Saying Yes When You Want to Say No: Why We Do It & Then Resent It

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For years people have relied heavily on each other for survival. We have worked together to build shelters, to hunt and forage food, and to protect our young. And not much has changed today. Despite our access to millions of “How To” YouTube videos, we are still very dependent on others around us for valuable resources. The orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for reading human emotion and anticipating social rewards. When we say yes to others, our brain is urging us to connect as a matter of survival, and during the pandemic, when we are craving connection more than ever, we are especially prone to saying yes, when it does not serve us. 
 
We are often compelled to say yes because we are wired for survival and for socialization. We anticipate rewards as a result of our interactions with others. Even if we don’t immediately gain tangible resources, we may actually be in pursuit of feeling accepted, earning the favor of others, or we are simply taking advantage of an opportunity to prove how charitable and generous we are. But these rewards are intangible, immeasurable, and short-lived. The downside is that saying yes often leads to resentment, anger, and a sense that we are investing in others without having our own needs adequately met. 
 
This is relatively common for many people, but may vary depending on brain development. Further, boys and girls are socialized differently, contributing to greater variations in how men and women respond when asked to do something inconsistent with their own wants and needs. Boys are socialized to compete: they tackle, they have Nerf wars; they strive to be the fastest and strongest. They grow up constantly setting themselves apart from others and navigating the resulting conflict. Girls, on the other hand, are socialized to cooperate: they play dolls; they play “house” or “teacher”. They grow up constantly connecting with others and mitigating conflict. 
 
Unfortunately, this leads to anxiety, stress, and interpersonal relationship problems. If you are tired of this problem wreaking havoc in your life, then try to practice greater self-awareness. Notice what it feels like in that moment when you say yes, but really want to say no. If you can recognize that feeling, you are more likely to catch it and be able to make a different choice the next time. When you can recognize that emotion, you can navigate your way out of your typical autopilot mode and choose a different response. But stay true to yourself. Make it a regular habit to practice authenticity. In other words, whatever you say, and how you say it, is exactly what you mean. What does this look like? If you tune into your emotions and notice the urge to say yes, but you don’t want to upset your friend, it might be helpful to say something like “I would love to help, but I’ve got a lot on my plate right now. Thank you for thinking about me, and I hope this won’t stop you from reaching out to me in the future if you need something.” Being authentic doesn’t give us free reign to be mean. There is never a place for abusive or insulting remarks within our relationships. If you find yourself becoming very angry when someone approaches you with a request, then take a minute for yourself and work on self-soothing. Explore reasons why this may have been such a trigger. The likely explanation is that you have allowed this boundary to be crossed one too many times and are in need of change. 


Connections Counseling and Psychological Services provide various counseling services to children, adolescents, adults, and couples. They are located at 1609 W Frank Ave Ste B, Lufkin, Tx 75904. Contact them at: (936) 272-0555  

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