“Wishing I Had A Way To Say No”

April 19, 2013
© Lorne Craig

© Lorne Craig

My client was describing a disaster impending over the ensuing ten days, “there are demands from the family and demands from work closing on me like two giant fists, I’m stuck in between with nowhere to go.” He paused for a moment then put his hands in front of him like the paws of a dog, “why oh why do I keep trying to please everyone?”

My antenna twitched; it was a classic example of compliance, which James Hollis refers to as one of the three primary responses we develop as children in face of the powerful other, the others being avoidance and control.

My client continued with his plaintive story. “Wishing I had a way to say no, that wouldn’t make me feel like I am disappointing them.” I laughed and observed it’s as though he were writing a country and western song. “What’s the next line?” I asked.

He replied without hesitation. “I watched myself say yes as I was scrambling, but the pattern was too ingrained.” He paused looking at me expectantly; I sat for a moment then asked, “Would you like the good news or the bad?”

“Oh give me the bad, I’d like to get it out of the way.”  I introduced him to his complex.

“You have a conditioned response. It’s what James Hollis refers to as a reaction that takes place based on a charged cluster of history. This reaction emerges into the present but brings energy from the past that is often inappropriate to the moment. In your case you say yes to things you should say no to. It’s called compliance. “  (Through The Dark Wood by James Hollis)

I went on to tell him that the good news is that he became aware as it was happening and that this is the first step in dealing with it. Hollis suggests that when we become conscious we take away the complex’s autonomy. I find that an additional helpful step is to identify where it originates.

“Let’s write another verse to the song”, I suggested. “I will do the next line: It started when I was a child.” Seamlessly he continued, “I wanted to be on the team. But they all want to pick me now.” We discussed how the adult could see what the child cannot. Frequently the child may have low self-esteem. He acknowledged that for all his talents, team sports had not been one of them and he was frequently the last one chosen. The desire to be chosen becomes the primary consideration. This energy stemming from this need intrudes into the adult life and directs decisions that may not be in your best interest.

The opportunity now is to bring awareness to the occasion as this shows up and look for what Steven Covey referred to as the gap between the stimulus and the response. (Stephen Covey The 8th Habit) In that moment, bring your adult consciousness into the decision-making.

That third line, “they all want you now”, is really important because it allows you make another choice. The adult feels empowered to make a more appropriate decision. We discussed the possibility of a dialogue with the child who first encountered the Powerful Other in this way. I have found this can also help diminish the energy of the complex.

Oh and by the way, the song needs another line….

Wishing I had a way to say no,
That wouldn’t make me feel like I am disappointing them.
I watched myself say yes as I was scrambling
But the pattern was too engrained
It started when I was a child
I wanted to be on the team.
They all want to pick me now….
But the choice is really mine.