… If someone acts defensive and argues when you criticize them for touching you, and from then on is very careful not to touch you, then they’re just nervous and don’t like criticism. That’s fine. The problem would be if they really act as if they have a right to touch you after you’ve asked them not to. Or actually the problem would be if they keep doing it, for whatever reason.
For the anon who feels like people cut them out a lot: one other potential issue could be that people try to explain things to the anon, but for whatever reason (no words for what they want to say, being too intimidated to be more forthright, or some other reason), it may be that they can’t explain things as clearly as anon might need, so anon perceives them as “not explaining” why they do things when, from their perspective, they *are* explaining things and anon just isn’t taking the hint.
Sometimes, people that I think of as close friends because of how long I’ve known them and the things they’ve helped me with decide to totally cut me out of their lives without warning and without explaining why they’ve done it. I can’t become a better friend or person if they don’t tell me what’s wrong, so what am I supposed to do in situations like this? It hurts and leaves me distrustful of everyone for a long time whenever it happens.
- It’s really hard for people to say no to you because of the way you react when other people don’t want what you want
- But you have a lot of really good qualities, and people like you a lot
- So, in the medium term, people put up with not being allowed to have appropriate boundaries so they can be around you
- But, eventually, this becomes intolerable
- And when people reach the point of not being willing to put up with it anymore, they’re not inclined to discuss it with you
- Because it would involve having the kind of confrontation they’ve spent your whole relationship carefully avoiding
- For instance, if you want a friend to go to a movie with you, and they say they don’t want to see that one, can you see that as ok, or does it always feel like a betrayal?
- When you invite your friends to so something, and they’re busy or have conflicting plans, can you see that as ok, or does it always feel like a betrayal?
- Friends don’t always want to do the same things, and it’s normal for friends to say no to suggestions for getting together. If it *always* upsets you, there’s a problem.
- There are legitimate reasons to be upset when friends don’t want to do something, (or especially when friends cancel plans without a good reason.) But if you’re *always* upset when friends say no to things you suggest, there’s probably a problem with your expectations.
Can you think of recent examples in which a long-term friend said no to you, and you didn’t get upset?
- If not, it’s likely that you have problems accepting no for an answer
- Because friends say no to each other all the time for all kinds of good and even important reasons
- And that’s part of what maintains good relationships and allows people to try new things
- In good friendships, people can and do say no to each other regularly.
- If when your friends say no, they almost always apologize, back down, and do what you wanted, something is wrong
- Friends need to be able to say no. Friends need to be able to hear no.
- It’s ok if sometimes it turns out that something was more important to you than your friend initially realized, and your friend changed their mind once they realized.
- But if that happens all or most of the time, it’s an indication that you probably should work on learning to take no for an answer
- If this is happening with all or most of your friends, you’re probably making it difficult for people to say no to you, and that’s probably making it hard for you to maintain relationships.
- (Not an absolute indication, because it’s also possible that a lot of people in your life have trouble saying no for reasons that have nothing to do with you. But if you notice this pattern, it’s worth seeing if there’s something you can do about it.)
- If you ask for a lot of favors and almost no one you consider to be a friend ever says no, that’s a sign that something might be wrong
- Because there are a lot of things that it’s ok to ask but not ok to assume the answer will be yes
- And if your friends don’t ever say no, it’s very likely that it’s because they feel like they can’t
- If people who do say no tend to end up crying, apologizing, and doing the thing you asked them to do anyway, that’s a serious red flag
- It might be that your friends are manipulative and like to make you feel bad about asking for things, and don’t like to say no – that’s a thing that happens, and a possibility that it’s important to take seriously
- But it also might be that you’ve made it really difficult to say no, and that it’s causing relationship problems, and it’s also important to take that possibility seriously
How do you react when your friends don’t want to share some aspects of their life? For instance:
- Do you expect to meet your friend’s coworkers and get hurt and offended if this doesn’t happen?
- Do you get upset if your friends don’t want to answer intimate questions about their sex life?
- Do you get angry if your friends don’t want your advice about their personal life?
- Do you expect your friends to listen to your theories about their medical condition and follow your plan of treatment?
- If you’re having these kinds of reactions, something is wrong.
- Friends don’t share everything with friends, and people have the right to keep their private life private, even if their friends want to be part of it.
- Friends also have the right to have other social relationships that not all of their friends are included in (There’s a good article on Geek Social Fallacies that explains why).
When you apologize, does it usually result in you getting your way?
- A real apology means acknowledging that you have done something wrong, that you’ve stopped doing that thing, and that you will try your best not to do it again in the future
- There are other kinds of apologies that are more about either manipulating others or submitting to someone’s power over you
- There are all kinds of situations in which using those are legitimate, but not between close friends. Apologies between close friends should be genuine.
- Some kinds of apologies are really about making it hard for people to tell you when you’re hurting them
- I wrote about that some before
- If when you apologize in your personal life, people tend to feel guilty for making you feel bad, and then do what you wanted anyway, something is wrong
If any of this sounds like you, it’s probably really important that you work on learning to take no for an answer. Other people, even friends who care about you very much, have all kinds of legitimate reasons to say no to you. If you can accept that as an inevitable part of a relationship, it will make it a lot easier to have and keep mutually good relationships going.
As I said, I don’t know you, and it may well be that this isn’t the problem, or that it isn’t the main problem. But this is a very common problem, and it might be worth considering.
RE:- boundaries without anger. Obviously there are exemptions to the following statement where “no” would be enough; but I think the reason a lot of people have problems with personal boundaries in this way is that when someone says no, they are reluctant to provide the reason. If denying/refusing a gift, offer or invitation, answering why is only polite, yet people get frustrated when people ask.
Here are several reasons that folks get annoyed when you ask why:
- They might not know a clear reason, but know that they don’t want to do the thing. That’s ok. You don’t have to know your reason in order to decide to say no.
- The reason for saying no might be rude to say. For instance, if you ask someone out and they find you physically unattractive, it would be considered very rude to say so. But it’s an entirely legitimate, and common, reason not to want to date someone.
- If they’re rejecting a job offer, it might be because they’ve received another offer from someone they think it would be much more pleasant to work with. It can be very difficult to say this politely, and it’s not a good idea to offend people in your network by implying that you think it wouldn’t be nice to work with them.
- The particular gift might be something they’re upset by the idea of possessing (eg: if you give them an itchy sweater), but it’s never considered polite to say that.
- The reason might also be complicated to say. For instance, if they like a particular activity, but they find it overloading, so they only do the activity with people they know really well and who know how to react appropriately if the overload gets too bad. Most people don’t even understand that explanation on any level. More people say “of course I can handle that!” and then get offended if they don’t immediately accept that as true and agree to do the activity.
- They might think that accepting your gift/offer/invitation will create a kind of relationship they don’t want, and not feel comfortable explaining that. Especially if they’re not quite sure why they feel that way.
- The reason might be private. For instance, if you’re a man and you ask out a closeted lesbian, she has every right not to want to come out to you.
- Or, if someone finds a particular kind of movie triggering because of past abuse, they might not want to tell people about this. They might rather just quietly say no.
- They might think that if they give a reason, you’ll just argue about the reason. Given that you didn’t just take no for an answer to begin with, this is a legitimate concern
At bottom, people don’t owe you an explanation. When you ask for one, you’re implying that people need your permission to have boundaries. Further, you’re implying that you will only give this permission if you think they have a good reason.
Even if you don’t mean it that way, that’s how it comes off. It puts pressure on people that no one likes to experience. If they wanted to give you a reason, they would have done so when they said no to begin with.
Sometimes this happens:
- Person 1: X?
- Person 2: No, because y.
- Person one hears: Yes, if not-y. (And then acts accordingly).
No-because doesn’t mean yes-if. It doesn’t necessarily give you all, or even any of the reasons the answer is no. Changing things so that the no-because no longer applies doesn’t automatically make the answer yes. All it gives you is some information that might be useful in asking another question.
Some more concrete examples:
- Hat-asker: Hey, can I borrow your hat?
- Hat-owner: No, it’s raining and I don’t want it to get wet.
- Hat-asker then assumes: If there’s no risk of getting the hat wet, then Person 2 agrees that it is ok for me to wear it.
- Hat-asker borrows the hat without asking, but only wears it indoors.
In this example, it would probably be ok for Hat-Asker to ask Hat-Owner, “Actually, I just wanted to wear it for a minute in the other room to entertain my friend. Would that be ok?”, but it would not be ok to assume without asking that it would be ok because the hat definitely wouldn’t get rained on.
- Person 1: Hey, let’s sit together
- Person 2: I’m really not in the mood for company; I want it to be quiet.
- Person 1 thinks: It’s ok if I sit there if I don’t make any noise. (And then sits next to Person 2 without verifying that this is ok).
In this situation, it might be ok to ask if it was ok to sit there quietly without having conversation, but it also might be better not to ask. (I’m not sure how to explain the difference, though.) But it would be invasive to just sit there and assume doing so quietly was ok.
- Person 1: Hey, do you want to go out on a date?
- Person 2: No thanks; I’m too busy for dating this semester.
- Person 1 thinks: Person 2 will go out with me during winter break.
In this case, it’s important to bear in mind that wanting to date someone doesn’t necessarily mean they want to date you, or that they should date you, or that they should consider dating you. No-because doesn’t mean yes-when. In this case, it would be probably ok to ask again when it gets to be around that time, but it would not be ok to assume that the answer will be yes, and it would not be ok to demand an explanation of why the answer is still no.
Because people have the right to say no to requests for favors, attention, and use of their possessions, and they don’t generally owe you an explanation.