Sunday, 16 September 2012

Standing Up for Yourself (Part I)

        I feel that standing up for oneself is like lifting weights. You have to start small and build yourself up. I wish I had had a chance to build myself up before I had to confront an N in my FOO. Having no skills at all in this department and being thrown down at the deep end I found the experience highly stressful and emotionally damaging. Still, at least I learned that I could do it and the world didn't end.
        When I first started realising that things had to change, someone lent me a book about boundaries. It discussed at length the importance of being able to say no. I remember thinking at the time that there was no way that I could ever do this, even imagining myself saying no to people other than my husband made me feel anxious. I could see that this was the way to go, I just didn't think that I'd ever be able to do it. However I realise now that saying no is like every other skill: it becomes easier with practice. So practise with people you feel safe with (or with people you who might never see ever again: salesmen, waiters, etc). It's also a good idea to practice asking for things as well. I'm one of these people that I would never ask for anything: I  have no sugar in my tea because when I was younger I was too shy to tell the host that I'd like sugar in my tea. (You can see what a long way this has been for me if I couldn't even say: Could I have some sugar, please?)
       Something else I learned is to buy myself time before I agreed to anything. I learned to say things like: 

  • Can I get back to you on that?
  • I need to check my diary.
  • Not sure what I'm doing yet.
  • I'll let you know.
These replies buy you a bit of time so you can think about whether you really want to do what is asked.  Be prepared for people who will ask you what you're doing on a particular day first so that when they tell you what they want you to do you have no excuse. Well I suppose you could just say: "Sorry, I don't fancy doing that." I'm not that far ahead, not saying that I will not be one day, I'm just not there yet. So my defence line for people like that is to say: "Why are you asking?"
Being able to return questions with another question is an invaluable skill to have. We are not obliged to give an answer just because someone is asking it. Besides I have found that there are a lot of nosy people who are always "fishing" for information but never volunteer any about themselves. "Those who fetch, carry", best not to give them anything to "carry". There is another trick that nosy people have up their sleeve: they keep silent until it becomes so uncomfortable that before you know it you've told them everything they wanted to know. I'm training myself to be silent with those people, see who can hold out the longest. It is really hard at first, because we are so programmed to fill in the silence, but I promise you: it does get easier with practice.           


  1. Good post Kara, with lots of good information. Surprisingly, my NM also gave me the "Why are you asking line?" or "Why would you say that?" line when I was struggling with my NMIL. I guess if you want the best defense against a narc, ask another narc ;)
    But it is hard and you do have to start small. I like how you compare it to weight lifting. Each time you get a little stronger and it gets a little easier.
    Also, with the "silent" people: I've often found that turning the conversation back around to them works wonders. Just keep asking them questions (it doesn't have to be personal stuff) can keep them away from you and keep them from getting too deep. Then, there isn't an uncomfortable silence that you feel the need to fill.

    1. Thanks Jessie. I loved your line "I guess if you want the best defense against a narc, ask another narc ;)". No kidding. It's like they were playing a game with us and they were taking advantage of us not knowing "the rules". Until now. Let's beat them at their own game! ;)
      Thanks for the tip for the "silent" people. I am seeing one of the "silents" this Sunday so it will come in handy.

  2. OMG! That is wonderful: Why are you asking?! Love it! I find it difficult to think on my feet and something some of the Ns in my life are good at are catching me off guard; they see that I am on FB and start chatting with me because they need something and want the answer right way maybe thinking that I will say YES if I am off guard rather than if there is a delay like on e-mail (which is usually true when I am off guard). I even had one stop by my apt after only meeting her at work a few weeks before! Just yesterday I got one of the those chats but I left my FB ON on my computer and wasn't at my computer and she started chatting with me. I know what she wants and this time I am so using that phrase: Why are you asking? Love it! Great post!
    T Reddy
    P.S. I totally get not asking the waiter for sugar.

    1. Hi T Reddy,
      "I find it difficult to think on my feet and something some of the Ns in my life are good at are catching me off guard" Yes, a lot of us are feel that way too. That's why any tools that give us a bit of space are so useful. Funny how they always want an answer straight away, so that once we say yes we are "bound" by it come what may, because they know we are the kind of people who mean what we say and that if we agree to something we will follow through.
      Last time I was in an Indian restaurant I asked the waiter for a drink that wasn't in the menu (a Lassi) and they made one for me. WOOHOO! A long to way to have come for someone who couldn't even ask for sugar...

    2. Hi! That's terrific - ordering off the menu - love it! How was the Lassi? xx

    3. The Lassi was really good, the feeling of a secret "personal victory" even better! :) xx

  3. Hi. I am at the beginning of my journey of recovery and realization about growing up with a narcissistic mother. I totally get the not being able to ask for things, I also found it difficult to just address older people, like friends parents and so going anywhere for tea was very daunting as I felt I didn't dare ask for anything. Reading this post really reminded me of that feeling.

    1. Hi, welcome on board and thanks for the feedback. I get the "not-being-able-to-ask-for-things" from my mother. She always looked down on people who asked for anything. Like it was a terrible crime or something.

  4. Hi Kara,
    Saying 'no" is definitely a skill and a muscle. Great post. There are an infinite number of ways to say no. Asian cultures know this; I'm currently using this one: "I'll revisit it when conditions are more conducive." That's a conversation stopper. I'm learning to think like a narc, with respect to messing with their heads. If you're going to say "no" to a Narc, don't do it like you'd say "no" to a normal person. Extemporize--throw in extra words about something completely off point. Not excuses or explanations, mind you. Just things like: "it's interesting that you asked. I wonder what the weather will be like tomorrow. I can think more about this. After the other thing is done." Or..."gee, wish I could, and I'd like to, get back to me about it next month or year.'
    Or "sorry, can't--but did you read that thing in the paper last week?" Mess with their heads. Payback's a bitch.

    1. "I'll revisit it when conditions are more conducive." Oh, love it, love it, love it!!!!!! Payback's a bitch indeed. They're so used to the script that they don't know what to do with themselves when you change it, and of course, it NEVER occurs to them that you might have stepped up your game. The puzzled look in their faces is priceless. Time to turn the tables. :)
      I've just remembered a friend of my husband when confronted with obtrusive questions would always reply: "Because of the reason." Nobody ever proceeded to ask him what that reason was, it'd just make them look too nosy which is precisely the thing they're trying to hide at all costs.

  5. I know those lame ways to put people off and they make me sick. If any one could take a hint and wave off and say no, I don't think he wants to loot his savings and buy my shot glass collection so I will back off, I would consider it a sign from god that it's time to believe or be ready to bite the big apple.
    But no. They keep hammering away.
    Until you finally rise up and say...I. wouldn't. buy. those. goddamn. shot. glasses. off. you. if. they. came. with. a. sex. starved. Zoey. Deschanel. and each one filled with Jack Daniel's.
    Then you get the ewwwwwwwwww (to the tune of the Queen of England)
    What bug got up his ass?

  6. Wonderful post, Kara!

    I think I took it one step further - I took 'pride' in getting by with less. I couldn't ask for more without overly imposing on someone (oooooh, bad!), so I always thought, "I don't even NEED sugar in my tea! I like it without!"

    I've gotten so good at convincing myself that I'm not denying myself anything by not asking for it that it's hard to know what I even want anymore. The upside is that I'm strangely content with whatever I get, ha ha! ;-)

    Actually, your post has made me realise something - what I pride myself for is getting by on 'nothing'. I can live comfortably with very few luxuries (or I find luxury in things that are available).

    Maybe it's a knee-jerk to constantly being accused of acting "spoiled".

    I love mango lassi. I'm going to proudly request one the next time I'm out for Indian! The drink of champions! :-) (Celebrate small victories, yes?!).

    Good for you for taking these difficult steps. It takes real bravery to break old patterns! You have terrific character, Kara!

    1. So interesting to read that you went that step further. Mango lassi is lovely! My favourite one is Saffron Lassi, I had it once in a Nepalese restaurant.
      Thanks for the commendation Quercus, I really appreciate it :) xx

  7. Thank you for bringing up the importance of asking for things!