Friends talking about how difficult they find it to say no. Credit: iStock
The social pressure to be 'nice' has dire effects. These women share their stories.
Being agreeable is a social conditioning that is imposed on many of us, but often the pressure is put more so on women. Social norms often expect women to always be likeable, 'nice', soft … agreeable. Smile.
While this might not seem like a serious issue to some, this pressure of always being agreeable can have dire consequences for women.
For the sake of pleasing society or succumbing to social pressures women sometimes pass up employment, study and opportunities, promotions at work, building financial stability, and other times sometimes risk their physical safety.
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Recently I came across a woman who committed herself to financial agreement of at least 10 years, only because she didn’t have the heart to reject the offer. This reminded me of so many occasions I had agreed to certain things because I didn’t want to offend or ‘let someone down’.
There are many women like this that I know, including myself sometimes, who forgo their comfort just to accommodate other people at the expense of themselves. But why continue?
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In this interview with Bustle, therapist Amy Deacon says that "for centuries, women have been depicted as nurturers. Therefore, saying no, having boundaries and being assertive often results in our feeling guilty, ashamed and as though we are ‘not enough’."
"The thing is, people often do not realise that while we are accommodating, we are simultaneously sacrificing our sanity in the process," she adds.
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Professor Kathryn J Lively writes in Psychology Today that women often find it difficult to say no because they think they won’t be liked or someone’s feelings may be at risk.
“Practice saying no. Start with things that don’t matter, like a refill on a cup of tea or water at a restaurant. Learn to say it graciously and definitively, with confidence and good cheer. Once you get good at that, try it with something that carries a little more emotional weight,” says Professor Kathryn.
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She advises women to just say no, give a reason and let it go. It’s a good suggestion, but many women still struggle with what should be a simple exercise.
Read these young women’s accounts of the impact not being able to say no had on their lives
So a friend of mine quit her job and moved all the way from the Eastern Cape to Johannesburg, and asked me to accommodate her. Even though I was already sharing a flat, I couldn't say no. She ended up staying the whole year with us and that made my flatmate very uncomfortable.
I’m in a long term relationship because I was too scared to call it quits while it was still new. The guy is amazing, I just don’t think relationships are for me, but I’m in one because I’m too scared to say I don’t want it anymore. I know how much the man loves me. This happened in my previous relationship as well: I couldn’t say no thank you to a relationship after the guy kept insisting that we start dating officially. I only got the courage to cut him off seven months after we started dating and I had to tell him I cheated so that he would cut me out of his life for real. I’m a master at not listening to my own voice and going out of my way to make sure everyone else is happy, even at the expense of my own happiness and wellbeing. It’s pretty sad and pathetic actually.
I put a winter jacket I absolutely fell in love with on lay-buy during that struggle week before payday, knowing I’d be back the next week (on payday) to pay in full. However, when I returned they had “lost” the jacket and said they don’t refund lay-buys. In order for me to not lose the money I had already paid, I had to pick something else I hadn’t really planned on buying and pay more for it. I was well within my rights to not purchase anything and demand the refund, but sometimes I avoid confrontation because I hate negative energy.
I have always been quite afraid to say no, especially if I’ve displayed a little sense of willingness. I would find it impossible to change my mind and often put the feelings and needs of other people before mine. One such instance – something I am struggling to forget or rid my memory of – was a time when I had just turned 15. A group of us had gone to a Halloween party and were having a great time. One of the guys, also a friend of mine, at the party asked me to go and look for his sister who was separated from the group for a while. He had apparently been “concerned” about it. I agreed to go with him and off we went. Once we were away from everyone and behind a dark corner he began kissing me, and I didn’t understand what was happening but I didn’t want to cause a scene or hurt his feelings and so I didn’t push him away or tell him to stop. The touching went to kissing and eventually turned into sex. The whole time I was dead still and crying quietly, praying for it to just be over quickly. Once it was done, he acted like nothing ever happened. That was the first time I had had sex (or was used for sex) and I couldn’t tell anyone. I felt ashamed and worried that I might be accused of being promiscuous or easy. I know I have trouble saying no because there are still instances when a guy begs me for my cell phone number and I can’t get myself to say no even though I have a boyfriend who I have had fights with because of the random texts I get from guys I don’t know, all because I can’t say no.
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