When ‘No’ Means ‘Maybe’

relationship counselling brightonAs human beings we all have needs and wants (for love, attention and so on) and have likely worked out a strategy for the best way to have these needs met. Sometimes, a strategy that worked tolerably well in the past begins to work against us and we are left bewildered as to why people close to us stop meeting our needs, become irritable and/or leave. How can counselling and psychotherapy help?
Not Taking ‘No’ For An Answer
A common strategy for getting our needs met is not taking ‘no’ for an answer. We ask others for what we need and if they say ‘no’ we carry on asking or trying to engineer situations for getting what we want – perhaps by using anger or emotional blackmail – until the other person either complies or the relationship breaks down. Although we will all push for what we want at certain points in our lives (indeed sometimes it might be important to do so), if this is our only strategy for getting our needs met we might well end up repeatedly ignoring the needs of others and disregarding their right to decide for themselves what they will do for us and what they will not.
Learning About Boundaries in Childhood
Those of us who have trouble accepting and respecting other people’s boundaries have often grown up in an environment where ‘no’ meant ‘maybe’. As a child, it might have made perfect sense for us to keep on pushing a parent or caregiver for what we want as sometimes this strategy would work. We learn to ignore another’s initial refusals since experience tells us that eventually there is a chance they will cave in. And of course, getting what we think we want might not actually be in our best interests. For example, at the age of six we might want to scoff a huge bag of sweets just before lunch but what might do us more good in the long run would be to share a proper meal with the rest of the family.
The Importance of Boundaries
Growing up, clear boundaries of acceptable behaviour as demonstrated by the adults taking care of us help to keep us feeling emotionally safe. From them we learn how to fit in with others, how to compromise, how to see things from perspectives other than our own and, perhaps crucially, that it is perfectly acceptable to set our own limits as to what we will tolerate in other people’s behaviour and what we will not. Essentially, we learn to respect the needs and feelings of others and that it is ok to say ‘no’ if someone asks us for more than we are prepared to give.
How Can Counselling and Psychotherapy Help?
People for whom ‘no’ means ‘maybe’ (or their partners…) often seek the help of a therapist when an important relationship on which they depend emotionally starts to go badly wrong. If this is us, there might have been a pattern over the years of partners leaving, friends drifting away and arguments with bosses that are only resolved when we move on elsewhere. It might be very difficult for us to comprehend the other person’s strong feelings of anger and frustration towards us as we are simply doing what we have always done to get what we want.
Counselling and psychotherapy can help to gently uncover strategies for getting our needs met that might have become so deeply embedded that we are not even aware that there might be alternatives that would serve us better. All too often, strategies such as not taking ‘no’ for an answer can have devastating effects not only on those we love but also on our ourselves. Changing such strategies takes courage and requires that we remain open to considering new possibilities for being in the world. A good therapist will offer support and encouragement to do this; they will also set clear and consistent boundaries.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to psychotherapy and counselling interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation. Emailing in the first instance seems to work best.
Copyright Caroline Clarke, Counselling and Psychotherapy in Brighton and Hove, Sussex.
Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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