No is a word that comes very easily to me, and I suspect that has to do with my self-focus. What I want is paramount, and what others want is secondary. This is always how it has been for me. Telling someone to:
That they aren’t getting what they want out of me
That they can’t have something
That I won’t buy them something
Loan them money
Crash at my house
or any other request has always been first nature. I always assumed that it was for everyone else for a very long time. I believe that this is due to me hearing it so often, and so loudly as a child. Usually hundreds of times a day, and at high decibels, often with my full name being attached as well.
It never occurred to me that anyone ever had trouble saying no. In fact, if I remember correctly, ‘no’ was my first word. That could either be because I am so prone to using it that it came hardwired, or that it was constantly around me from my parents trying to keep me from dying doing something stupid, albeit it fun.
Later in my life, a friend of mine who works with people that have suffered extreme abuse of many different sorts as children, and often into young adulthood, had me with him at one of his facilities. This was a common occurrence, and I knew a lot of the people that lived there. I was spending time talking with one of them, and something incidental came up, to which I responded no. I couldn’t tell you what it was today, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is the “no” part of it.
“You say that so often and so easily. How do you do that?” He asked me. I am sure that it is not difficult for any of you to imagine why someone that lived through horrendous things at the hands of their caregivers, and often the friends of those caregivers, might have trouble saying the word ‘no’. It could have dire consequences for someone like him in his previous life, and it is apparently very common after these kids are saved, for them to voice their displeasure about things.
I had been around them for years, and this never crossed my mind. I knew what they had come from, I knew what it meant in a literal sense, but not how that sort of abuse affects your ability to have boundaries. "‘No’, was not okay. ‘No’ was never okay. It brought the fear of pain, and possibly death. Saying it was practically taboo, and here I was saying it without any issue.
How did I do that, he wanted to know.
It would be nice to be able to say that I instructed him on how I do it, he picked it up immediately and was able to be assertive from that point on. That isn’t what happened though. These kids need years of highly specialized care and therapy to learn those boundaries and to be able to say that very simple word, ‘no’. There is no magic speech that will change that.
Why did I tell you this story? It was after that day that I learned that many people had trouble saying no. That it wasn’t just a word that was a throwaway like it was for me. When I said it, I meant it, but there were no emotional hang-ups about it for me. No guilt, no concern about the other person’s feelings on the matter, no fear of retaliation. It was just what I said, and I said what I meant. No room for discussion, no care for how unfair someone thinks my response may be.
Other people, however, they struggle with this word like it is handling a Faberge egg on a tightrope. I watch parents spoil their children and never tell them no. They become entitled, self-centered, and unbearable.
I watch people get into friendships, only to be walked all over, but they still can’t assert themselves and make the other person respect them. Saying no might make that person resent them, and not want to be friends anymore, and that is somehow worse than telling them to pay for their own lunch.
I watch people allow family members treat them like an ATM, like a motel, like rent your own credit report because they can’t get credit in their own name. Why? Because they have already trashed their own, but they won’t yours, the promise… and all they need is a cell phone. You’ll help them, right?
There is a revolving door of people allowing themselves to be used because the word ‘no’ eludes them. It’s not a difficult word, but it is a loaded word in the neurotypical world it seems. In the psychopathic world, it is very straightforward. No doesn’t mean I don’t want to be around you, it’s just no, whatever it is you are asking me about doesn’t interest me.
It isn’t a testament to how I view you as an individual.
It is not an indictment of your value.
It doesn’t mean that I hate you and want you to go away, never to return.
It just means no.
That’s it, and that’s all.
When I realized this, I also realized that there was a whole part of the neurotypical interaction that I did not understand. ‘No’ is not straightforward, and it does have all kinds of hidden connotations. Why that is, I have no idea, and how to fix it, I also don’t know. I’m not even sure that it can be, or should be. Maybe not fixed, but tweaked enough that more people would be able to take ownership of what they want, and at least expect it to be considered.
What I do think is that there has to be a line drawn to tell people that they have to respect your boundaries, and you as a person. This can be difficult if you have already established a baseline that tells them that they do not have to be mindful with you, and changing it can make that other person extremely angry. No one likes their free lunch taken away, even if it is the best thing for them, and the right thing to do.
What people prefer is the status quo. You keep acting like a doormat, and they keep reaping the rewards. I think that one of the issues that negates change in this sort of situation is the person that tends to be a yes person realizes that they will be likely alone for the foreseeable future, in order to change this aspect of their lives. They might find that they have one or two true friends, but many of them will fall by the wayside when they see their meal ticket has other ideas.
Being alone is apparently hard to do, and I don’t discount that it is something that I don’t understand. However, is the illusion of people that care better than being alone? It comes down to the same outcome, or at least to me it seems to. If you need something, people that are all about taking advantage aren’t going to be there for you anyway, so you are effectively by yourself, you are just buying their corporeal form in your life while they ask you to do things for them.
My guess is that this is a bigger breakdown for people psychologically, but they only see in the immediate, not the long term. I obviously can’t be the arbiter of whether this system is better or worse for the individual, but from the outside, it very much seems to be worse.
The people that expect you to keep offering your help to them are entitled. They don’t have good intentions towards you, but instead of arguing that they have bad intentions towards you, I am going to be blunt with you. They have no intentions towards you at all. Good or bad intentions mean that you have at the very least been considered. You haven’t been. You are a means to an end, and while yes, this is wholly negative to you, it isn’t because the person sought you out with the intention of being cruel. They sought you out because you are the quickest way to achieve what they want to achieve.
It might be very hurtful to realize that you as a person do not cross their minds, but I can almost guarantee you, they really can’t be bothered with something like that. Once you understand that, even if this person is who you think of as your best friend, your parent, your sibling, that they are their only priority, but if you really pay attention, that’s how it is.
I will give you an example. Imagine that your sister shows up on your doorstep with your fifteen-month-old niece. She says,' “I need to take her to the doctor, but I need money for the copay. Can you lend it to me?”
However, while she is saying this, she is drinking a soda from a fast food place, and also mentions that is where they went for lunch. The copay is five dollars, and you know that lunch cost more than that, but here she is with her hand out. She banked on you giving her the money, so they went out to eat. There was no consideration for you, what you might need, how much money you might have. Instead, it was all about her. Also, take note that she didn’t care about her daughter either. If you say no, your niece doesn’t go to the doctor, which your sister insists, she needs to.
Everyone else is a nonentity. They are a means to an end, and they aren’t considered at all. A lot of people assume that toxic manipulation is about them. It is someone that targets them and intentionally takes from them. This is misframed. It isn’t about you, not at all. Most of the time it is only about the other person. Their sightline extends as far as the mirror, and you aren’t even in the background. It is about getting what they need to be done, done, but any means necessary that does not inconvenience them.
Don’t get me wrong, this is toxic as hell, but it isn’t intentionally toxicity, it is passively toxic. Intentionally toxic is when someone targets you and wants to destroy you specifically because they have marked you as their enemy. This happens quite frequently and is in a different class of toxicity. This is a person acting with intention, and with an outcome in mind.
Granted, there are times when an intentional and nasty manipulation has a good reason behind it. I detailed one of these in a Quora answer:
A psychopath has a friend who is living with a man the psychopath does not like in the slightest, nor does the psychopath trust him. The three of them are roommates. The boyfriend, we'll call him Steve, is a lying narcissist but the friend, Brenda, can't see it.
The psychopath Joe on the other hand, does.
While Steven and Brenda are away, Joe goes into their room and looks for the evidence he knows is there. Not finding what he is looking for he is about to leave when he sees that the recycling has just been emptied and the receptacle has been taken out. It's three days before rubbish collection. Knowing that this is strange, he goes to have a look.
In the trash is a whole host of information about Steve and his lies. But Joe isn't just going to tell Brenda about this. That isn't enough. Steve will not be getting away with harming a friend, or lying to Joe. So Joe waits. He makes sure he has certain things in place, all possible weapons secured, a separation of Brenda and Steve so Joe can break the news to her first with the evidence, and that Steve has no idea what's coming to him.
Steve doesn't know and when the new weapons locker arrives, he helps carry it into the house. All five hundred pounds of it. This will make Joe smile for years. The locker and its contents are secure, Joe has told Brenda, and sits back to watch Steve's life dismantle.
Brenda begins by screaming at him, Joe can hear all of this. Steve reacts by running from their room and grabbing a pill bottle that has an innocuous medication in it and threatens suicide. Having anticipated this Joe completes the emergency call. Steve attempts to flee, all while sobbing and begging for Brenda's forgiveness and she seems to be weakening. That can't happen, so Joe meets the first responders outside. Just as they arrive and Joe explains the situation they find Steve clutching car keys to a car that belongs to Joe. He had every intention of running off with it. Joe's only regret is that he didn't let him so he could be charged with theft.
Steve is taken to a mental health facility where he is supposed to be on a seventy two hour hold. That's not quite long enough so Joe goes in and speaks with the doctors. Steve is held for more than a week.
Steve had a direct deposit going into an account he shared with Brenda. Joe has worked on Brenda for a couple of days, Steve won't ever be coming home. With Joe's help Brenda packs all of Steve's things, loads them into a truck and takes them to a storage unit. The unit is paid for two months, both the truck and unit are paid with Steve's money, and the rest, along with the keys to the unit, its address, are left at the mental health facility with instructions to please wait to deliver them until he is released. Locks are changed, also courtesy of Steve.
When Steve manages to get out he has no job, no home, no girlfriend, a clock running on how long his stuff will be safe, and when he tried to contact Brenda, he comes face to face with Joe. Steve has absolutely nothing and ends up not having enough money to get a place to live. His items are auctioned off, and he gets back to his mother who lives several states away five months later. Nothing is left of his former life. He is destitute, and hopeless.
Removal of the threat, and defanging it was necessary in that situation. Brenda had gotten herself into a dangerous situation, and the outcome if Steve hadn’t been handled properly, would not have been great for her. Sometimes dismantling is a necessary action, but often it is an action-driven by anger and vengeance. Examples of this can be found everywhere.
People destroying other people’s lives on social media for having opinions that they don’t agree with is an excellent example of this. There is no other reason to do this except to be intentionally toxic. I have been the focus of these types of campaigns and had to have the police involved.
What does all this have to do with saying no? ‘No’ and the use of it establishes baseline behavior that you will accept. It weeds out the people that are unintentionally toxic. You may sometimes deal with people that are intentionally toxic, but it is easier to keep them out of your life if you have strong standards and boundaries. ‘No’ is an excellent start to that process. People will treat you how you train them to treat you, and saying no to unreasonable things is perfectly reasonable.
It might suck emotionally, but you have to decide whether or not you care about that. Do you care that someone that has full intention of using you as their favor bank gets miffed when you take issue with how they treat you? If you do, maybe reassess. If someone only likes you for what you do for them, and brings nothing to the table, then nix them from your purview. In the long run, it is a form of self-care that is irreplaceable.