Author Archives: Alison

Why saying “no” can be good.

"Gandhi" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Gandhi” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Why do some people agonize over saying no?

Personality Development

Often people cannot say no because they dread disappointing others. As you grow up, you develop different parts of the personality to help you survive and thrive in your given circumstances. To win the love or acceptance you desire or to avoid negative criticism or worse, you end up emphasizing certain traits, such as being responsible, smart, or accommodating. Your “personality” then becomes formed by your primary personality traits.*

Accommodating Personality

Accommodating people learn early on that they thrive best by being agreeable and compliant. Their desire to please others dates back to not wanting to disappoint the people they were dependent on for security and love. When this desire to accommodate becomes excessive, the thought of saying no becomes tinged with a feeling of dread.

As an adult, the fear of saying no is not always reasonable or helpful. But the neural-circuitry developed in your brain in childhood still says, “Don’t disappoint or you’ll have to pay for it.” “If you say no, arguments will ensue, affection will be withdrawn, etc.” Or “If you don’t make her happy, she will be sad and she is too fragile to handle sadness.” That brain circuitry lingers on until you change and replace it.

How to say no, and become more whole

To avoid resentment and depleting your energy, you have to be able to say no to things you don’t have the time or desire to do. When you can be candid about your needs and desires without feeling dread, you will feel more whole and confident. Others will respect and enjoy you more because they will know that no means no, and yes means yes.

1. The first step is to realize that some emotions are habits that are no longer in your best interest.

2. The second step is to practice saying no peacefully, firmly, and confidently, that is, in a neutral, kind way, but without fear or weakness. Tone of voice is more important than the actual words.

3. The third step is to give an honest reason without being overly-apologetic. Don’t sound guilty or embarrassed to say no. And don’t give a litany of excuses. Simple and short is best.

Example:

You just got home from work, exhausted, and your partner asks you to clean the garage.

I might have time this weekend. Right now I’m exhausted and would like to relax and enjoy being home.

Or

I’ve been working a lot. I really don’t like that kind of work. We need to hire someone to do that, or let’s do it together.

Example:

Your boyfriend/girlfriend asks you to drive him/her to the airport when you have other plans.

I’d love to, but I already made plans to play soccer/finish a work project. Sorry.

Example:

Your friend wants you to go out tonight, but you don’t feel like it.

I’d love to see you but I am just not in the mood to go out tonight. Let’s do it another time. Have fun without me.

Example:

An acquaintance wants you to volunteer for some good cause or to donate money.

Sorry I can’t. I have too many other obligations.

Or

That sounds like a great cause, but we have already donated to other organizations and can’t extend ourselves anymore.

Note that there are circumstances where a clear, emphatic No without any explanation is appropriate, as for example, when there is a threat to you or those close to you, such as in dangerous or peer-pressure situations.

Once people who have trouble saying no realize how easy it is, they will no longer agonize about it. Moreover, people have more respect for those whose desire to please is reasonable and moderate, rather than extreme and self-defeating. When people know that you can say no, they will truly appreciate it when you say yes.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

*See Dr. Hal Stone and Dr. Sidra Stone’s Theory of Selves.

Read “Overfunctioning and underfunctioning: ‘If I don’t take care of things, nothing will ever get done.’”

Read “Setting Boundaries.”

Read “Too Responsible to Enjoy.”

How to Handle a Breakup:
12 Keys—What to do and what not to do.

Relationship break ups can be extremely painful because of the feelings of rejection, loneliness, fear of the unknown, and even be a loss of your sense of self. How you feel after a breakup depends on the relationship and the breakup itself. There may have been an unexpected event, or a gradual drifting apart.

The best way forward is pretty much the same regardless of how difficult the breakup was and whether or not you hope to get back together. This video illustrates 12 reminders to help you move from being angry and grief-stricken to feeling whole again.

The most effective way to deal with an ex is with an attitude of respect and self-respect. Whether or not you are able to restore the relationship, you will feel better about yourself if you can retain your composure and make your life more whole and fulfilling.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Making Assumptions: “He must hate me.”

"Question"—Einstein by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Question”—Einstein by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

Assumptions are the termites of relationship.

~Henry Winkler

When someone seems cold toward you, don’t assume the worst. It’s a pity to allow a misunderstanding to occur or to simply write someone off without knowing what’s really going on.

Instead take a moment to communicate clearly and without blame. Try to get to the bottom of the interaction in a kind and rational way.

“You seem distant/angry/upset. Is something wrong?”

That simple question asked neutrally, with concern, and without malice can eliminate misunderstanding and hard feelings.

There are many possible reasons for someone to be cold, distant or rude, including the following:

1. They might just have an impersonal personality – a defense mechanism.
2. They might have something on their mind, such as financial difficulties or marital problems.
3. They might really feel offended or threatened.
4. They might not like you.

Soliciting an answer will help clarify the matter, one way or the other. In the former two cases, it may be beneficial for the person to know that his or her energy has a negative effective on others. You will certainly know not to take things personally.

In the latter two cases, your question might open up more candid and productive conversation. If not, at least the negative energy will lose some of its power over you when its cause becomes less of a mystery.

Several years ago, I was getting a bid for some work from an acquaintance who seemed unusually cold to the point of rudeness. I was put off by his behavior and planned not to hire him. But I thought the right thing to do was to call him and find out what was going on.

I said, “You didn’t seem your normal warm self. Is everything all right? Have I offended you?”

To my surprise, he laughed nervously and said that he had been told that in the past he was too familiar and relaxed on the job and needed to be more “professional,” which he took to mean being serious—very serious.

What a relief that I checked out my assumption before taking his “professional” demeanor at face value.

We never look beyond our assumptions and what’s worse, we have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves.

~Muriel Barbery

by Alison Pouslen, PhD

Read “Resentment.”

Read “Compassionate Confrontation: ‘He said he’d spend more time with me, but has not followed through.”

Intimacy vs. Agreement:
“I better not disagree with his point of view, or he’ll get upset.”

"First Encounter" by Mimi Stuart ©  Live the Life you Desire

“First Encounter” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Guessing game: Cycle of fusion

People often mistake intimacy with a feeling of closeness and “being one” that comes from all-encompassing agreement and approval, similar to the feeling of falling in love. So in their quest for intimacy, they will anticipate the other person’s response to decide whether to avoid saying something controversial or to show a new side of themselves. If they foresee disapproval, they will screen themselves and limit their expression to what’s tried and true between them. Or they will pressure the other person into agreeing with them.

Unfortunately, too much self-screening and manipulation start the cycle of emotional fusion (co-dependence) and lead away from growth and intimacy in a relationship.

Agreement vs intimacy

People do not get to know one another intimately when they conceal who they are and what they think. When two people are always in complete agreement and busy soothing each other’s egos, their relationships become tedious.

Intimacy develops when people express who they are more fully, even when it does not lead to a feeling of oneness. People may say they want more intimacy, but in fact, real intimacy may be too much for many to tolerate.

Tolerating the anxiety of intimacy

To deepen intimacy, two people must get to know each other more deeply. They each have to be able to express who they are, what they feel, and what they believe. This requires being able to handle the possibility of not getting approval, and that can trigger anxiety. Thus, by developing a better tolerance for anxiety, you enhance your ability to deepen intimacy.

Of course there is some limit as to what you should express to others. You don’t need to share every thought and feeling. There is a point where consideration and discernment count more than blunt honesty and openness. You also don’t want to bore others by expressing every thought you have. It’s important, for example, to avoid expressing every criticism or self-criticism that comes to your mind.

Get comfortable with discomfort

If you get comfortable with discomfort, you no longer need to feign agreement, laugh at a poor joke, or dumb down your conversation to avoid upsetting another person. Your relationships will be based on stimulating thoughts, growth, and authenticity rather than sham consensus.

Respectful communication

Intimate relationships develop best when you express your honest opinions respectfully, and most importantly, when you really listen to another person’s message without shutting him or her down. This means not being reactive — sarcastic, angry, or cold — when someone has an opinion that you disagree with. When you attack someone aggressively for their ideas, you are not encouraging them to be open and honest with you.

Respectful communication is different from acceptance and approval. Good communication does not necessarily make the other person feel his or her opinions are validated, but it also does not make the other person feel rejected or attacked.

Learn to reveal yourself, your opinions, and feelings respectfully, and to listen with equanimity. You will find that, with the right people, you will truly get to know one another, and develop meaningful, intimate relationships that are much more fulfilling than those based on self-screening and validation.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Passion vs. Predictability: The Problem with Emotional Fusion.”

Read “Emotionally Volatile People: ‘He can be so charming and then so defiant.’”

Is life a drag?
Living the Moment

"Enlightenment" Dalai Lama by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Enlightenment” — Dalai Lama by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

The extraordinary moments of life are outbalanced by the more frequent ordinary moments, such as working at the computer, going to the store, or sitting in traffic. The good news is that brain research shows that happiness is related more to your state of mind than the state of your current external circumstances.

One way to improve every moment is by learning to have a relaxed, mindful attitude, even when you might be bored or under stress. So there is no need to wait for the next time you go on vacation, go to a yoga class, or have a couple of drinks to improve your state of mind.

When you relax while focusing on the present moment, you can learn to be at ease, quick and on task without rushing. If you learn to be “in the zone” even in ordinary moments, life will flow more easily and your feelings of fulfillment will be enhanced.

We can consider life as a precious gift or a strenuous chore. To a large degree, it is our choice because we filter life through our mind. Here are some ways in which we can improve our state of mind, make the ordinary extraordinary, and be more enjoyable to be around:

1. Notice sensations, the air, the view, and the environment around you. This puts you in the present moment and mitigates anxiety and fear.

2. Observe your own energy and that of those around you. Intentionally transform your energy, whether you decide to focus on being peaceful, excited, appreciative, or ready for action.

3. Be mindful of your body. Correct your posture and reposition yourself to feel strong and relaxed.

4. Notice your facial expression and decide if you you’d like to change a frown into a more pleasant expression. Smiling alone will improve your day.

5. Focus on your breath. Breathe more slowly and deeply.

6. Be ready to handle anything that comes your way in a positive way. View every challenge as an opportunity for growth.

7. Focus on others, that is, engage others with wit, intellect, or a compassionate attitude. This takes the focus off of one’s own complaints. And most important,

8. Be happy to be alive.

If things get rough, then breathe deeply, think about what you can be grateful for, and if possible, look for the irony, humor, or philosophical insight that many situations present.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “I want to enjoy life and not just think about money.”

Read “Fear and Panic: ‘If I don’t keep on top of everything, I don’t know what will happen.’”

Arguments over money: “You call me a miser? You spend our money before we even have it!”

"Sandy Bay, Isla de Roatan" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Sandy Bay, Isla de Roatan” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Arguments about money can easily destroy a relationship. However, a relationship can also be destroyed when a couple does not talk about their differing attitudes toward money.

Attitudes about money often reflect deep psychological emotions that have developed as a response to feelings of security or the lack of it while growing up. There is no one right way to handle money. Therefore, couples need to talk about money and how they plan to spend and save it without putting each other on the defensive. The earlier they start talking about their values, the better.

To have an effective conversation about money, both partners need to become aware of their own fears and desires about money and their sought-after security. This is not easy, especially when it comes to determining to what degree their judgments are emotionally based or objectively savvy. They also need to recognize and have empathy for the other person’s point of view.

Couples have to develop a mutual plan, even if the plan ends up being to keep finances completely separate. To make an appropriate plan, couples need to take into account each person’s underlying fears and desires.

Guidelines for talking about money:

1. Communicate effectively, so that you can be honest without being hostile. Talk about your own feelings and values without negative judgment toward your partner.

2. Do not overreact, manipulate, or control your partner into spending or not spending money.

3. Do not exaggerate financial situations to get the other person’s attention. Rather than attacking your partner for their spending habits, state your fears and your desires in a neutral way.

4. Avoid acquiescing to behavior you disagree with in order to keep the peace. Otherwise you will develop underground hostility and resentment.

5. Retain your independence. Avoid becoming too financially dependent on another person, particularly if you’re not on the same page regarding finances. Then you won’t have to live in constant stress.

Examples:

“I’m afraid that we won’t be able to pay the mortgage and other bills. I dread the possibility of losing our home, which could happen to us if I were to lose my job. I would feel a lot more secure having enough savings in the bank to last at least a year.”

“I know we need to budget, but it means a lot to me to go out once a week with you. It rekindles my feelings of romance and spontaneity. Why don’t we budget a certain amount each week so that we both feel comfortable with a little weekly entertainment and romance?”

“I’m concerned that I will not be able to retire. I would prefer to forego spending money for non-essentials, such as going out to dinner and buying new clothes over living with the fear of never being able to retire. I would like to create a budget that ensures that our savings are increasing each month by (amount or percentage) and to keep our spending in check.”

A couple has to speak candidly and listen to one another’s concerns and desires before they can make a specific plan that will satisfy both partners. Regardless of what you can agree upon, it doesn’t hurt to remain capable of being independent. Nothing in life is certain. Therefore, having some money set aside and being able to get a job and support yourself are key to promoting your psychological and financial security.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD