A Root Cause of Mistrust and How to Solve It
Have you ever said yes, even though you really wanted to say no? On the flip side, have you ever wondered if someone who said yes to you really meant it?
My client has been struggling with this. What she noticed was that she felt anxious about her friendships. Specifically, when her friends agreed to hang out, did they really want to, or were they just being nice?
“Why would you think that?” I asked.
“Well, they agree to hang out with other people they don’t really like and then moan to me about it.”
“Why wouldn’t they just say no thanks?” I said.
“They don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings,” she replied.
This is a really common muddle. It comes with the territory of being social creatures. We live and work together, which means we have to negotiate the time and space we share. It’s pleasant to be in harmony and can be unpleasant to be in discord. So, we sometimes resort to creating false harmony by saying yes when we mean no. We figure, I’ll just grin and bear it, rather than risking hurting someone’s feelings.
“It’s hurtful to say no.” I summarize the thought that underlies her suffering. “Is it true?” If you’ve ever believed this thought, center yourself in a specific memory of it – maybe someone asked you out or a colleague asked for your help – and do The Work along with us. The four questions and the turnarounds of The Work illuminate every nook and cranny of a thought and help you to see how good and complete your life can be without it.
“Yes,” she replies. “You take a risk when you invite someone. When you say yes, it’s like you catch them. You keep them from falling on their face.”
Her reasoning reveals that she is still in thinking mind when she answers, so I invite her into her body.
“Exhale,” I instruct. “Close your eyes. Breathe deeply and slowly. Relax your muscles and settle into your body. Now, can you be absolutely certain?” The second question of The Work invites us to go deeper, beyond thinking.
“No, I can’t be certain,” she says. I notice she seems calmer and more centered now.
“What do you see that tells you that?” I ask.
“You can feel when someone is pretending. They are lying to you and pitying you on top of it.”
“Okay. How do you react when you believe that it’s hurtful to say no?” The third question of The Work asks us to look at what effect this thought has on our lives. I ask sub-questions to reveal different aspects of her reaction to the thought.
“How does it feel in your body?”
“Heavy,” she says. “Like a weight. My face hurts – I’m making a face like I’m disgusted. I’m not breathing.”
“How do you treat the person you’re saying yes to? Deep down?”
She pauses. “Like I’m better than them. Like I have to manage their feelings because they can’t handle the truth.”
“Do you like it when someone does that to you?” I ask.
“No. It feels gross.”
“Okay. Now. How do you treat yourself when you believe that it’s hurtful to say no?”
She’s quiet for a minute. “Like I don’t matter.” The clarity of her responses and her calm reveal that a shift has taken place inside of her.
“Okay. So, turn the thought around,” I say. “Start with the opposite.”
“It isn’t hurtful to say no,” she says.
“What’s the evidence?” I ask.
“Not inherently. It’s just an answer, just a word. My ‘no’ may not have anything to do with them. Like, the other day I told a friend no because I wasn’t feeling well, and I didn’t feel guilty about it, and she was fine with it.”
“Sounds about right. What’s another turnaround?” I prompt.
“It’s hurtful to say yes – if I don’t mean it.”
“That’s the spirit! What’s the evidence?”
“I’m treating them like they’re fragile. I’m in their business and not in mine, which hurts them and me, too. And the truth always comes out. Like, how hurt would they be if it got back to them that I was moaning about them to another friend? Or, I say yes, and they think we’re good, but the whole time I’m getting more and more annoyed with them, and I’m being a jerk to them to give them the hint.”
“So,” I summarize, “remember what you said at the beginning. You said a person takes a risk when they invite, and by saying yes, you prevent them from falling on their face. Which means they think they’re safe with you. But they’re really not, if you’re not being honest.”
“There’s one more turnaround,” I say. “It’s kind. . . “
“It’s kind to say no,” she finishes. “If that’s the truth. It might be awkward up front, but it’s better than lying.”
My client began with feeling she could not trust her friends. The Work revealed the root of that mistrust: among her friends, saying no was not an option. If you can’t say no, yes does not necessarily mean yes. No wonder she was anxious!
The Work also revealed her way out: if honesty is what she wants, it’s up to her to practice it.