We all like to think of ourselves as independent adults with minds of our own, right? But most of us aren’t as independent as we think. We’re emotionally dependent on—also known as addicted to—all kinds of things, including the approval of others. The yes/no test is a good way to gauge where you are on this. I use it all the time, and it can be a powerful tool.
If, on a regular basis, you don’t say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no, consider it a symptom of unhealthy dependency—and unhealthy fear. Do you really want fear to run your life? Once you realize what you’re doing, you can learn to stop. You can start saying what you mean and doing what you really want. And that makes for a happier, healthier, and probably more successful you.
Are you compromising yourself and your life?
What exactly is emotional dependency? It’s reliance on anything outside yourself for your emotional needs. Dependent is the key word here. Of course you have needs that are satisfied by friends, your partner, hobbies, achievements . . . But when you become dependent on external stuff, you start compromising yourself and your life, doing things you don’t really want to do, for fear of losing them. A nice recipe for resentment, wouldn’t you say?
And BTW, nursing resentments is a great way to make yourself vulnerable to full-blown chemical addiction, as anyone who’s been in a Twelve Step program will tell you.
Think about the last time you said yes when you wanted to say no, or vice versa, and ask yourself why you basically lied. Maybe you didn’t want to hurt or offend the other person. But if you take a hard look at yourself, more often than not you will find that you were afraid to say what you meant because you yourself did not want to be hurt by the other person’s reaction. Maybe you simply wanted them to like you. That used to be a big one for me. God forbid someone didn’t like me, even if I could not abide them!
A stealth way of saying yes when you mean no is to compromise. We tend to think of compromise as a good and reasonable thing, but consider whether you’re lowering your standards because you’re afraid to do otherwise.
Are you a person or a puppet?
After a lifetime of saying yes when you mean no, no when you mean yes, compromising left and right, and generally letting fear push you around, you may not even know what you really do want anymore. And that’s a bad place to be. You aren’t even living your own life, but rather living as the willing puppet of everyone around you, possibly unbeknownst to you or them.
These telltale yes/no situations range from inconsequential (in the short term, at least) to bad to scarring.
On the low end, you might always go to the restaurant your partner likes. Why? Maybe you really don’t care, but maybe there’s an underlying fear there. Deep down, you think you have to be accommodating, or your partner won’t love you anymore. And all the while, he or she might be perfectly happy to do Thai food (my personal favorite) every other time.
Let’s move up the spectrum from food to . . . sex. Far more potential for bad outcomes here. You say yes when you really want to say no, and then you feel, well, gross. For years. Raise your hand if you’ve been there. (I raised my hand.) Or you say no when you want to say yes, because your mind is colonized by other people’s stupid ideas about whom you’re supposed to sleep with or how you’re supposed to look while you’re doing it. (My hand is up again. And I hope I don’t have to say this, but for the recipient of the no, no always means no.)
Turn exceptions into action
There are of course situations when—for the moment—you really do have to say yes when you want to say no, or you’ll face consequences you are not yet prepared for. Work situations are the obvious example. You can’t necessarily just say no to that task or assignment and keep your job, and you may need that job. But if you hear yourself saying no in your head a lot, listen to that, and then do something about it.
Is it time to talk to your boss about changing your job description? Someone else might actually want that task. Or is it time to update your resume and go find a job you love? Or create one?
I started practicing the test with work situations a while back. I freelance, and I found myself saying yes too often to projects that did not appeal to me, out of fear that I would not be able to pay my bills. Well, I decided to say no to fear for once and started saying no to those projects. And guess what? These days I’m happy with every project I’m involved in and making more money to boot.
The awareness you can gain from practicing the yes/no test is invaluable. It’s a small but important step toward finding out what you really want and becoming the independent, empowered, fulfilled person that every one of us is meant to be.
Laura MacKay is coauthor of Dr. Rosemary Ellsworth Brown’s Addiction Is the Symptom: Heal the Cause and Prevent Relapse with 12 Steps that Really Work, a new take on the traditional Twelve Steps that works for any kind of emotional dependency. Laura completed Dr. Brown’s step process in April 2014 and has been saying and doing a lot more of what she really wants ever since. She blogs at the book website, www.addiction-is-the-symptom.com.