You Have To Teach People How To Treat You

A number of people have heard this popular saying:


You have to teach people how to treat you.”


If you’re a woman, it’s likely that you’ve heard this statement in relation to a man.


…It could be a man you’re dating, want to date, used to date, or even one you’re married to. (Of course, this saying is not at all gender or sex specific; its universal applicability is what makes it so appealing.)


You have to teach people how to treat you.”


The conclusions it prompts are two-fold. First, this saying is sensible. It rings as an accurate, useful, and necessary mantra by which any person can live peacefully, and with dignity, in relation to another person.


You have to teach people how to treat you.”


Second, it’s direct. It leaves no room to place responsibility for one’s happiness in another person’s hands. It intimates that we alone are responsible for our own happiness (bearing the simultaneous message that if we’re not happy, it’s our fault, and no one else’s. This idea may be sound. It’s just not without its limitations. More on that later.)


In practice though, these conclusions may not be free from confusions.


The saying does make sense. It is direct. However, it’s often mistaken in extent (i.e. I think we take it way too far…particularly in heterosexual relationships). In my view…



You have to teach people how to treat you.”




  • Sharing what makes you laugh (and offering open, unfretful invitations to join in)
  • Communicating what titillates you (with honesty and courage)
  • Revealing what makes you cry (as vulnerably and consistently as possible)
  • Conveying what pisses you off (and how to avoid those minor triggers)
  • Saying what prompts your insecurities, anxieties, and nervousness (and ways to eliminate them, or at least assuage them, when they pulsate)
  • Relaying your major triggers for anger (and ways to listen and share, or provide some distance, as they pass through you)
  • Expressing when you feel loneliest (and what to do to remove that stasis, or, let it stand for as long as it needs to)
  • Offering your views about social, cultural, political, or religious ideas and projects that move you (and that you move and work for)



All of these lessons rely on you knowing yourself reasonably well. Caution: They do not unilaterally depend on direct communication. That means: You don’t have to constantly talk about these things with each person you are in relationship with. Some of these lessons are absorbed just by paying attention (this happens with people who care about you a lot…although, each lesson won’t automatically or comprehensively be understood, even by the most devoted and attentive partner. Such automaticity and comprehension takes a lot of time, practice, devotion, persistence, consistency, and patience….all of which are given and received in Supreme Love.). That said, in my view…



You have to teach people how to treat you.”



Does NOT mean:


A) Explaining how to show basic respect for a person’s body and physical space

    • e.g. Teaching people how to treat you does NOT mean explaining why you don’t want to be grabbed, poked, pinched, kissed, tickled, held down, hugged too long, or cornered in a room.

B) Teaching manners that reflect kindness, or common courtesy, in the midst of a tragedy

    • e.g.Teaching people how to treat you does NOT mean clarifying why you can’t take time to call or hang out while taking care of a sick or dying family member.

C) Teaching manners that reflect kindness, or common courtesy, in the midst of everyday life

    • e.g.Teaching people how to treat you does NOT mean defending yourself as “not a prude” or “drama queen” because you won’t text photos of yourself to strangers.

D) Preaching a litany of reasonable considerations for time and possessions

    • e.g.Teaching people how to treat you does NOT mean defining how to be punctual or clean or thoughtful about other people’s stuff.

E. Explaining ways of thinking and behaving that are not violent, misogynistic, and selfish

    • e.g.Teaching people how to treat you does NOT mean arguing about why this isn’t funny and how it hurts the souls and bodies of women and men everywhere.


In general, these lessons are ones that adults need to learn on their own, not on the sweat off your back, or on the strength of an intimate partner relationship with you. I say this for a few reasons (and it’s not because I don’t think people are, in general, worth a great deal of time and effort…I actually think people are worth the changes we go through to integrate them into our lives or become integrated into their lives).


Rather, I’m outlining these lessons because:


1) Women, in general, tend to be pseudo-nurturers. I say “pseudo” because nurturing is predominantly a masculine trait. Many of us tend to give disproportionately to what we receive; this makes it easy, in our predominantly patriarchal society, for a lot of us to be grossly taken advantage of socially, emotionally, sexually, physically, and financially.


2) Women are often told (both explicitly and implicitly) that if we don’t put up with a bit of disrespect and disregard (while we’re teaching men how to treat us), we’ll be alone, unchosen, and untied. Translation: unwanted.


Bonnie’s digest this message wholeheartedly.


So, I’m outlining these lessons as examples of what, “You have to teach people how to treat you” does NOT mean.


I want to reconfigure what’s been touted as reasonable and direct. I want to unveil some of the tricks of supremacist patriarchal structures in the lives of women. My hope is that this clarity makes some small and meaningful contributions to women’s ideas about personal freedom.


Teaching people how to treat you, as it’s currently and covertly understood in our society, can amount to abuse. It can mean cordoning yourself for weeks, months, or even years, in an unhealthy and counterproductive dynamic. Teaching people how to treat you can get twisted into proving a point (you can get and keep a man), elevating your status in the eyes of one or multiple others (you’re a keeper, a real team player), and making evident a desirable strength (you’re not a quitter, not high maintenance, you’re not too much, you’re patient, reasonable, and easy). When done like this, teaching people how to treat you simultaneously stunts your growth and whoever you’re relating to. It creates a cycle of codependency, degradation, and falsity that, in effect, teaches people how NOT to treat you. It teaches people that you are without healthy boundaries, uncertain about your worth, unclear about what you want, and easily disadvantaged…even erased.


Supreme Love for Self precludes and disables such dynamics. Cultivating Supreme Love means radically, powerfully, and inclusively liking and loving yourself so that teaching people how to treat you is a pleasure, not a chore. Be in touch and I’ll show you how.





Jeanine Staples is Associate Professor of Literacy and Language & African American Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. Her book, The Revelations of Asher: Toward Supreme Love in Self, is an endarkened, feminist, new literacies event (Peter Lang, spring 2016). In it, she explores Black women’s terror in love. She produces research-based courses and methodologies that enable marginalized girls and women to realize internal revelations that fuel external revolutions.

Dr. Staples’ next book details the evolution of her acclaimed undergraduate course, The Philadelphia Urban Seminar. In it, she explores Supreme Love in schools. She shows how she generates curriculum and methodologies that incite anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-ableist pedagogical stances among teachers interested in urban education and equity for all people in schools and society.


Click here to join the Supreme Love Project group to ask Jeanine questions and comment on the blog.