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Can’t say no?

Are you saying “yes” when you want to say “no”? Are you being nice? Or avoiding conflict at all costs?

This may be driven by your brain’s appease response.

Fight, flight, freeze are commonly known fear-based responses issued by the brain in times of stress or perceived threat. There also is a fourth common response known as “appease” or “fawn”.

As neuroscientists and psychologists learn more about the brain, we are understanding more about our responses to challenging and stressful situations.

Consider some of these situations:

  • Your boss asks you to work extra hours for no compensation or a client asks you to do a lot of work for free.
  • Your friends urge you to eat or drink things you want to avoid.
  • Your teammates always give you the least fun/interesting parts of a project and you keep doing those, “taking one for the team”.
  • Meetings are constantly arranged at a time that doesn’t work for you.
  • You are asked to take on tasks or roles that violate your principles or values.

What are our brain’s stress/fear responses?

Our fight response may lead us to be angry, to argue or, more subtly, to insult or gossip negatively about others. Our neurotransmitters are telling us to move toward the challenge or issue and diminish it in some way or just remove the problem.

The flight response leads us to abandon the situation altogether. No fighting, no engaging, just get out of there as soon as possible – play it safe and go hide!

The freeze response is about being overwhelmed by fight AND flight, so we freeze in our tracks. In our day-to-day world, this might translate to feeling overwhelmed, stuck or even confused.

The appease response is used to avoid conflict in situations that feel dangerous or threatening.

If we felt threatened as a child, we may have learned to appease or please the person we found threatening, thereby reducing the intensity of demands from the scary adults – or siblings or classmates. If that was successful, then we incorporated that response into our way of dealing with stressful situations. It might just be a habit learned long-ago. And it might not even be useful today.

Are you conflict averse?

If you have a hard time saying no or you avoid conflicts, this may be something to look into further.

But being conflict-averse does not mean you are broken. However, if you are suffering because you avoid conflict, then it would be helpful to address it.

What can you do about it?

Ask yourself, do you often appease someone even if you don’t want to? How big of a response is your brain sending? How is your body responding?

(If you feel very strong responses (of any sort), you might want to seek help with that with a therapist or trauma specialist.)

If you just notice that it takes a little effort to say no, or that it’s mildly challenging for you, this is something you can work on perhaps on your own or with a coach.

Notice – are you appeasing?  Do you shy away from saying no? Are you doing more than you want for others? What does it cost you – in terms of time, energy, or self-respect?

Decide – if you want to do something about this. If so, start identifying the situations where you wish you would respond differently.

Practise – start with thesmall nos. When you don’t want to say yes, then start to pushback rather than appease. Or at least seek a compromise. Again, start small and build up your capacity to push back against the bigger challenges.

Your brain and body need to learn that you can say no and still be safe.

You could even start with a response of, “I’ll get back to you tomorrow” and use the time you just bought yourself to build up your confidence and to practise saying “no”.

Set boundaries for yourself – get clear with yourself: what is OK for people to ask for?  If your boss asks you to spend extra hours every evening doing extra work and you no longer have time for family or friends or a life outside of work, this might be the time to create new boundaries.

What are you willing to say yes to? What do you know you need to say no to?  What boundaries will help you honour your own needs and values? Or the values and needs of others? Make a declaration to yourself about where your boundaries are.

All of this is about awareness and choice. What are our responses? Do they serve us and our relationships? And how can we be better at making choices that are healthy for all.

Rewired to Relate

In Rewired to Relate you will learn more about your brain’s threat responses and the relationship with stress and how that serves your relationships with others.

More info