You teach people how to treat you by setting clear boundaries, defining your expectations, expressing emotions empathetically, and exiting situations you find unacceptable.
Teaching people how you want to be treated starts with yourself. You may need to first define what works and doesn’t work for you. Then, you can be transparent with others.
Teaching others about what you want doesn’t guarantee they’ll follow suit, though. So, it may also be important to learn how to let go of things you cannot control.
Teaching people how to treat you is a process that involves introducing them to “what is acceptable and unacceptable. It is knowing what we need and want, and being able to communicate it effectively to others,” says Michael Morgan, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist in Sandy, Utah.
Here are specific tips to teach others how to treat you:
“To teach people how to treat you, you do not begin with them, you begin with yourself,” says Josephine Wiseheart, MS, a psychotherapist in Miami. At the end of the day, you need to be clear on what you need and want from others, so you can be consistent with your requests.
Also, self-respect helps you recognize how you deserve to be treated by other people.
“The way you believe about and treat yourself sets the standard for others on how you demand to be treated,” says Morgan. “People learn how to treat you based on what you accept from them.”
Teaching others how to treat you starts with self-awareness, according to Wiseheart. She suggests asking yourself these questions:
- How do I treat myself?
- What do I value?
- What do I want?
- What do I think I deserve?
Wiseheart regularly tells her clients to “be the pebble.” In other words, “to create even a seemingly small amount of change will ripple out and create more change.”
People don’t know how you want to be treated.
“In order for people in a relationship to be on the same page, they need to have access to the same instruction manual,” says Wiseheart, who calls this manual the “rules of engagement.”
Wiseheart suggests having an equivalent of a business meeting to discuss the “rules” of your relationship. You may want to find a time when everyone is in good spirits and willing to elaborate on this topic. Doing this in the middle of an argument might be counterproductive.
Some rules may include:
- no name calling
- no yelling
- actively listening to one another
- giving the other person the benefit of the doubt
- taking pauses if a conversation is getting out of hand
Setting your rules also implies setting boundaries when these rules aren’t respected.
“Rather than scream ‘you never listen to me,’ it is more helpful to express ‘I feel alone right now and I would be very grateful if I could have your undivided attention for 10 minutes,’” says Morgan.
In other words, you teach people how to treat you when you can identify a need and then express it in a clear and comprehensible way, added Morgan. That’s why using the silent treatment, for example, doesn’t fit here.
“If we use pouting, desperation, or even abuse, people do not learn how we want to be treated,” he says. “All they hear is pouting, desperation, and screaming. The message does not get across.”
“Be the person you want other people to be,” says Wiseheart. That is, treat others the way you want them to treat you, which is reminiscent of the Golden Rule and different from treating people how they treat you.
“If you want your children to be kind to you, be kind to them; if you want your sweetheart to be romantic and affectionate with you, be that way with them,” she adds.
Reinforcement simply means expressing appreciation when the other person makes the effort to change their behavior, Wiseheart says. For instance, you might say: “I appreciate that you listened to me so intently yesterday.”
“Reinforce [behaviors you like] at the time, 5 minutes later, 10 minutes later, an hour later, a day later, 10 days later,” she says. “You cannot reinforce a positive behavior enough.”
“Find a role model of someone who demands respect and appears to have a strong sense of worth,” advises Morgan.
This person might be a parent, peer, friend, teacher, coach, therapist, mentor, or even a well-known celebrity, he suggested.
“The important component of a role model is that they are emulating the desired beliefs and behaviors that you would like to adopt or integrate.”
“You don’t teach people how to treat you in a day, or a week, or a month,” says Wiseheart. “It probably takes many months at a minimum to really get someone to treat you the way that you want to be treated.”
Sometimes, people may be too caught up in being rigid and defending their own reality to try to act differently, she says.
When you start clarifying what you will and won’t tolerate, there’s also a chance some people won’t stick around, adds Wiseheart. “At that point, you need to ask yourself what’s in your best interest — a relationship at the cost of you, or making room for the future relationships that you deserve?”