A doormat is a small rug placed just inside a doorway where people can wipe their dirty shoes before entering the house. The term doormat is also used figuratively to describe people who allow themselves to be (figuratively) walked on by others; that is, a doormat allows himself or herself to be abused, disparaged, or taken advantage of without mounting a defense. Since Jesus taught us to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) and to “do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27), was He telling us to be doormats?
Jesus was not teaching His disciples to be doormats. Rather, He was teaching that, to glorify God and show ourselves to be His true children, we need to be pure inside and out and to be as accommodating as possible for the sake of a lost world. To “turn the other cheek” does not mean we place ourselves or others in danger or that we ignore injustice. When we are the objects of personal slights (“slaps on the cheek”), our first response is not to retaliate in kind. Being a doormat is weakness, but choosing forgiveness is strength. “A person’s wisdom yields patience; / it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).
While we tend to focus on what we see, God is always looking at the heart (Jeremiah 17:10; John 2:25; 1 Samuel 16:7). Commands such as “do good to those who hate you” are geared toward the hearts of His followers. Jesus wants His love to be our primary motivation for everything we do (1 Corinthians 16:14; 1 Thessalonians 3:12). If we’re striving to do good to our enemies, we are refusing to allow vengeance or bitterness to take root in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15). God knows that our outward actions may not necessarily reflect our inward motivations, and it is those inward motivations that are most important to Him.
It may appear noble and Christlike when someone allows himself or herself to be used as a doormat, but there could also be a selfish reason behind it. For example, some people allow themselves to be doormats because of their own insecurities and low self-worth. They fear rejection, so they allow their personal boundaries to be violated by others in hopes they will be appreciated and loved. They are trying to gain validation by purchasing it with their compliance, in effect, expecting fallible people to tell them who they are instead of relying on God to do that. This rarely works, and the doormat feels worse than ever.
A Christian can avoid being a doormat by first understanding his or her true worth. Every human being is created in the image of God, to reflect His glory and beauty in unique ways (Genesis 1:27; 1 Corinthians 10:31). Superficial factors have no bearing on one’s value. If God does not count our inferior qualities against us, then we shouldn’t, either (Romans 8:31). Understanding that God has pronounced us righteous because of Jesus’ death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:21) should empower us to live in the freedom that brings. We are no one’s doormats; we are sons and daughters of the Most High God (Philippians 2:14–15; Ephesians 5:1).
Second, when a Christian practices being “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), the focus shifts from self to the Lord. Jesus, the true Servant of All, was not a doormat. He served freely but never allowed people to take from Him what He was not ready to give. At one point, crowds tried to throw Him over a cliff (Luke 4:29). Another time, they wanted to make Him king (John 6:15). Because neither was God’s plan for Him, Jesus merely slipped away. He refused to be their doormat.
Third, Christians can seek wise counsel about boundary-setting. The Bible is a book of boundaries and consequences. Healthy boundaries make for healthy relationships. The word no is powerful. We need to learn that enabling the sins or irresponsibility of others is not loving; it is self-indulgent. Selfish fear, rooted in a desire for others to love, appreciate, or need us, propels us to rescue those who should experience their own consequences. Wise boundaries free others to reap the consequences they have earned and, hopefully, to learn from those consequences. When asked to violate a boundary, an otherwise submissive person can be empowered to take a right stand with a polite “no.” God loves us, but He is not afraid to say “no” when He needs to. Doormats are generally people who are afraid to say “no” when they need to. Recognizing why we are afraid can be a big step in overcoming that handicap.
Early childhood trauma can entrap some people in an unhealthy submissive role, convincing them that their lot in life is to be a doormat. They may have witnessed a parent modeling the behavior of a doormat and assume they have no choice but to do likewise. Biblical counseling can help people who feel powerless to stop being doormats. They can learn to reject the lies Satan has embedded in their souls and renew their minds with God’s truth (Romans 12:1–2).