This article contains spoilers for the Shuffle! anime.
I’m a private pilot in training, so I have to know what happens when a no-fly zone is violated. When you violate a no-fly zone, a pair of big, scary, grey fighter jets will fly up alongside your plane and tell you to vector out of the airspace or you will be shot down.
You need your own no-fly zones.
People will treat you how you allow them to treat you. That is to say, based on their personality, people will treat you well or treat you poorly based on signals from you. You teach people how to treat you, based on your actions and how you carry yourself.
People with low self-esteem are prone to being taken advantage of and treated poorly by abusive people because they don’t have a strong sense of self, and have poorly-defined, weakly-enforced personal boundaries as a result. And the low self-esteem is a one-two punch, as it makes people desperate for acceptance and validation, which makes it harder to leave abusive environments, friendships, and relationships.
From there, it’s a downward spiral, as the negative environment drains the person stuck in it of their mental and emotional energy, usually leading to disastrous results if they don’t manage to pull themselves out before it’s too late.
People who treat you poorly rarely just stop out of their own volition. Again: You teach people how to treat you. And by continuing to inhabit abusive environments and associate with abusive people, you’re teaching those people that it’s okay to leech off of your mental and emotional energy.
This is not a chicken-and-egg scenario for low-self-esteem people, either. It’s not a matter of “I can’t establish boundaries because I have low self-esteem,” or “I have to build my self-esteem before I can establish boundaries.” Your self-esteem is built off of your sense of self, and your sense of self gets eroded when you spend time in environments or with people who break you down.
Kaede Fuyou’s arc from the Shuffle! anime provides a good example of what happens when someone doesn’t set boundaries, and instead chooses to stay in an emotionally draining environment for validation and acceptance.
Kaede’s mom and protagonist Rin’s parents were killed in an accident while travelling, a happenstance that Rin took blame for, causing Kaede to wish him dead. After finding out the truth, however, she’s wracked with guilt over wishing Rin dead and begins living with him as a housewife in everything but name.
When Rin starts spending more time with other women, however, she lacks the sense of self to make her desires clear, and instead suffers in silence as Rin spends more time away. This eventually culminates in her lashing out when Rin brings his love interest to the home he and Kaede share together.
Rin wasn’t abusive to Kaede, but he did take advantage of her by allowing her to continue playing housewife for him, even as he sought a girlfriend elsewhere. Neither he nor she wanted to have the difficult conversation to let her begin to move past her guilt.
Not only did it lead to an awkward home situation, it wore Kaede down bit by bit. Kaede was so guilty and down on herself over having blamed Rin for her mother’s death that she saw her servitude to him as her way to atone, and that, even though she loved Rin, she didn’t deserve happiness.
Her poor sense of self caused a downward spiral that kept her in a situation and environment that was hurting her. That culminated in an explosion that hurt her, Rin, and Rin’s love interest, an event she immediately regretted and spent much time trying to make up for.
You must have enough self-respect to disengage from people and environments that dump on you. And the thing is: That works in reverse. Disengaging from those people and environments will make you respect yourself more, because as it becomes a habit, you’ll start to gravitate more toward environments that build you up. You’ll find yourself interacting with higher-quality people, too. People who treat other people badly just because they can tend to not have very much to offer in the way of valuable, meaningful interaction or support.
Similarly, higher-quality people invariably have boundaries and hold fast to them. They don’t let people leech their mental and emotional energy, because as soon as someone violates the no-fly zone of their personal boundaries (which is to say, as soon as someone behaves in a way they won’t tolerate), that person is given a chance to redirect, and then is shot down if that behaviour continues.
Be judicious about how you spend your time and who you spend it with. Aggressively curate your environments and relationships. Don’t let people power themselves off of draining your emotional and mental energy just because they occasionally give you some small degree of validation or acceptance.