Hello, patrons, hope you're well!
I am switching back and forth between BOOK CHAPTER MODE and TWEETSTORM: ENGAGE (when I'm in an #ADHD explosion of Too Many Thoughts And Feelings) and also generally trying to make every question I answer not end up being 10,000 words long. Which means there is bonus content for a lot of blog posts, including today's, where I tried to map my personal evolution of learning how to understand and set boundaries.
- But You Love Egg Salad, Actually: "When I say 'no,' people close to me & in charge of my well-being either laugh and tell me it's cute, tune out entirely, or immediately actively override me and tell me I'm wrong/mean to do that."
- Stay Angry, Little Meg: "I Prefer Not To: The Adventures of Young Bartleby The Scrivener (And The Chaos That Surrounded Her)."
- Guess I'll Eat Lunch In The Library: I can tell that people don't like me and when they don't like me but not why. Probably safer to avoid them. Books are safer!
- Letters From An Insecure Overachiever: "'No' is a scary word to say, if I say it people either won't listen or they'll stop liking me. I guess I'll just be the most easy-going and accommodating person who ever lived, work as hard as I can to achieve things and please others, and people will see that and treat me with respect."
- I'm Just A Totally Chill Person By Nature! (And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves) "It's not worth making a big deal out of it, why bother saying anything over something so small, 'no' and 'conflict' should be reserved only for very big deals, not these small concerns." :small concerns build into medium concerns: "Well, if it had been such a big deal I would have said something before now, it's really my fault for letting it go on this long." :medium concerns build into large concerns: "I know, what if I just turned all this anger I'm feeling at other people...on myself?"
:concerns build and build and build and build and build and build until!?!?!:
- Mount Jennifer Erupts: Me: "FUCK YOU, FUCK ME, FUCK EVERYTHING, TIME TO BURN THIS ALL DOWN." People who had no idea that I was angry with them/suffering/barely holding it together all this time: "What? Ok, Crazy Lady!" One or two people, noticing my deep distress: "Are you sure you're ok? Do you want to maybe get some help?"
- Interlude: Diagnosis. Turns out I had anxiety, depression, and trauma and other diagnosable things, and while I do not call other people 'crazy' or throw that word around idly anymore, the people who identified that I might be some version of that word were not far off!
- Don Ye Now Our Purple Shorts: "Therapy is great and also the word 'NO' is the greatest word and I am going to YELLING-VOLUME-SAY-NO TO EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE WITH HULK-LIKE ANGER to make up for all the times I didn't say it before."
- Interlude: Relocation to The Fuck-Its.
- Interlude: Surviving an actually very scary personal safety situation/Reading The Gift of Fear and first coming across the words 'No is a complete sentence.'
- Trial And Error: "If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not." "What if I just stay quiet and don't say anything at all." "What if I say something is okay but then every time it's time to do whatever it is, I just, don't? Surely they'll notice then?" "I'm bad at reading hints/taking hints [truly, honestly, still very bad] but what if I try MAKING hints and then getting very mad and frustrated when other people don't take them?"
- Error and Trial: "When I'm having a hard time landing all my conversation points, it means I'm talking too long and people are bored. When all of a sudden people stop making eye contact with me in a conversation and are signaling each other, it means I said something wrong and should stop talking. When people are talking excitedly about a thing they're doing together soon and trail off or get evasive when I show enthusiasm, it's because they don't want me to come but they don't want to say so. If I keep inviting people to things and they never actually fix a date, it means they don't really want to do anything. If people keep inviting me to something and I keep avoiding it but not really saying no, they are failing to take MY hint, oh, wait, I think I get it now. God I wish I'd figured this out in elementary school." (***Unfortunately, I don't think anyone describing this in words or giving me a model would have helped me until I was ready to understand it, it was actually the negative consequences of losing friendships or feeling uncomfortable in social situations that prompted me to change.)
- Dawning Epiphany: "Okay, what if I just say the word 'no'/ask for what I need when I feel like I need it and I don't have to fix everyone's feelings? What if other people could feel sad but I could still need stuff?"
- 'Nice Is Different Than Good:' The world doesn't end when I say 'no,' most people do not snap at me or argue with me about it, I get more, not less respect at work when I say it, I'm happier when I say it, my relationships have less conflict, not more, and the conflict that happens is the good kind of conflict where we learn important things, what is this strange magic?
- 'No' Is A Truth Detector!: The people who tend to find my needs and boundaries inconvenient also tend to be...Jerks? People who mean well but actually exhaust and drain me?...and I am better off without them? ***And people who can't hear the word 'no' about little things can't be trusted with big things, so if I test this out sooner when it isn't a big deal I can identify incompatible/unsafe people sooner when it is easier to disengage from them?***
- The Birth Of The Captain: "'No,' is honestly kind of the best word, such a useful word, it tells you where your 'yes' lies, I think I know how to use it and teach other people how to use it."
- Interlude: #ADHD diagnosis at Age 40. Oh. Ohhhhhhh. OHHHHHHHHHH. Ohhhhhhhhhhh. Oh. This explains so much. Oh. Plus learning about rejection sensitive dysphoria (an ADHD symptom) explained so much about my own past fixations on people and how bad I was at HEARING other people's 'no'."
- 'Simple' Isn't The Same As 'Easy': "Oh crap, all prior conditioning still applies, though, where 'no' still feels scary to me sometimes or I let situations go on too long or don't quite judge the proportion and the volume right. Also, oh crap, everyone else in the world is also on their own journey of figuring out how to respect and express needs and boundaries, who knows which phase the person I'm dealing with is at and how does it affect my strategy in dealing with them?"
People who met me in my "LOOK HOW CHILL I AM" phase might not have gelled with me during my "HULK SMASH JUST BECAUSE HULK FINALLY HAS PERMISSION TO SMASH!" years, and I certainly needed different things from them.
One thing that I couldn't quite place on the timeline was that I've always had a strong aversion to passive-aggression. When someone tries the silent treatment on me, I hope they like silence, it will generally take me a very long time to figure out that they're ignoring me in the first place because I'm buried in my book or my laptop. When someone tries to get someone else to tell me a thing that they need to say, I hope they like "Oh, ___ should ask me, then." Being raised in a "if you don't know what you did wrong, I'm not going to tell you (but I will punish you and tell other people what you did so they'll know and also radiate disapproval at you)" mode was very unpleasant to endure, but it did inoculate me somewhat to triangulation. Unfortunately it mighta also inoculated me to always understanding indirect communication, too, and made me a frustrating friend for someone just learning how to send out gentle trial balloons?
Probably my point was, Letter Writer, you're on a journey of figuring this out and other people are, too, so they might have reasons that being more direct is scary or harder for them, and you might have very good reasons that you prefer clearer communication.
Probably my point is, since our community tends toward the conflict-averse over-thinkers who assume the problem is us until proven otherwise (I'm not just a member, I'm also the president), NOT connecting up with someone doesn't always mean you're doing something wrong and that there's a cheat code that would help you master this. We're all here practicing, practicing, practicing, and we're doing it on the fly.