Are You the Pushover in Your Family?


Doctor Neha: Hi, everyone, and welcome back, Naushad. Naushad is a brave soul who has done a video blog with me before on the disease to please—people pleasing—and how it can undermine our relationships. And he wanted to give an example of this issue with his brother and see what we can come up with. So thanks for coming back and sharing a specific example.

Naushad: Absolutely.

Doctor Neha: So tell me what’s on your mind.

Naushad: I have two younger siblings. My younger brother is nine years younger than me, and over the years, we have grown a lot closer in our relationship. But there are always times when he wants to spend more time with me and I kind of perceive that as him being the annoying little brother. Like wanting to get in my way, take over my intention, interrupt me when I’m doing things.

Doctor Neha: He’s kind of a grown man now, isn’t he?

Naushad: He’s 21 now.

Doctor Neha: OK. So he’s not like an annoying little brother, he’s a young man.

Naushad: I have an example from this week. It was evening and I was actually doing some work, writing letters to some of my friends and my clients for the holidays. So sending wishes to them, and I had quite a few to get through. My brother came into my room to say, “Hello, how’s it going?” And then he bugged me with “C’mon I want you to play X-box with me. I’ve gotten this brand new basketball game. I want you to play with me.” I said, “I’m working, no, I can’t right now.” He said, “Please, please, please, I really want you to play with me.” So I said, “OK, just give me five minutes.” I knew at that time it was going to take me longer than five minutes because I had a lot of stuff to get done.

So he left the room and in about 10-15 minutes later, he comes back in and says, “It’s been 15, 20 minutes. What are you doing? Why are you still working?” I said, “I have to do this right now, but I’ll play with you a little bit later.” He says, “No, come play with me now. I’ve been waiting for you, and I have to go soon.” So I said, “OK, all right, let’s do this now.” So I had to put aside what I was doing to please my brother. That’s what unfolded.

Doctor Neha: Here’s the deal about the moment you started to cave. When he first came in and said, “Will you play X-box with me? I got this new basketball game” and he was trying to make it enticing, he’s a good salesman. You say, “No I can’t. I’ve got to do this work.” So he knows that your “No” actually doesn’t mean anything. So what does he do? He says “C’mon,” and you said, “OK, five minutes.” You just made a level five agreement. So you know what he did, he probably looked at his watch and he’s like, “OK, five minutes.” You just gave him an agreement that you knew you couldn’t keep even at the time. And then when he came back in, what do you do? Then he starts guilting you because you knew it wasn’t five minutes, now it had been 15 or 20. Now he’s going to come in and he can blame you—because he’s right. You said five minutes and now it’s 15 or 20 minutes. He’s got you hooked, and you’ve got to go out there and play the game. So that’s what you did, right?

Naushad: Yes.

Doctor Neha: Except tell me where you lost control of the situation. What was the very moment you lost control?

Naushad: It was right when I he said, “please” It was right after the first question when I said, “Not right now.” Then he said, “Please, please.” And I felt sorry. I felt like I had to say yes.

Doctor Neha: And so what are you feeling sorry for? What were you worried about?

Naushad: I feel like I’m letting him down.

Doctor Neha: Ah, except it’s OK if you let you down, if you don’t get your cards out, or it’s OK if you don’t get enough sleep. So it’s really interesting that you think you’re going to let him down. Tell me when did you feel the most let down growing up? Who did you feel let down by?

Naushad: That’s a good one. Who do I feel let down by? I can think of a few examples, but certainly times even with my own siblings, when I wanted to play something with them or wanted to go to the park—a very similar situation where I wanted to do something—but they didn’t want to go.

Doctor Neha: So they’re pretty strong personalities. I know your sister. I don’t know your brother. I know your sister has pretty strong personality. If she doesn’t want to do something, she’ll say, “No thank you.” So this is about the pain that you feel or felt when somebody did that to you, and you’re trying to help your brother avoid. Is that what’s happening?

Naushad: I think so.

Doctor Neha: OK, well when they said no and you wanted to go to the park and you felt some pain, did you get over it?

Naushad: Yeah, once I’m out there doing what I wanted to do, it’s easier to move on and forgive that person.

Doctor Neha: So why wouldn’t you allow them to go through their own process when they feel disappointed? They ask someone to do something, and you don’t really don’t want to do it or you have other priorities, can you trust that they can handle the disappointment and that they’ll get over it? You’d not only be doing them a service, but also when you do engage with them, they will know you really want to be there. Also outside of your household they’re going to get disappointed in the world. And the most important thing is that these are all experiences the teach us. If you never get disappointed in your own home, you’ll go out into the world for a rude awakening. And the other thing about it is you’re going to be able to have an authentic relationship with them, not one that’s based in guilt, feeling badly or feeling sorry for someone, but one that’s actually based in shared joy and meaning.

So the question is, how do you now reframe situations with your brother and your family since they have your digits? They know how to get you to agree with things like, “Please, please, please” or exactly the tone to use or what to say to get Naushad to answer yes. Over the next week or month, pay attention and write a list of how someone gets you to do something that you don’t want to do— the tone of their voice, the look in their eyes, what they actually say—that has you abandoning yourself in that moment. Once you realize what those triggers are, the next step is to have a conversation with your family: “Hey guys, I’m starting to learn about my own communication…” You can always blame it on my book! “I spoke to Neha about some communication issues. What I realized is a lot of times I say yes when I really mean no, and afterward I feel guilt-tripped or resentful. What I want to do is to show up and say yes, but mean yes, and say no one when I mean no. So things might change a little bit when you come and speak to me. And I wanted to give you a heads up that it’s not personal to you. I’m learning how to say no and say what I mean so that my answer really means something. And this isn’t about any of you. You haven’t done anything wrong. But it might be a little uncomfortable the next time when you say, ‘Naushad, when are you going to do this with me?’ and I say, ‘Thank you for asking, but no, I’m not interested in doing that.’ If you say it again, ‘Please, please, please, I really want you to do this.’ I’m going to say, ‘I’m really glad you want to spend time with me except right now isn’t a good time.’”

They can come up with as many ways as they want to try to convince you but you can come up with just as many ways to effectively hold your ground. Decide that you’re not going to swallow any conflict inside you. You’re not going to take conflict outside of you and put it inside you.

Naushad: I like that.

Doctor Neha: Does that make sense?

Naushad: Yes.

Doctor Neha: Tell me your takeaways.

Naushad: So my takeaways are realizing that when I say no, it’s not necessarily an attack on the other person. I’m letting them know what I’m feeling right now and that I have to take care of myself or have to do something else. Then when I agree to do something with someone, what that does in the end is make our experiences together more valuable because I can be more fully present without second guessing myself or feeling guilty for something that I said yes to that was not a “hell, yes!” right now. At some point in the future, when the time is right, then I can be fully present and create a more authentic connection.

Doctor Neha: It’s also about trusting that other people can handle disappointment. You’ve had to handle it, and it’s never pleasant, but if you keep working on not disappointing another person, boy, you’re going to be doing a very fancy dance because disappointment is in every environment and in every room.

The other piece is to take a moment to notice in romantic relationships and in family when you take things personally that aren’t personal. It’s not about you not being enough or not being lovable. But maybe none of those things is true. If we ever feel that way, it may be that we are taking something personally that might not actually be about us but about somebody else’s experience. Now I don’t want to take away the responsibility that sometimes a situation or feeling is about us—but it sounds to me like you err more on the side of taking things personally. So the question to ask yourself is, “If this wasn’t about me, what other things could it be about?” That’s a good question to ask when you notice in your body that you’re taking something personally. How do you know in your body that you’re taking something personally? Do you feel sucker-punched? Sometimes I feel throat constriction. How do you know?

Naushad: Sometimes a sensation deep down in my chest or my stomach; my breathing changes a little bit.

Doctor Neha: Pay attention, because that’s your first sign to ask yourself that question: “If it wasn’t about me, what are three other explanations that I could come up with?” Make sense?

Naushad: That makes a lot of sense.

Doctor Neha: All right, I think you’re well on your way. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Naushad: Thank you, Neha.

Doctor Neha:  For all of you out there who know that you take things a little too personally, a great question to ask yourself when you notice that reaction in your body is to say, “If this wasn’t about me, what are three other stories that I could make up a that might equally well be true?” That will help you not hold onto external conflict on the inside of you. Thanks, Naushad. Until I see you again. Thank you so much.

Naushad: All right. Thank you.

Awareness Prescription

Three Reminders When You’re About to Give In

  1. Saying no to someone else is actually saying yes to you.

  2. It’s important to learn to sit in the discomfort of someone else’s disappointment rather than creating your own.

  3. In the short-term, when you choose to avoid an external conflict, it doesn’t go away. Long-term, it transforms into an internal conflict that undermines your confidence and self-trust.


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