If you can’t say no, it isn’t a healthy relationship.
I once knew someone who lived near a town I was going to visit. He was a friend on Facebook, so when I mentioned that I was about to go on a road trip there, he quickly sent me a message wondering if I wanted to meet up. I didn’t really want to make a detour and I honestly didn’t want to see him. I used the fact that it was my husband’s birthday trip as an excuse. (Perhaps one day I’ll address the issue of simply not being honest and flat out saying No.)
He didn’t take it well. He thought I was very rude. I remember that I’d even considered temporarily blocking him on Facebook during the trip so that he wouldn’t get updates on where we were and what we were doing. I thought there was a good chance that he just might show up at a restaurant we were eating at.
I now realize this is not the sign of a friendship. And while I’m writing this I realize that my feeling was fear. And that I should be honest and admit that I’m talking about my brother.
We never were close, and it took me years to realize that he was psychologically abusive. There is some advantage I think to being physically abused. There are bruises. You know you have been hit. But when you are psychologically abused it is a lot harder to notice the damage. Thus the abuse continues.
The abuser can continue to work on you. Day by day the manipulation continues. The lesson of how to act is reinforced. “If you want me to be happy, you will do things my way.” This is very similar to the sentence that begins with the words “Don’t you think…” Anybody who starts a sentence with those words doesn’t care what you think. They are telling you what they think and they think that you should share their
My Mom used to say that if two people agreed all the time, one was unnecessary. I’m slowly starting to understand this.
I realized finally that if my brother was anybody other than my brother I would have dropped him years ago. He wasn’t a friend. He was only nice to me if I did things his way. I was becoming unnecessary. I was starting to not even exist. I don’t even remember when he stopped calling me by name. He referred to me as “Sister.” Just a title. A place holder. Not even my name.
When I asserted myself and said that I didn’t like how I was being treated he backed off a little. For a few months things almost were normal, or what passes for normal. Then, slowly he would begin pushing me. We fell into the old dance again so easily, with him leading and me getting my toes stepped on.
I’ve read that the kindest way to kill a lobster is to put it in a pot of warm water and slowly raise the temperature. The lobster never even knows what is happening and just calmly and quietly goes to sleep. No screaming. No flailing about. That beautiful carapace, that armor, does him no good.
I was that lobster. I was dying and I didn’t even put up a fight. When I stood up for myself again his response was “How come you always want things your way?” If “my way” means being treated in a respectful manner, then yes, I do want things my way. I finally realized that I was ok with never talking to him again. That was a very hard place to reach. When I finally walked away I believe I started to understand what abused wives feel like when they escape from their battering husbands.
How did I get to this point? How did I grow from being the dutiful little sister, the Southern raised, Christian girl into a person who stood up for herself? All of my upbringing taught me to be submissive, subservient, subtracted. I was a minus. I didn’t exist. My opinion didn’t matter. I suspect this is normal for many women.
I started reading. Books are my lifeline, my bridge. I first read “Difficult Conversations.” That was hard. It was about facing the problem head on and learning how to talk with people and how to express your own viewpoint. At the same time I was taking a class about dialogue as opposed to debate. This was a very painful time. It was as if I was breaking myself into new pieces so I could rearrange myself into a whole new person, a person of peace.
I then went to the classics. “Codependent No More” and then “Boundaries.” I even read a dog-training manual. They all said the same thing. You have to start from a position of self. You have to know what you like and what you don’t like. You need to be aware of what kind of behavior you were willing to accept and what wasn’t OK. And you had to be
consistent. You had to use “I statements” and say how you felt. Well, the dog training manual didn’t say that last part. But it did talk about being calm and assertive.
Being assertive isn’t the same as being domineering. Saying “No” as a full sentence (Thanks to Anne Lamott for those words) is not a bad thing. In fact, learning that can save your life. At the very least, it can stop you from disappearing.