Holding on to no







Lately, I’ve noticed that when i start to lose verbal bandwidth, one of the first things to go is my ability to say no. This is in part because saying no in a socially acceptable way is complicated, and tends to require a lot of verbal nuance.

I’m trying to fix this though, because no is important.

Here are some ways that sort of work for me:

  • Using email and avoiding in-person interaction for situations that are likely to push me into that frame of mind so I can respond slowly enough to remember that saying no is possible
  • Telling my trusted friends about situations I have trouble saying no in, and asking them to try to ask if I’m ok in those situations
  • Typing rather than speaking when my words bandwidth drops too low. Because typing uses less bandwidth than speaking, for some reason, which leaves me with more to work with to figure out whether I’m ok. I can’t do that as often as I’d like to, but I can do it with some friends.
  • Having objects around that say no on them. I don’t use them for direct communication, but they can remind me that saying no is a thing
  • Noticing when the shape of my stimming is suggesting to me that something is wrong, and taking that as a signal that I need to figure out what is going on

Do any of you know other ways to hold on to your ability to say no?

I only lose my ability to say no when I can’t come to a yes-or-no conclusion at all, so a policy of not answering at all in those situations works well for me. Instead, I give a brief explanation of what the problem is - something like “I’m not sure what you’re asking, here” or “I’m not sure how to prioritize those factors, I’ll need to think about it” or “I’m really low on spoons and shouldn’t even try to work that out”.

(A lot of why that works with me is that I have a strong policy of avoiding people who won’t respect that kind of answer, which has a multitude of benefits.)

How do you manage to avoid people who don’t respect that answer?

You can’t arrange to never encounter such people, but once you know someone does that, you can at least disinclude them as a friend, and possibly (depending on ability to express such things to other people) let your friends know you need to not be near that person. Generally people are pretty good about helping with stuff like that.

Yes, this is a big part of it.

Teaching people via my interactions with them that respecting me is non-optional is another big part, but that’s significantly more complex. Just deciding not to be around people who don’t automatically assume that they shouldn’t be disrespectful (…wow, that’s a lot of negatives; let me know if anyone needs that detangled) is a lot easier and has about the same benefits - just the extra downside of ending up avoiding people that you might be able to deal with if you have the extra skills required for the teaching bit.

In my household, “No is an acceptable answer” is the most common ending for any question that starts with “Will you”, “Do you want to”, or “Can I”. My gf and I both have problems remembering that fact, so we have built the reminder into the process of asking. Having it reinforced so often helps me remember the option elsewhere, so if I need it to be, my first response to these questions is to ask, “Is no an acceptable answer?” The bonus side effect is, nobody wants to appear rude or overbearing, so the answer is pretty much always some variant of “Of course it is!” After that, they really can’t look rational and give you a hard time if you say no.