Jan 04, No 1, Sec 1
Jan 04, No 1, Sec 2
Feb 04 No 1, Sec 1
Feb 04 No 1, Sec 2
Mar 2004, No 1, Sec 1
April 04, No. 1, Sec 1
April No 1, Sec 2
May 2004, No 1, Sec 1
May 2004, No 1, Sec 2
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July 2004, Sec 1, No 2
Aug 2004, Sec 1, No 1
Sept 04, No 1, Sec 1
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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

OCT 2004, Sec. I

Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the
Phoenix we trust!

Table of Contents

Shrink Rap:
   The Assertive Art of "N & N" - Part II:  How to Say "No and to Negotiate"
        Just for Grins


Heads Up:      Washington Navy Yard, Estrin Paralegal and Dept. of Justice  
      Training Kit, Books, CD and AOL Chat

Shrink Rap:

While "Just Say 'No'" has become a pat phrase (not unlike "Have a Good Day") putting this affirmative concept into action is often easier said than done.  The Stress Doc provides ten strategies for turning popular and too often simplistic expression into applied and substantive reality.  [Email stressdoc@aol.com if you missed Part I.]

The Assertive Art of "N & N" - Part II

How to Say "No and to Negotiate"

Part I of this two-part series examined barriers -- from the psychological to the cultural -- to saying "No" and setting healthy interpersonal boundaries.  Part II provides ten "N & N" tips and techniques to help you say "No and to Negotiate."  Here is "The 'N & N' Top Ten":

1.  Clean Up Your Static to Give a Clear Message. 
Saying "No" is not easy, especially if you believe the other party will be disappointed, feel rejected or become angry.  There's a tendency to either delay or dilute the limit-setting message.  And for a person who consistently accepts a deadline while knowingly withholding reservations about its reality and then, at the eleventh hour, apologetically admits to not being able to make good on his promise, there's a label:  passive-aggressive "stress carrier."  Ouch!  (And you know the definition of a stress carrier:  a person who doesn't get ulcers…just gives them!)

So confront your anxiety about hurting the other or of being hurt.  Don't engage in overprotection or infantilization; the other person is responsible for handling his or her own emotions.  And beware of projecting your own fear of rejection in a conflict situation; that is, you may dread rejection more than your antagonist.  Even more basic, if experiencing emotional static or flooding during the interpersonal encounter try to defuse any impulsive or reactive energy.  Check in with yourself, if not count to ten.  Use self-dialogue to acknowledge feeling hurt, scared or angry, and then talk yourself down.

The key is being clear and upfront in your own mind in order to deliver a clean "No" message in a timely, if not immediate, manner.  However, there is an art and a method of boundary setting that will help you establish limits while gradually encouraging a mutual discussion and problem-solving process.  Read on!

2.  Be Empathic Yet Firm. 
In the face of another's request or demand, saying "No" and slamming the door while walking out of the office or room is immature.  In addition, such a reaction may prove destructive.  The recipient of such hostility will likely find ways to get even -- overtly or covertly.  If possible, before delivering your "No" try to acknowledge the request without being defensive:  "I know this project is important to you."  If you can, itemize the reasons for its importance, e.g., an upcoming deadline, achieving a specific goal, or the negative consequences for missing a deadline or compromising an objective.

Now, clearly and decisively say "No."  Briefly explain why you can't meet the request as presented.  Then counter your own "No" with, "However, here's what I can do."  You also may need to ask for feedback if the other party is perturbed by your initial position.  (See #8.)  If your "No" and your empathic counter make an initial connection with the "Four Problem-Solving 'P's" -- the other person's Pain and Passion, Purpose and Power -- you will be laying the groundwork for "N & N":  No and Negotiation.  (And connecting to power may involve recognizing the other's strengths and/or understanding his vulnerability or feeling of impotence.)

3.  Use Relevant Facts and Place Issue in Context. 
For example, if a manager asks you to work on the weekend, responding in the following manner is less than a desirable strategy: "You always ask me to work on the weekend.  You're not being fair.  I'm not doing it!"  One problem with the response is that it's too global:  "You always ask me."  And out of frustration, by impulsively declaring, "I'm not doing it," you come across somewhere between being petulant and defiant.  You are also slamming the door on potential clarification, negotiation and consensus building.

A better strategy is being objective, not objectionable.  For example, try saying:  "I'm frustrated.  I'm not sure you realize that it's the third time this month that I've come in on the weekend.  I know this project is out of the ordinary; and I do want to be a team player.  However, maybe we need a better department-wide system for enlisting weekend workers.  By waiting till Thursday afternoon for recruiting whoever's available, the weekend workload is not falling equally on department personnel.  I'd like to bring this up on Monday in a department meeting."

You may decide to work the weekend in hopes of having the boss "owe you."  Obviously, being "on call" is built into some job descriptions.  If being available 24/7 doesn't apply, then, even without specific weekend plans, you have the right to protect your home-life and work-life boundaries.  Alas, if you have a boss who, on a consistent basis, won't respect such boundaries and there is no recourse for appealing to a higher authority (besides praying fervently) then it may be time to reassess the viability of your job situation.

4.  Use Assertive "I"s Not Blaming "You"s. 
There is an art to expressing frustration and anger.  Blurting out blaming "You" messages, e.g., "You're not fair" or as previously mentioned, the global, "You always," not only highlights gaps in your communication capacity.  In addition, this approach only throws fuel on the feedback fire.  The other party will likely become defensive-aggressive or passive-aggressive, perhaps getting even at a later time.  As highlighted, you can be assertive and tactful when making an objective point:  "I'm not sure you realize I have worked three weekends this month."  Using tentative phrasing -- "I'm not sure" -- is often a sign of strength.  (Of course, there are times when its use reflects questionable motives.  After a workshop, I recall a judge sharing that he liked my tactful yet tactical "I'm not so sure" counter in the heat of a potentially "right vs. wrong" power struggle.  He thought he might try it out with some of those obnoxiously aggressive attorneys with whom he battles daily:  "I'm not so sure…you a-hole!"   Umm, judge…you don't have to credit me for your new approach to engagement.)

Obviously, be careful about using provocative language that seems to label or critically judge someone as "unfair" (let alone a body part).  Focus your comments and concern on the specific problematic behavior.  Of course, when there has been a pattern of problematic behavior or decision-making, emotional subjectivity may need to be addressed before objectivity can be achieved.  Consider an opening that drops the exasperated, blaming "You"s:  "I have to say I'm confused and frustrated."  This allows you to blow off some steam without being overly reactive.  You are acknowledging and taking responsibility for your emotions.

By purposefully channeling your aggression you are better able to calmly and effectively assert "the facts."  You also can affirm your beliefs and boundary without being defensive, that is, blurting out "I'm not doing it."  Now your "No" seems less negative.  Instead of shutting a door you are opening a problem-solving window that frames the issue in a more useful and inviting manner.

5.  Don't Apologize.
  If you pride yourself on being understanding and accommodating, if you downplay the importance of "giving of yourself and giving to yourself," then saying "No" can be a challenge to your sense of identity and self-worth.  As was illustrated in Part I, numbers of people grew up in families that strictly enforced loyalty to authority:  Difference and disagreement were perceived as disapproval and disloyalty.  Non-conformity, displays of individuality and expressions of anger were met with guilt-laced tongue-lashings, if not physical beatings.  My "Law of the Loyalty Loop" may have prevailed:  Those who never want you to answer back always want you to back their answer!

So to deliver that clean and clear "NO"…you must believe you have the right to say "No."  And this right exists even if you can't deliver an airtight defense of your position.  You do not have to be like a character in a Franz Kafka novel, living a bureaucratic nightmare, forever on trial and carrying around a vague sense of guilt.  (If this plot sounds too familiar, it may be psychotherapy time; much better than Miller Time.)

As revolutionary as it may sound, you are allowed to disappoint others without having to justify yourself:  "Right now, this is how I feel" or "Right now, this is what I intend to do (or not do)."  So don't apologize for your "No."  Remember, it's often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.  Boldly embrace the "Basic Law of Safe Stress":  Do know your limits and don't limit your "No"s!

6.  Repeat Yourself Exactly. 
For some people, hearing a "No" can be as difficult as it is for others to take a contrary stance.  Some receivers will quickly decide that your "No" is a sign of disloyalty or defiance.  Other recipients of your "negativity," especially individuals who see themselves as being so accommodating and self-sacrificing, who have done so much for you, may feel deprived or betrayed.  They are entitled to your siding with them, if not rewarding them, for their goodness.  While claiming their motives are devoid of self-interest, ironically, you have violated their "just world" hypothesis.  (Self-righteous attitudes and actions yield the right and deserved results.)  Alas, these people are trapped in their own "fairness fallacy," and want to drag you into their "holier than thou" belief system.

What this means is that your "No" may well be a shock to a demanding or delicate or a delicately demanding and dysfunctional person.  And typically, in a state of shock, our sensory apparatus begins to glaze over.  Or, once the shock has passed, the receiver of your "No" feels threatened or attacked and now generates a narrow, one-point focus.  In such a scenario, "message sent is not message (objectively) received."

Clearly, if it's important to get your message across, then persistence is necessary for restoring some transmission if not order to the transaction.  In other words, repeat your message -- word for word.  If your initial message was objectively clear and straightforward, don't modify the content out of anxiety or false hopes.  Remember, the message was blocked as much by your challenging (or being perceived as challenging) the other's sense of status and sense of justice as it was by the antagonist misunderstanding the rationale, logic or implications of your content.

However, two caveats.  Based on the preceding argument, you should not be surprised by the receiver fumbling or dropping your "No" message.  Second, don't take it personally if the other person doesn't "get it" at first.  If not careful your surprise, disappointment or frustration will contaminate your second delivery.  At best, the message will have an exasperated or impatient air; at worst, your repetition may reek of a self-righteous or condescending tone.

7.  Be Brief and Congruent. 
If your intention is to affirm your position, then saying "No" and your subsequent explanatory message should be clear and to the point.  To borrow from the Bard, Brevity is (not just) the soul of wit.  Being concise sounds confident:  you seem in control if not in command.  Adding excess verbiage (often reflecting our psychic baggage) not only dilutes or obscures the crux of your message.  Over talking can also undermine your status and erode the perceived strength of your position and person.  Suddenly you are defensively justifying your beliefs or behavior.

Just as unnecessary words and explanations can obfuscate a clear "No" message, nonverbal dynamics can also powerfully impact "message sent is message received."  If a "No" is delivered tentatively or meekly, with eyes diverted and shoulders slumping, then words and body language are incongruent.  You'll be lucky to be only accused of sending mixed messages.  Invariably, a passive or ambivalent nonverbal presentation trumps the spoken word.  Conversely, squared shoulders, direct eye contact along with a clear and firm tone heighten the credibility and potency of your "No."

The Bully Boss

Here's an example.  I recall a paralegal who was being unfairly criticized, if not ridiculed, by a senior partner attorney to whom she was assigned.  Alas, he seemed to enjoy tormenting subordinates.  (Can we borrow a New York Daily News headline and call this the "O'Really Factor"?)  Most people would not stand up to him.  The paralegal was making herself sick trying to get on the abuser's "good side."  On the verge of quitting, she finally spoke with a more senior colleague.  The latter's direct and concise advice:  "Get tough or leave."  (The other senior partners were not ready to take on this Rambo rainmaker.)

The young paralegal decided to become steely; she was not going to let this jerk drive her off.  While it took practice, she began giving brief, no nonsense answers to this bully.  She carefully modulated her emotional expressiveness; firm and business-like was her mantra.  In other words, despite the status disparity between these antagonists, she was no longer being so deferential to the authority.

And big surprise.  No longer able to make the paralegal squirm (at least outwardly), the attorney lost interest in "the game."  This woman eventually left the firm, but on her terms.  Clearly, being concise verbally and in control emotionally can foster inner resolve and be a source of interpersonal strength.

Of course, on the "burnout battlefield," having to employ this survival coping strategy for extended periods of time may not be healthy for your mind and body.  But this strategic position may help you win the short-term encounter.  And you'll be setting limits and boundaries that may enable you, over time, to win the war, at least symbolically.  And you'll have a greater chance to leave the battlefield under your own powers.

8.  Now Ask for Input. 
Once you have clearly and concisely affirmed your starting (or non-starting) position, you have a solid base for soliciting feedback.  Two feedback or negotiation possibilities immediately come to mind:  a) discovering and acknowledging the other's thoughts and feelings about your "No" and/or b) having a discussion about problem-solving options.

Soliciting or accepting the other's input, especially a counterargument to your "No," may preempt an open or ongoing power struggle.  Counterattitudinal research indicates that allowing people to argue with you often narrows a content and relational gap between antagonists.  Remember, we rarely just argue facts; frequently the intensity of an exchange involves elements of self-esteem and status.  The implied message of your challenger:  "You better realize that I have the freedom or the control to disagree with you and your "No."  Or, "Don't think you are better or smarter than me."  For example, a subordinate expressing his or her difference with an authority (or vice versa) often takes the steam out of issue defiance.  Ironically, by not fighting another's need for control you may help the other loosen the control reins.  And allowing an antagonist to disagree with you may, over time, help this person come around to your factual or attitudinal viewpoint.  As I like to say:

If we can allow a person who says, 'Yes, but,' to rebut
Even if they may be a pain in the…(but you know what I mean)
We can often get them to say, 'But…yes!'

Remember, in the long run, handling another's criticism or frustration with openness, calm and conviction often builds trust.  Also, within the framework of a self-reaffirming and trust-building "No" and post-"No" exchange, the stage is often set for productive negotiation:  Mutual concession and "letting go" of "the one right way" frees the mind to discover overlooked options or design novel approaches.  As Nobel prize-winning author, Albert Camus, observed:  Once we have accepted the fact of loss we understand that the loved one [or loved position] obstructed a whole corner of the possible pure now as a sky washed by rain.

If at all possible, work hard to have both parties experience some sense of relief or positive outcome.  Or, at least, during this negotiation, the contentious parties must believe that the concessions or loss of status and goals are mutual and not disproportionately one-sided.  My favorite definition of consensus:  each contending party gives up a little for the benefit of the common or greater good.

9.  Time Out Option. 
In the heat of interpersonal conflict, if not outright battle, it's easy to lose your cool.  (Just think of George W.'s performance in the first 2004 debate.)  Rational thought or expression (including managing facial scowling) is challenging when excited or highly emotional.  It's important to realize you have the option to say, "Right now my position is 'No'" or even, "I'm not sure.  I need to think about this further.  I'll get back with you first thing tomorrow."

Taking a "time out" is not necessarily retreating in the negative sense, that is, you are not fleeing with your tail between your legs.  Choosing to retreat can be a meditated option allowing you to reflect on your position and the nature of the conflict.  And, if necessary, it also buys time for planning a more effective immediate counter and subsequent strategy.  Also, don't kick yourself for not mustering the perfect comeback to an arrogant or pompous aggressor.  Know that you can recover from this momentary lapse.  Have a good night's rest, formulate your riposte, and you'll nail the jerk in the morning.  (Just kidding.)

Again, taking a time out means you are clearly setting a boundary, whether you have or have not articulated a definite "No."  And hitting the pause button means you are less likely to be pressured into an impulsive reaction or decision.  You are exerting some control, yet leaving open some room for negotiation.  You present yourself as neither rigid nor righteous, that is, a know it all.  You are not throwing fuel, i.e., "hot air" on the interpersonal fire.  While your antagonist may still be smoldering, he also has time to ponder his reaction and your position along with his needs and expectations.  A time out can be a "cooling off" period.

10.  Summarize Agreements and Confirm Expectations, Including the Monitoring Process. 
As we tackle the final tip, first let's acknowledge that the preceding steps comprise an affirmation and negotiation process.  Now, after you have put on the table and put to the test your initial "No" and subsequent ideas and beliefs, expectations and emotions, it is wise to recapitulate your take on the agreement.  Also, ask the other party to put into words his or her understanding of what you won't do and what you will do.  In turn, summarize the other's position and agreement.  Paraphrasing is a powerful tool for closing any remaining gaps between "message sent and message received."  Don't be surprised if you still require some final feedback volleys to reach consensus.  And this "end game" exchange is critical for getting both parties on the same page regarding expectations:  Do both parties have the same working conception of negotiated action plans and problem-solving steps?

Returning to our opening scenario involving the employee putting in more weekend overtime than his or her colleagues, here are some monitoring markers:
a) has the manager placed the issue on the table in a timely manner at a team meeting?
b) does the team believe that the current project justifies extra-ordinary weekend work or do people feel they are being compelled to work unnecessary overtime because of a manager's or team member's inefficiency? and
c) if there is consensus on the need for this overtime, and a system and structure has been devised that has group "buy-in," does the negotiated plan, once put into action, achieve a more equitable distribution in the weekend workload?  Surely, this is the bottom line!

Closing Summary

Part I of this two-part series outlined a variety of barriers to saying "No."  Obstacles to setting limits and boundaries ranged from the psychological and interpersonal to the systemic and cultural.  This segment has outlined and illustrated ten tips and techniques to help you say "No and to Negotiate."  The "N & N Top Ten":
1.  Clean Up Your Static to Give a Clear Message
2.  Be Empathic Yet Firm
3.  Use Relevant Facts; Place Issue in Context
4.  Use Assertive "I"s Not Blaming "You"s
5.  Don't Apologize
6.  Repeat Yourself Exactly
7.  Be Brief and Congruent
8.  Now Ask for Input
9.  Time Out Option
10. Summarize Agreements and Confirm Expectations, Including the Monitoring Process

These ten guilt busting, boundary setting and bridge building commandments are not just guides for saying "No," disarming power struggles and achieving productive consensus.  Our "N & N" top ten yield strategic ideas for helping us all…Practice Safe Stress!


Shrink Rap:

Part I of this series identifies ten barriers and challenges to saying "No" -- from "societal norms" and "family values" to "fear of retribution" and "boundary issues."  Part II will provide a "how to" guide for engaging in "N & N":  tools and techniques for saying "No," setting limits and solving problems.

Why Is It Hard to "Just Say 'No'"? -- Part I
Ten Barriers to Asserting Your Individuality and Integrity

There's a Practice Safe Stress term that has caught on with live audiences.  This conclusion is based on the frequency with which participants repeat the term during my speaking or workshop programs.  The term is introduced after recognizing the importance of "R & R" -- "Rest and Recreation" -- for managing stress.  The alliterative concept is "N & N":  the ability to say "No" and to "Negotiate."  And then "N & N" is followed by my home grown "aphormation" (a neologistic mix of aphorism and affirmation):  A firm "No" a day keeps the ulcers away, and the hostilities too!

Clearly, in relation to teen drug use and underage sex the moral voice of the mass culture has extolled the virtue of being able to "Just Say No!"  (The glib reality of this pronouncement is another issue.)  And many of us do know that when said with conviction, including the congruence between one's words and one's nonverbal communication, a clear "No" is a vital tool for being assertive and effective across an array of work and home battlefronts.  However, to paraphrase the old caveat, when it comes to saying and meaning "No"…even for many adults, it's easier thought than said or done!

Part I of this two-part series examines why many folks have difficulty using this provocative two-letter "N"-word.  Part II will present techniques and tips that, hopefully, will make "N & N" as socially and healthfully desirable as "R & R."  In other words, how can a daily dose of vital "N & N" be a natural part of your interpersonal and operational routine?  But first, let's explore "Ten Barriers to Setting Healthy Boundaries:

1.  Societal Norms.
  When it comes to role behavior, our culture is no longer so locked into sexual stereotyping.  Men are not exclusively aggressive (hunters) and women are not the only nurturers (gatherers).  Nevertheless, some inhibitions if not prohibitions still exist (not to mention the fact that women still do a disproportionate share of the housework).  Glass ceiling issues regarding equal pay and career advancement are still a reality, especially for minority women.  And an aggressive and mentally sharp businesswoman can still be labeled a "shrew" rather than being admired for being shrewd or savvy, terms often garnered by her male counterpart.  (For some, the Martha Stewart controversy is a glaring example.)  To the degree that there are gender differences regarding:  a) early socialization in the family and/or in the classroom, b) access to positions of institutional authority, and c) stereotyping and/or discrimination in various shapes, sizes, ages and colors then the playing and saying field will not be level or just.  For many women, appropriate aggression and vital assertion will seem less natural; it may feel less safe to say "No!"

2.  Family Values, Sibling Order and Attitudes.  Let's sharpen our focus by concentrating on, perhaps, the most powerful socializing force -- the family.  And while families certainly can reinforce sex-role stereotyping, let's not overlook the fact that a variety of family factors come into play when examining an ability to say "No" in interpersonal situations.  Also, both by temperament as well as upbringing, there are many men for whom being assertive or setting limits is a daunting task.  Here are a variety of family dynamics:
a) Birth order may be influential; firstborns often feel more pressure to be the responsible "good child."  Parents may be more relaxed and lenient with subsequent children.  For these offspring saying "No" may seem less daunting.
b) Substance abuse in families may also contribute to a sense of shame around being aggressive, especially if an abuser was often enraged or out of control of his emotions or his life responsibilities.
c) Rigidly righteous parental figures or other significant authorities demanding absolute loyalty may stifle healthy individuality.  Or a child shamed into silence if not into unquestioned loyalty for fear of being exposed as disrespectful, defiant or damaged goods will often have difficulty setting boundaries.
d) Families who view emotionally expressive children (especially the emotion of anger) as "mad" or "bad" or who attempt to stifle a child's separation and individuation process through threats or guilt too often raise bottled-up children (or offspring who eventually hit the bottle).  This constrictive mode of relating is often fueled by a sense of emptiness, shame and fear of abandonment.

3.  Fear of One's Own Aggression.  Some individuals cut off their aggressive feelings because they are afraid of or ashamed of their own potential for explosiveness.  To succumb to anger means you are being irrational; perhaps an antagonist has gotten to you.  To show anger is a sign that your opponent has "won."  A family member who psychically collapses or explodes when a child expresses anger may be teaching a powerful lesson:  not only is your anger wrong but, in addition, you are destructive!

Please note, it takes a lot of energy to turn aggression inward and bottle it up.  Expending all this conscious and unconscious effort to hold back a natural part of your self is not only energy depleting and exhausting.  This process of self-constriction may induce a sense of helplessness and depression.

4.  Fear of Retribution or Rejection.  Another factor is that others may resent your attempt at being assertive or saying "No."  Will the other person subtly put you down, openly attack, or expose your vulnerabilities?  Will this antagonist use ridicule or reject you for not giving him or her what they want?  Will a supervisor hold a grudge or perhaps feel she is being shown up?

Or will your "No" be a sign that you are behaving out of character.  You are not your "self."  The opponent may attempt to trivialize your position or demonize your person:  "What's wrong with you!"  An assertion of difference or individuality may lead to ostracism by a peer group.

5.  Fear of Justification.  Related to the above, some folks back away from saying "No" because of that potentially intimidating counter:  "Why not?"  Now you feel on the spot.  And the rejoinder, "I just feel this way right now," is never acceptable.  Of course there are situations when we need to back up our "No" with a reasoned explanation.  However, there are many occasions when "I'm not sure" is an honest and acceptable response.  Having the strength to be tentative or being able to take a time out is often a desirable problem-solving step. You are asserting your space even without an overt "No."  This is a useful and honorable step if, in fact, you do further reflection or research and then get back to the other party in a timely manner.)

6.  Fear of Being Labeled.  For some in authority the first sign of a subordinate's "No" signals trouble and, not surprisingly, the naysayer is a "troublemaker."  Or he has a "bad attitude" and is not being a "team player."  Conformist "group think" is often a byproduct of a powerful individual or environment that has little tolerance for a "No."  (Think of key players in the Bush administration and their dismissal of dissenting voices [alas, few and far between] who questioned the presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction or the assumed [or was it manufactured] strong Iraq-al Quaeda link.)  When a person with a contrary idea or belief is dependent on the authority (psychologically, financially, etc.) or such a person feels vulnerable in his or her position then, not surprisingly, staying in the authority's good graces is a paramount motivator.  Self-censorship or doctoring the message is not unlikely.

7.  The Boundary Issue.  Regarding interpersonal engagements, we all have a sense of a physical space and a psychological space that influences our own levels of comfort or discomfort.  This feeling of comfort is a function of both actual and emotional closeness or distance.  I call this psychosocial dynamic one's sense of "personal space."  (Comfort in personal space is also influenced by cultural norms and practices, e.g., the accepted physical distance between parties engaged in conversation.)  Too much actual or perceived closeness (smothering anxiety) or too much distance (separation anxiety) often triggers issues related to: a) status and self esteem, b) threshold levels for losing control, psychically or behaviorally, c) predisposition for emptiness or depression, d) dependency issues and the fear of losing one's self in a codependent relationship or, conversely, e) a desire to be enmeshed with the other so as to numb or obliterate a tormented self.

Of course, being enmeshed in a group sometimes allows individuals to be defiant and to act out their aggression because of the anonymity found in group membership.  Also, having group cover makes it easier for an individual to deny responsibility for his or her actions.

A Personal Vignette

Let me share a personal example.  From the age of ten to fourteen, two of my "friends" living in the same six-story apartment building would frequently bully me, mostly verbally and psychologically.  One night the tormenting had reached such a crescendo that in a panic state, despite feelings of fear and shame, I finally cried uncontrollably to my father.  My dad immediately went upstairs and confronted the father of one of the bullies.  Alas, we didn't talk further about why I wasn't able to stand up for myself or why I wasn't able to stay away from my tormentors.  (I suppose a significant part of the answer for a lack of self-integrity and chronic helplessness relates to my overt symptomatology merely being part of the dysfunctional family iceberg.  To the degree my father was not ready to confront his own coping strategy for dealing with long-standing mood swings and depression -- ongoing twice/year electroshock therapy as opposed to seeking psychotherapy -- I too would anguish and suffer in silence.)

Alas, neither my dad's intervention nor my tortured silence would allow for healthy distance from my antagonists.  The next morning I was ringing the doorbell of one of the bullies for our daily trek to school.

"My god, why?" you might ask.  It's tragically simple:  I was so frightened that they would really be plotting against me, that they would be seeking revenge for my having exposed their bullying.  Hyper-vigilance necessitates being in close proximity.  Healthy boundaries are not possible when you have so little sense of self. (And this feeling of helplessness and hopelessness is only exacerbated by unrecognized childhood depression.)  The torment you know is preferable to the imagined (or unimagined) torment conceived in a near paranoid or panic state.  And, not surprisingly, as an adult it took years of therapy to resurrect to full consciousness this traumatic period of my life.  It often requires healthy dependence with a therapist or a support group as well as personal courage to grieve fully the years of pain, panic and silent shame of a long-standing abusive relationship.

8.  Inability to Know or Trust One's Gut.  As we've seen, there are a variety of critical conditions contributing to both the muffling of an inner voice and an inability to risk shedding a pleasing or muted persona.  Consider this sequence of obstacles to "getting real":
a) long-standing feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness,
b) growing up in a family that shames, slams or shuns the expression of feelings, especially anger and
c) over time, losing the ability to recognize and label your feelings.  For such a person, his inner emotional world is mostly numb.  Not surprisingly this person is often very fearful, truly having "no guts" to trust. (Conversely, in his emotional ignorance, the battering personality labels most emotional experience or expression that's not aggressive in nature as a sign of being a wimp or of being unmanly.  For this psychically stunted individual, "emotional" people are whiners; pathetic whiners at that.  Of course, a batterer might see himself as a "strong silent type."  Though I suspect the more accurate dynamic is as follows:  "For me to be strong you must be silent!")

9.  Fear of Being Alone or Abandoned.  When a fear of actual or psychological abandonment infuses the parent-child dynamic, a child may take on a false, "too good" persona.  Alas, what often gets lost is the necessity for setting boundaries and the need for some conflict in establishing an identity.  A child's ability to say "No" to a parent or even "I don't like you" is not automatically or simply a sign of willful defiance or a negative or hostile personality.  Such a stance may also reflect a child who is evolving a fairly solid, "good enough" sense of self.  The child is not so symbolically tied to the parent; he or she can risk some emotional separateness.  There's some basic trust, mostly on an unconscious level, that a "No" will not trigger physical or psychological abandonment by the significant adult.  And, of course, learning early that you do not have to swallow a "No" for fear of parental rejection eventually makes it easier to "Just say 'No'" to adolescent peers as well as McDonalds' fries.

10.  Fear of Standing Out.  Some individuals are afraid of projecting their individuality.  They would rather blend into the crowd, conform to the norm, or replay the "invisible child" role (a not uncommon development for a sibling in an alcoholic or abusive family).  Others are afraid to say "No" for fear of confrontation:  "So what would you do "Mr. Negative?"  Suddenly, an upfront contrary stance has you on the spot, if not in the spotlight.  Now performance anxiety pressure is building.  As we've noted, whether out of jealousy or a perception that you are defying role proscriptions, a "No" can be seen as a selfish act or as a declaration of disloyalty.  And for the target of such a judgmental barrage, self-censorship is not the only worry.  For people who continally fear and suppress their own complex and genuine individuality, there is as much "safety" in being numb as there is safety in numbers.

Closing Summary

This article has focused on ten psychosocial barriers to setting boundaries and saying "No!"  Of course, in response to the above barriers, there are some aggressive personalities who spew a reflexive and rigid "No!"  Not surprisingly, some of the same underlying issues are at play:  fear of losing control, feeling put down or shamed by an authority, feeling stifled, fearing a loss of self, perceiving closeness or emotional dependence as a sign of weakness or as an invasion of one's overtly fortified and covertly vulnerable psychological and physical space.  However, this article has examined the imploders more than the exploders.

Let me recap the ten basic barriers and challenges to saying "No":
1.  Societal Norms
2.  Family Values, Sibling Order and Attitudes
3.  Fear of One's Own Aggression
4.  Fear of Retribution and Rejection
5.  Fear of Justification
6.  Fear of Being Labeled
7.  The Boundary Issue
8.  The Inability to Know or Trust One's Gut
9.  Fear of Being Alone or Abandoned
10. Fear of Standing Out

Clearly, these can be powerful deterrents to recognizing and experiencing your individuality and integrity, that is, your genuine needs, wants, joys, fears, passions and beliefs…your separate and genuine self or true spirit.  Learning to say "No" is vital for surviving and thriving in today's ever demanding, work-life boundary busting world.  And Part II will show you how to assert your difference, your contrary position and your individual gut instinct in positively inspiring fashion.  Stay tuned for "N & N" tools and techniques that will enable you to…Practice Safe Stress!



Just For Grins
- These were seen on the front of T-shirts recently.......

     "Instead of getting married again, I'm going to find a woman I
     don't like and just give her a house." - Steven Seagal

     "The problem with the designated driver program, it's not a
     desirable job. But if you ever get sucked into doing it, have
     fun with it. At the end of the night, drop them off at the
     wrong house." - Jeff Foxworthy

     "See, the problem is that God gives men a brain and a p e n i s,
     and only enough blood to run one at a time." - Robin Williams

     "If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and
     saving an infant's life, she will choose to save the infant's
     life without even considering if there is a man on base." - Dave

     "What do people mean when they say the computer went down on
     them?" - Marilyn Pittman

     "My Mom said she learned how to swim when someone took her out
     in the lake and threw her off the boat. I said, "Mom, they
     weren't trying to teach you how to swim." - Paula Poundstone

     "A study in the Washington Post says that women have better
     verbal skills than men. I just want to say to the authors of
     that study: Huh?" - Conan O'Brien

     "Why does Sea World have a seafood restaurant? I'm halfway
     through my fish burger and I realize, Oh my Goodness. I could
     be eating a slow learner." - Lynda Montgomery

     "The day I worry about cleaning my house is the day Sears comes
     out with a riding vacuum cleaner." - Roseanne

     "I think that's how
Chicago got started. A bunch of people in
New York said, 'Gee, I'm enjoying the crime and the poverty,
     but it just isn't cold enough.


Heads Up:

SEP-OCT Programs:  Completed

1. NCHE. 
Practice Safe Stress for Education Meeting Planners.  Angela Bell, Sales Manager, Churchill Hotel, who catered the event (202-797-2095) and Stephanie Marshall, Director of Meeting Services, American Council on Education (202-939-9457), can attest that the program was "fabulous" -- thought-provoking, interactive and FUN.  Angela shared that she got many thank you calls, and the verdict was unanimous:  everybody "loved" the Stress Doc.

2. Estrin Paralegal Conference. 
One hour featured speaker; Stress and
Team Building program; Atlanta.  And at Alston Bird, Atlanta conference.

US Dept. of Justice.  90 minute Stress, Team Building & Humor program for cross section of DOJ employees


1. Training/Marketing Kit:

Want to strengthen your ability to lead or market a stress workshop or any kind of speaking/training program?  Consider the Stress Doc Training/Marketing Kit, which includes both "how to" manual, 20-minute highlights video, and articles, as well as the opportunity for phone coaching.  For more info: Training/Marketing Kit http://stressdoc.com/kitbook.htm or email.

2. Practice Safe Stress CD
This 30-minute audio CD is divided into four sections:

Section I:  The Four Stages of Burnout

1. Physical, Mental & Emotional Exhaustion
2. Shame & Doubt
3. Cynicism & Callousness
4. Failure, Helplessness & Crisis

Section II:  Three Steps to Burnout Recovery

(based on the Stress Doc's own rehab from burnout)
1. Good Grief
2. Four "R"s of Rehabilitation & Rejuvenation
a) Four "R"s -- Running, Reading, Writing and Retreating
3. Transition & Diversification
a) letting go and shaking up your work-life puzzle and paradigm

Section III:  Two Burnout Prevention Strategies

A. Natural SPEED
a) Sleep, Priorities, Empathy, Exercise & Diet

B. Four "C"s of Psychological Hardiness -- based on research with former AT&T execs
a) Commitment, Control, Change & Conditioning

Section IV:  Two Shrink Raps (TM)

A. Stress Doc's Stress Rap
B. Double-edged Depression

Price:  $15


3.  Stress Doc Books:

a) Really Hot:  The Paperback Version of Practice Safe Stress "live":

Practicing Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout, & Depression; Stress Doc Enterprises

Published:  2004; Pages:  372

  $20 + $4.95 priority shipping in US; $3.95 in Metro, DC area; $7 in Mexico and Canada; other international destinations to be determined

Or, download: The Stress Doc's Store Front

Ebook Price:  $15

Practice Safe Stress tackles the "Toxic-Traumatic Trio" -- stress, burnout, and depression.  Learn practical and playful, inspiring and insightful strategies for transforming these toxins into life-affirming energy, creative focus, and goal-achievement.  Bringing a personal, professional, and organizational perspective, the book is alive with imaginative language and memorable "how to" ideas for:

§ Understanding the "Four Stages of Burnout," the "Erosive Spiral"
§ Rebuilding your fire and developing "Natural SPEED"
§ Achieving liberation through "Emancipation Procrastination"
§ Reducing conflict as a healing or motivational "psychohumorist" ™

There are satirical essays on "lean-and-MEAN" managers and on mismanaged downsizings.  Learn to "laugh in the face of layoffs" and ponder the possibility of "Van Gogh, Prozac, and Creativity."  The Stress Doc also shares his his own trials, errors, and triumphs in battling the "Toxic Trio."

Safe Stress provides many discrete "Top Ten" lists and "strategic tips" essays useful as educational/informational handouts.  To quote the Internet Newsroom:  Your Guide to the World of Electronic Factgathering:  "The most outstanding feature…is his 'psychohumor' essays.  Always witty, thought-provoking, and helpful."  With this easy-to-follow, fast-paced, and fun health and wellness guide, you'll return often to Practice Safe Stress.


b) The Four Faces of Anger:  Model and Method
Transforming Anger, Rage and Conflict Into Inspiring Attitude and Behavior

The "Four Faces of Anger" presents an elegantly simple yet intellectually powerful model that will challenge your beliefs about anger -- both regarding its range of emotion and its potential for positive communication.  The book is a dynamic blend of popular psychohumor articles, essays, case examples and short vignettes, as well as Stress Doc Q & As and even "Shrink Rap" ™ lyrics.  You will gain ideas and tools, skills and techniques for personal control, playful intervention and conflict mastery.  Learn to:

Ø Identify self-defeating styles of anger and violence-prone personalities
Ø Transform hostility and rage into assertion and passion
Ø Confront directly or disarm outrageously critics and (passive) aggressors
Ø Bust the guilt not burst a gut
Ø Prevent emails from becoming e-missiles

And finally, his years as a multimedia psychotherapist and as a Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service yield a survival and spiritual mantra at the heart of the "Four Faces of Anger":

Seek the higher power of Stress Doc humor…May the Farce Be With You!

Published:  2004; Pages:  114

Paperback:  $23.95
(includes shipping and handling)
E-Book:  $15


c) Paper Book -- Truly on the Cutting Edge

From Stress Brakes and Shrink Rap to Safe Stress and Cool Moon Cats:
The Wit and Wisdom of the Stress Doc, Stress Doc Enterprises, 1995

A 90 page compilation of my former syndicated radio essays, pioneering songs in the field of psychologically humorous rap music -- "Shrink Rap" Productions - a creative visualization poem and other humorous lyrics/poems. "Stress Brake" radio essays are short (300 words), fast-paced and witty, covering such topics as stress, burnout, anger and conflict resolution, time management, creativity, men's and women's issues, romantic relationships, codependency, etc. (They make excellent fillers for newsletters.)

Price: $20
(which covers priority postage and handling)

To purchase books and/or tape, make check payable to:  Mark Gorkin

Send check to:

Mark Gorkin
Stress Doc Enterprises
1616 18th Street, NW  #312
Washington, DC 20009-2542

Questions?  Call 202-232-8662 or email stressdoc@aol.com


4. Chat Group:

Stop by my AOL/Digital City Shrink Rap (TM) and Group Chat DC Debate Tuesdays, 9:30-11pm EST
DC Support Chat (Alas, only for AOL members.)

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™,
is a keynote and international/Celebrity Cruise Lines motivational speaker, psychotherapist, syndicated writer, and author of his new book, Practice Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and The Four Faces of Anger:  Transforming Anger, Conflict and Rage Into Inspiring Attitude and Behavior.  He was the keynote speaker for the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM)--
Maryland state chapters at their 2004 Leadership Conference.  The Doc, AOL's "Online Psychohumorist," is a training and OD Consultant for numerous companies, associations and government agencies.  Interviewed by the BBC and Biography magazine, Mark has a multi-award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com .  The site was selected as workplace resource in a National Public Radio feature on "Bad Bosses."  For more info, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 202-232-8662.

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2004
Shrink Rap Productions