I’m not entirely sure how to describe this, but I know it’s a thing, and I know a *little* about how to deal with it:
Some people have been systemically taught that they are absolutely never allowed to say no to anything. That their boundaries don’t matter, and that they’re not really people.
For this reason, some things you’d normally do in order to establish consent and find out someone’s preferences don’t work *at all*.
For instance, asking “do you want to eat a sandwich?” is a totally useless question when you’re asking someone who’s been taught to interpret this as a command. Which a lot of people have been, because they’re in the power of people who don’t want to perceive themselves as having power over others. So they use lots of things that *look* like questions and polite requests, but aren’t.
And people get really, really good at correcting identifying orders and giving every outward appearance of consent. Because that dynamic punishes everything else.
So you have to do it differently. You have to make more guesses (not the right word, but don’t know a better one). And you also have to ask questions differently. You have to ask in a way that *doesn’t* suggest an answer. And you have to remind people that saying no is possible. For instance “Do you want to watch TV now, or do something else?” is better than “do you want to watch TV now?”, but still probably not good enough.
But you have to notice this. And take it into account when you interact with people. I know some of my followers on here know more about how to do this than I do — comments anyone?
I still do this even years after getting away from people who did stuff like that. :x
It’s hard hard hard to unlearn that. When learning how to be that compliant is survival, and when you have a lot of experience getting really good at it, and you’re so good at it that it becomes automatic — even *noticing* that you’ve done it can be damn hard. Hard hard hard.
And it’s upon everyone who interacts with people who have learned this anti-skill to make it possible for them not to use it in their interactions with you.
And it’s hard to do that, and not something our culture really values, and I want to think a lot more about how to do that right.
Consent is more complicated than asking first.
I had a short-lived friendship that died because of this sort of miscommunication. :( We didn’t even try to do anything more complicated than hang out together, but when I would ask a question too opened-ended to contain the answer, she would get confused and upset and then I would get frustrated and upset and communication broke down completely.
The worst was, “Oh, what kind of food would you like to get before the movie?”
We talked ourselves in circles for ten minutes while she tried to determine my preferences so she wouldn’t fuck up and I would say I liked a thing and suggest a place and ask her if she would like to eat there. She would confusedly say yes(?) but using all the vocal markers and body language that I code as ‘not really, but I will’, so I would suggest a new place and the process would repeat, only with increasing confusion as I seemingly flipped through preferences and gave her different ‘orders’ she must agree with while she refused to state any preferences at all in case I got mad at her for them. I felt like I was taking advantage of her willingness to do stuff she didn’t want to do and couldn’t figure out what she did want to do.
Disaster. Sheer disaster.
I honestly don’t know how to communicate that there is no wrong answer and you can say no beyond adding, ‘there is no wrong answer’ or ‘you can say no’. (Which I have started to do, because it really is easier to just be blunt sometimes.)
I would like to chime in on this. I am an English teacher for Chinese students and I have to practically beat it into my students that it is ok to say no. In this society, when someone asks you to do something for them, you are basically expected to do it and that translates to classroom behavior. I ask them if they understand and they all say “Yes!” Then I ask a question about whatever I am teaching and they all look at me like they have no idea what I just said (which does happen sometimes). I have drilled it into them, by saying every single class period “it’s ok to say no.”,and “If you don’t understand something, I want you to yell “NO” at me!” (then we practice yelling “NO” so they can get used to it). I have also introduced “maybe”, “a little” and “kind of” into their vocabulary so that when I ask “do you understand” and only one or two people say “yes”, I can say “a little?” and then the rest will agree and say rather enthusiastically “a little!”
I bring this up because those who are taught that they can’t say no have SUCH a hard time saying no that it’s generally a great idea to give them a way of disagreeing without actually saying “no.” You can sit down and have a chat with them explaining that you realize what the problem is and you don’t want to cause them any undue stress. You can both agree on a “maybe” term that can be used that means, basically, “no” but won’t freak them out. Also, telling them “it’s ok to say no” is a great thing to do, even though it seems rather redundant and boring and almost childish, the constant reassurance that it’s ok can be beneficial for helping the person who has been trained not to disagree. So PLEASE, tell them repeatedly that it’s ok to stick up for what they want and what they like. And if they don’t know what they like, take them to a food court of a mall (or other such place that could ensure a mass exposure to things they could like) and have a field day trying every type of food. Encourage them. It will be super difficult and rather stressful for them and they will pick up if you’re stressed out too, which will make them feel worse. So, remember to be patient (as patient as you can be, we all get annoyed at times but don’t take it out on them).
tl:dr TELL THEM IT’S OK TO SAY NO TO YOU.