, United States), point out something important to consider.
The moment a person begins to forgive repeatedly, self-esteem and self-concept are impaired.
This dynamic occurs very frequently in two very specific areas: in affective relationships and the world of work. We forgive our partners again and again because there is an emotional component. We give in with our bosses and coworkers because we need to maintain our position in that organization.
On the other hand, there is an obvious fact. They have educated us to think that forgiveness is a good thing. We also assume that by doing so, we will receive some benefit (internal peace, a greater connection or respectability towards the other). In addition, if we review the scientific literature we will see that there are many studies that show us the benefits of this act. It helps us to solve conflicts and even, in some cases, to overcome traumatic events.
In recent years, however, we have already begun to see works that address the negative effect of forgiveness. The doormat effect is one of those consequences and it is worth knowing what it consists of.
Unconditional forgiveness as power imbalance
The doormat effect does not appear when we forgive someone occasionally or punctually. It appears when we do it again and again. The wear is progressive and very deep in every way. Thus, experts in this field, such as Dr. James McNulty, professor of psychology at the University of Florida, point out the following.
Repeated forgiveness is the result of an imbalance of power. It occurs between those people where one exercises a position of authority and the other of dependence. The first is aware of its effect and knows that its actions will have no consequences. Therefore, it is reiterated in its harmful behaviors.
On the other hand, the other person is bound by feelings and dependence. He is afraid to set limits, he is afraid to stay alone and lose that bond. Therefore, he continues to practice unconditional forgiveness by letting that person “walk” on it.
The kiss of the porcupines
“The kiss of the porcupines” is an interesting metaphor enunciated by Dr. Frank Fincham. According to this idea, people are sometimes so in need of closeness, support and intimacy, we accept to be hurt, disappointed and even betrayed by the closest people.
Therefore, this reality would be behind the doormat effect. Moreover, sometimes, the profile of that porcupine is that of a narcissist. Someone who hurts us again and again consciously because he knows we will not complain or turn away. Because the porcupines hug each other to stay warm, and each time they get closer to us until they leave spikes attached to our skin.
The doormat effect can lead to situations of great psychological wear, there where derive in depression, anxiety disorders, etc. In the end we will be very weak and it is therefore highly necessary that we generate courageous and firm responses and behaviors in favor of our well-being.