Doormats Anonymous: A 3-Step Plan for Standing Up for Yourself
How to Leave the ORC Road and Find the TAO
If you see yourself anywhere on the ORC chart, don't despair. Many people who wind up here believe the only alternative to groveling niceness is aggressive dominance. But there's another path, one that never needs to intersect with the ORC road. I call it TAO, which is Chinese for "the way," and also stands for transparent, authentic, and open.
This way of relating, which I teach all my clients, is based on honestly assessing what's happening both around us and within us, expressing our truth as authentically as possible, and staying open to feedback without abandoning our own perspective. And it happens to be exactly what Tina was able to achieve with Nu Nu—thanks to dog behaviorist Cesar Millan. Tina and Nu Nu were featured in the original episode of Millan's TV show, Dog Whisperer. (I keep a DVD of the episode to show people like Yvette, Janae, and Cynthia.) Here's how it went down: As the episode begins, Millan learns that despite Tina's desire to live a normal life with normal human contact, whenever anyone comes near Tina, Nu Nu does his level best to kill them. So Millan sits next to Tina, puts his arm around her shoulders, and calmly lets Nu Nu go ballistic. Tina tenses up as though she may spontaneously implode, but Millan simply holds Nu Nu so he can't attack and waits for the fit to pass. Which it does.
Astonishingly, that's all it takes to move from the nightmarish ORC road to the TAO of healthy relationships. Three steps: 1. Figure out what you really want to do. 2. Do it. 3. If someone pulls a Nu Nu, wait it out.
Now, if Nu Nu had been a Rottweiler, or Tony Soprano, it would have taken more than Cesar Millan to hold him while he raged. If you think moving into TAO behavior will cause someone you know to become truly dangerous, you need to take appropriate measures. But if all you have to fear is snottiness or angry backlash, you can handle it.
For example, Yvette asked for a meeting with her supervisor and her unethical coworker, Fred. She calmly described how Fred had co-opted her ideas and produced an e-mail trail to back up her claims. Fred threw a fit, accusing Yvette of being dishonest and uncooperative. Yvette stayed transparent, authentic, and open, matter-of-factly restating her point and asking him to show evidence of his position. Having no truth to turn to, Fred ran out of gas. In fact, Yvette's behavior scared him so badly, he started stealing from other people instead.
Janae realized that while she was afraid to let her daughter leave home, she also resented Emily for not growing up. I asked her to explain exactly this to Emily. Janae did—then braced for a Nu Nu. To her surprise, Emily thought for a moment, then said, "That sounds fair, but you'll have to remind me to clean up—I'm sort of a slob." Later Janae jubilantly told me, "She wanted to be TAO all along!"
Cynthia's story wasn't such a fairy tale. When she asked Rob to be as kind and supportive toward her as she was toward him, he went into a rant about why this was impossible and irrational. She held her ground. "Well," said Rob, "I guess we'd better call the whole thing off." This move was meant to frighten Cynthia into obedience. Instead it showed her that Rob wasn't the gallant prince she'd pretended he was. As she continued to be transparent, authentic, and open, Rob's Nu Nu fits grew so wearying that Cynthia broke off the engagement herself.
Walking the High Road
Years after watching Nu Nu and Tina model ORC behavior, then move to the TAO of genuine connection, I saw another episode of Dog Whisperer in which Tina was working at Cesar Millan's Dog Psychology Center. When a muscular pit bull began to tangle with another dog, Tina calmly stepped in, pulled away the pit bull (which nearly outweighed her), and held it gently but firmly until it exhausted itself and relaxed. Then she continued walking with the pit bull and several other dogs. As for Nu Nu, he had become as affectionate and joyful as he'd once been demonic. Dog and human walked the high road together, showing the rest of us how it's done.
Martha Beck's latest book is Finding Your Way in a Wild New World (Free Press).
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