This helped her reflect on her priorities and whether the request was fair. Another phrase was, “I am very busy right now, but get back to me in two weeks,” which sometimes removed the request as the other moved on. This wasn’t always easy since she would sometimes get annoyed reactions or guilt trips in return. She would sometimes negotiate with the following response: “I can’t get the revisions to you by tomorrow, but I can give you a 10-minute update.”
She also practiced saying no in a diplomatic way that fit her personality. When her husband pressured her to change her schedule to come with him to a work social, she said, “I am sorry. I like to spend time together but can’t make that work on such short notice.” She found that delaying, even for a short time, helped her examine her own reactions and the intentions of the other.
4. State your boundary as a policy.
It is easier to say, “I just don’t buy things from door-to-door sellers” than get annoyed and squirm on the porch. The same is true in unhealthy relationships, where it helps to have a standard to appeal to when saying no. Annie came up with a few, such as, “I save my weekends for family and so won’t be able to take on this last-minute project,” and, “I am giving my best energy to the current project so will need to wait to take on a new one.” It helped when she connected the policy to a higher purpose, like “I will not be able to make dinner tonight; I am committed to being to our son’s tennis game this afternoon.”
She wasn’t always successful at this with her boss, since she didn’t want to lose her job, but even if she couldn’t say no to every unfair request, Annie reminded herself that her values were legitimate. And when she received pushback, she attempted to understand the power tactics being used on her, which led her to the next strategy.
5. See the other’s motives.
Manipulative people try to make others feel responsible for every problem. It helps to step back and consider the intentions of anyone who is ramping up the pressure. In reasonable relationships, others generally accept “no” as an answer, especially if there is a good cause. But in unhealthy relationships, boundaries are often mocked or disregarded, which shows a lack of respect and reveals that the problem is one of pushiness in the asker, not unwillingness in the one being asked.
Annie would take time to write down the possible motives of everyone involved when she felt pressured. For example, she wrote: “My boss’s motives probably are to get more work done, which is understandable, but he isn’t realizing that my motives are to have a balance with work and family.” This process helped her see things more objectively and gain confidence in her response.
6. See through the power.
Those who request fairness often experience resistance from those who want to retain power. This is why it is hard to resist and report abuse since those who are selfish or violent will use minimization, denial, and punishment of those who challenge their authority. Women who push back against power have the disadvantage of being perceived as violating stereotypes if they protest injustices.
Annie was pressured to be in charge of a social for her son’s soccer team and ended up spending her own money to supply it. I suggested to her that she was now paying the school to work for them. This began a conversation about how there were multiple systems of power leaning on her, including her family, coaches, administrators, and social norms. In this situation, they were all making it hard for her to have a say in her own life or how she used her time and money.