The darker side of a happy affect





I’ve been on both sides of this too. It’s really complicated. I have more to say about this, but it’s still incubating. 

Part of the short version is that I agree with you that trying to pressure people into saying that something’s wrong is a really bad idea. (When you want to send the message that boundaries are allowed, it doesn’t work so well to trample on the clear boundaries someone is expressing).

I’m talking about something else, closer to what you’re describing. There are ways of interacting with people whose ability to say no is compromised that facilitate more-consensual interaction. (eg: slowing down and giving them processing time, and not freaking out if they realize after the fact that they would have said no if they’d realized they could.) Pressuring people into talking about their feelings isn’t one of the things that helps; it’s anti-helpful.

I’m going to agree that pressuring people into talking about how they feel isn’t helpful. Taking this away from the abuse side of things, my little brother is autistic and is easily led and has a hard time saying no (even if he doesn’t really want to do something). Being his brother, and wanting the best for him, I try to help him make decisions and choices that HE wants. I don’t do this by saying ‘Shall we go to the park? What’s wrong, don’t you want to go to the park? Why don’t you want to go to the park? What’s wrong with the park? Don’t you trust me?’ This would just be useless, because he has enough of a grasp of social interaction to understand that the above acts as persuasion (even if you don’t mean it to). He would just take it to mean that you want to go to the park, and that he should say yes, so he would say ‘yes let’s go to the park’ even if he doesn’t want to go to the park.

The way I personally combat this is to ask open-ended questions, or give a choice. Asking Thomas ‘What would you like to do today?’ sometimes isn’t much better than asking ‘would you like to go to the park?’ because he would struggle to pick something from the wide variety of choices and end up with ‘I don’t know.’

So, the way I interact with my brother tends to be more along the lines of ‘Would you like to go to the park, OR would you like to go to the cinema, OR would you like to stay at home?’

‘Would you like a cup of tea OR would you like some water?’ etc etc etc

Now it helps that as someone who helps care for my brother, I know him very well, and I already know what he likes and what he can and can’t have (due to dietary restrictions etc). So I know what options I can and can’t give him. But I find when interacting with someone that has issues saying no, giving them a choice will help at least a little, because it gives them some kind of autonomy over their actions and (hopefully) teaches them that making a decision for themselves is okay. It’s also important not to question their choice and not to judge them for it, because if you do that, back to square one basically.

This is closer to what I was talking about.

(And some forms of this are possible in an equal relationship between peers. I have friends who I’m careful with in similar ways).

except that the false choices was one of the ways my abusive mom kept control over me. She’d offer me a choice between two things I didn’t want, and then force me to choose, telling me “neither” wasn’t a choice when I’d try that. So. Yeah.

Yes. False choices and fake communication are horrible, horrible things.

The difference is a bit hard to describe.

But I’d say that, if the way you ask questions means you always get an answer that you want, and the questions don’t make it possible for someone to tell you something inconvenient or undesirable, then what you’re doing isn’t communication.