Tag Archives: boundaries

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 “If you say no, arguments will ensue, affection will be withdrawn, etc.”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.”

Intrusive questions at family gatherings: “It’s none of your business!”

"Shh!" Tiger Woods by Mimi Stuart ©

“Shh!” Tiger Woods by Mimi Stuart ©

Questions about when you’ll finally get married, when you’ll get a real job, or how the divorce is going may cause you to dread family gatherings. It’s helpful to keep in mind that many relatives are truly concerned and simply want what’s best for you, but they come off seeming overly nosy.

Some might simply be trying to be considerate and to make conversation rather than intrude, while others may have more malicious intent.

Here are some ways to handle questions you’d rather avoid answering:

Divert

Steer the conversation in the direction of their lives: “Aw, that’s not so interesting. What’s going on in your life? How’s your marriage going?” Or redirect with your own uncomfortable question, “First tell me how your sex life is going.”

Try the quizzical eyebrow with a smile that says, “Can’t you think of anything else to talk about? Come on now.”

Use humor

If you show that you feel uncomfortable or upset, you simply draw attention to yourself and to the specific topic. Humor is a great way to deflect prying questions. If asked about something awkward, keep a positive, light-hearted attitude.

For instance, if someone asks about your divorce status or financial situation, try to be witty:

“Every time I find Mr. Right, my husband scares him away.”
OR
“Love is grand; divorce is a hundred grand.” ~Shinichi Suzuki

Be up front

If you know that someone is going to ask you when you are finally going to have children or some other unwelcome question, you might approach that person first in private, and say something like, “I know you want us to have children, but we haven’t made that decision yet. Let’s not bring it up at dinner.” Try not to get upset or defensive; that only peaks other people’s curiosity.

Avoid

As a last resort, if you can’t handle questions made with malicious intent, avoid them all together by avoiding the people who insist on asking them.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen (reposted from 2011)

Read “Inquisitive Parent: ‘My dad asks too many questions. Why is he so nosy?’”

Read “Setting Boundaries.”

When is it time for an adult child to move out.

"Limitless" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Limitless” by Mimi Stuart ©

“My son is 20 and we are having a great deal of trouble with his selfish behavior. He stays at home and commutes to school, and this summer he is basically just doing what he wants and getting angry and impatient if we ask for help around the house. He swears often as is critical of me even though he knows I don’t like it. He blames other people when confronted about his own attitude. He definitely has a good side and can be very funny and entertaining. Lately though, I feel depressed, as though I had failed as a parent.”


This is a very common situation, although a painful one. Unless your son has always been rude and selfish he will probably turn out fine in the end. I believe your son resents you because he is an adult yet he is dependent on you. He doesn’t feel good about himself because he is functioning as a child. Yet he’s too comfortable and afraid to change the situation. Fear is what is driving his resentment and his lashing out at you.

Behavior and the Brain

The prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until we’re about 25 years. Typically it develops more slowly in males. It develops through experiencing the repeated consequences to our actions, both positive and negative. A person develops the ability to resist immediate gratification or impulsive behavior such as being rude and critical when there are repeated negative consequences to such behavior.

If a young man experiences no consequences when he swears, is rude, and does not contribute in a supportive way, then he will be unlikely to develop the ability to resist those impulses later in life with people close to him. Now is the time when you can influence him so that his prefrontal cortex does not remain underdeveloped.

Consequences

You need to keep two things in mind. One, your home is your sanctuary and two, he is an adult.

You should not tolerate an entitled, rude, critical person living in YOUR home. Enabling bad behavior doesn’t do anyone any good. It merely strengthens neural pathways of negative behavior. There need to be consequences and firm boundaries to his conduct in YOUR home.

There is no need to be angry or mean when discussing a problem. It’s much more effective to be kind but resolute when expressing your own boundaries, specifically that it is time for your son to move out of your home. I suggest being very honest with him, but start with something positive and retain a firm but compassionate tone of voice.

For example, “You’re often funny and enjoyable to be with. We love you. However, perhaps because you’re 20 and an adult who needs his independence, you seem to resent us. We understand that young adults who are not adequately separated from their parents may become critical of and annoyed with their parents. However, your criticism, swearing, and hostile attitude toward us in our home are unacceptable to us. We know you’re better than that and don’t want to enable you further.”

“While you are in our home we expect appreciation, support and consideration and we expect you to live by our rules. Since you haven’t been doing that, we think that for our own sakes as well as yours, it is time that you should live elsewhere. This is not a punishment, but what’s best for everyone.”

“We all have to be creative in figuring out how this can be done. Perhaps you can get a loan for your tuition and use the money we’re spending on tuition on your room and board. You can get another part-time job, or get a full-time job and take fewer classes. Whatever you decide is up to you, and we would be glad to help in any way we reasonably can.”

Facing challenges

This is the time when young people should be meeting the daily challenges in life. Facing such challenges is how he will build self-confidence, and as a result have more positive interactions with others including you, as long as you don’t mollycoddle him.

College

You may worry that it will be harder for your son to complete college if he has to get another job. Yet the gift of gaining self-respect, respect for others, and the skills to deal with life challenges will balance out the fact that it may take longer for him to complete college. Moreover, it is probable that he will appreciate the gift of a college education more than he currently does when he sees what it takes to get by on his own. In the meantime, I would also ask him to do more chores, let him cook his own meals, and do less for him.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Setting Boundaries”

Read Angry Adult Child:“The years of terror from my mother has made me make sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.”

Read “I worry a lot over my adult children and I often call them to give advice.”

Inquisitive Parent: “My dad asks too many questions. Why is he so nosy?”

"Take Off"—Blue Angels by Mimi Stuart© Live the Life you Desire

“Take Off”—Blue Angels by Mimi Stuart ©

It’s normal for parents to want to connect with their kids. Asking questions or wanting to give advice may be the way they attempt to connect with them.

It’s almost always best not to become reactive, angry or recalcitrant, particularly when your parent is well-intentioned. Instead, try to preempt your dad by finding a way to make that connection without having to answer questions that you don’t feel like answering.

You could find a way to approach him first. Have a few questions ready for him. For example, ask him about his youth, early jobs, school, friends, difficulties, challenges, movies, books, where he got his political leanings etc. before he gets a chance to ask you too much.

When he asks you something, give a brief answer without getting defensive, and then say, “What about you, Dad, when did you go on your first date?” You might not be very curious, but it will take the focus off of you, and the answer could be interesting.

You could also disclose some information about yourself that you don’t mind disclosing before he starts asking questions. Talk about an event at school, at work or in the news. If you make the effort to connect and converse on your terms, he may not be as interested in inquiring about the private details of your life.

If you persist in keeping everything completely private, that will only provoke his interest. For instance, if you never mention anything about whom you’re dating, he will be more interested than if you give him just the basic information in a nonchalant tone of voice.

The best defense is a good offense, although in this case we’re not talking about a fight, but about an attempt to make a human connection.

One day if you have kids, you too may stumble a bit in trying to make a connection.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Too Much Attachment: ‘Honey, you’re so smart and talented!’”

Read “Dreading intrusive questions at family gatherings: ‘It’s none of your business!’”

“What a jerk you are! You treat me like a slave!”

"Muwan" Mayan Collection by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Muwan” Mayan Collection by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

So what I really meant was…

“I’d be happy to consider doing that for you if you would speak to me respectfully.”

Unfortunately people close to you may need to be reminded to be polite if they begin to take you for granted.

Why would anyone be motivated to help someone who is being rude? While it’s appropriate to be upset and important to stop the disrespectful behavior, there is no need to overreact. Calling someone a name and being demeaning yourself will only aggravate the situation.

You are more likely to change the relationship dynamic if you keep your cool while giving the other person an opportunity to show his or her better side.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Good Relationships: ‘What happened to our relationship? It used to be so great.’”

Watch “How to avoid becoming a Doormat.”

Read “Communicating Effectively under Stress: ‘This is horrible!’”

“I just want to get away from it all.”

"Magnificent Desolation" — Buzz Aldrin
by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

A trip out of town can ease pressure and be re-invigorating. Yet an overpowering desire to get away from it all – driven by the pressures of everyday life – often indicates a failure to set adequate boundaries.

A strong desire to flee might signal that it is time to think about

• how you are giving too much of yourself,
• which people you’d like to say “no” to, and
• which projects you’d like to limit in your life.

A strong desire to flee might signal that it is time to determine

• what you need more of in your life, such as rest or enjoyment,
• which people you’d like to spend more time with, and
• what pursuits you’d like to add to your life.

Consider how to achieve these changes effectively, by

• expressing your choices to limit activities with clarity, tact, and consideration,
• taking the initiative to add desired people and pursuits into your life, and
• continuing to reassess and respect your own needs, desires, and comfort zone.

By tuning into feelings of irritation early and readjusting the choices you make, you are less likely to get fed up and want to run away from it all. Sometimes, however, a break is just what is needed to get revitalized and to contemplate in leisure the changes you would like to make in your life.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Setting Boundaries.”