As a parent, I am always mindful of my expectations of my kids’ behavior.
Am I consistent? Do I explain to them well enough what I believe is acceptable and what is not? Can I reprimand them for a behavior if it’s not what I have already taught them I will not tolerate?
Or, have I inadvertently supported the evolution of this behavior because I have not given them clear guidance on my own expectations? Do they know what I will and will not tolerate before the act?
Be careful what you tolerate—you are teaching people how to treat you. A good friend once said this to me and it’s always stuck. For me, it’s more than a quote—it’s a goddamn right of passage. It’s a crucial commandment, a critical life lesson, the holy grail of managing expectations and avoiding disappointments.
That guy that keeps you on the subs bench because he knows you are so desperate for a place on the pitch, the one who consistently lets you down, the one who calls when he wants to, the one who picks and chooses when and if he will reply to your messages, the one who keeps you hanging on for dear life because he knows you will always, always come back—you taught him that his behavior was acceptable. You taught him that this behavior was tolerable. You taught him that your love and loyalty and need was enough to keep you sitting in the wings—every time you responded to that 2 a.m. message, accepted his pitiful apology, or gave him that second, third, and fourth chance.
Your colleague who always takes credit for your work, your teacher who regularly shames you in front of the class, your parent who consistently belittles your choices, your boss who’s overlooked you for the promotion for the third year running—you taught them that this was okay. You accepted this behavior. You broke your own heart.
When we use words like always, consistently, and regularly, we are referring to a repeating behavior, a rolling standard, a repetitive theme. We are acknowledging that these episodes are plural—not the first—they will happen again. A psychologically damning cycle that has only one continuous assailant—you.
In these types of situations, the victim must become their own liberator.
I am not ashamed to say that I have often tolerated where I should not have and compromised my dignity. Maybe I have done this out of a perceived loyalty, a misguided belief that they would eventually acknowledge the error in their ways and adjust these behaviors because they believe I am worth it—because I have value. I have held a deep belief that these people would eventually see my value, my worth; they’d have a lightbulb moment and retract.
They don’t. They will not. Because I have not; I did not.
It wasn’t until I dug deep and discovered that this cycle of cause and effect was manufactured by me that I realised, not only had I tolerated disrespect, I had given them permission to deliver it directly to my door, over and over again.
In teaching people how to treat you, you are teaching them your boundaries, your level of self-worth, your values, what needs your consent, and what meets your approval. You are giving them a blueprint of your expectations. You are setting out your stall; you are controlling what is acceptable and what is not.
If you are clear and consistent in communicating this, people will either treat you properly or expose their inability to do so—allowing you to then be left with a decision. Stay and continue to tolerate, or walk away and demand better.
In accepting our own part in these repetitive situations, we are giving ourselves a chance to break the cycle and restore our self-respect. To grow stronger. To mentally acknowledge what’s occurring, our tolerance needs to be lifted or reduced in some cases to have real awareness. This awareness will give us a clear view of someone’s true character and intentions.
If you have clearly explained to someone that a certain behavior is not acceptable to you, you are giving them a choice to act accordingly. Alongside this, you are giving yourself a clear insight into their levels of respect, care, and consideration for you.
Sometimes, it’s us—ourselves—that try and break our own levels of tolerance; sometimes our heart overrules our head, our feelings cloud our judgement, and we become the ones we need to challenge. Limiting beliefs, self-doubt, negativity. If we tolerate these in ourselves, we are more likely to tolerate them from others.
You are what you tolerate.
So, let’s start taking some personal responsibility for this.
In being crystal clear on what we expect, in communicating our values, we clearly demonstrate how we wish to be treated. Then we must enforce this with action—cutting off the people that don’t care enough to respect us, walking away from situations we believe are damaging, acknowledging that if we have clearly explained to someone our expectations and they purposely chose to stomp all over them. Knowing that they are simply not your people.
Do not tolerate it; let’s stop being martyrs to our own causes.