Too Afraid to Say No: Preparing for an Emotional Apocalypse

We give a lot of airtime to the importance of self-care, boundary setting, and healthy relationships but what doesn’t get talked about enough is the fallout that occurs after setting or enforcing a boundary with someone who doesn’t like boundaries.

How do you say no to someone who doesn’t like to hear the word no?

Honestly, we don’t. We avoid telling them no altogether. We compromise ourselves in favor of their wants and needs for fear of the retaliation, rage, or abandonment that follows a boundary being set. Overtime, what once felt like a mutually respectful relationship turns into one of coercion, manipulation, control, and servitude.

But if our ultimate goal is to cultivate a life which allows us to reach our highest potential, eventually we have no choice but to make a choice. Who will get to control our future? Will it be them or us?

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Every time we say yes to someone who can’t hear the word no, we chisel away at our own self-determination.  Our desires come second to theirs. We substitute their dreams for our own.

If that doesn’t breed resentment, anger, and disappointment in life, I don’t know what does. And it’s that underlying resentment, anger, and disappointment which feed our own anxiety and depression, making it more and more difficult to live the lives we want for ourselves.

So, how do we break free?

We prepare ourselves to say no before we actually say no.

Preparing for Annihilation: the Emotional Apocalypse is coming

In emotionally healthy relationships, each party can make a request of the other party and each party has the option to say yes or no without their answer costing them the relationship.

In emotionally unhealthy relationships, one party typically controls the other party through coercion, meaning party two must submit to any request of party one or risk receiving party one’s wrath.

“Wrath” really is the appropriate word here. I liken the temper tantrum that follows hearing the word no to an emotional apocalypse. It is a no-holds-barred, scorched earth response meant to punish you for having the audacity to defy them.

But knowing that an emotional apocalypse is coming allows us to prepare ourselves ahead of time, which makes surviving the attack a bit easier.

*Please be aware, the type of relationship you are in greatly affects your strategy for walking away. Removing yourself from a relationship in which you share children or finances is much different than removing yourself from a friendship or extended family relationship. If you feel you may be in physical danger, contact your nearest domestic violence shelter.* 

The following are a few of the typical reactions associated with an “emotional apocalypse,” otherwise known as “splitting.”

Splitting is best characterized as going from “hero to zero,” or “friend to foe.” It means that by asserting a boundary, you have communicated that you are no longer someone who can be controlled and manipulated and, to the emotionally dysfunctional person, you have become a liability they must neutralize rather than an asset they can exploit.

Emotional Apocalypse Tactics: Retaliation, Abandonment, Rage

The smear campaign- the emotionally dysfunctional person may retaliate by telling everyone you both know about how you wronged them. A good way to prepare is to let your mutual friends and family know that you are planning to set the boundary before you set it so that they are aware before the smear campaign begins. Otherwise, the smear campaign can be awfully convincing and can lead to the loss of many important relationships. A smear campaign may include conversations, emails, social media posts, and spreading gossip.

Loss of mutual relationships- be prepared to lose some of the relationships that you share in common with the person you are setting the boundary with. Being proactive on your end may help to preserve some of those relationships, but remember, you have become an enemy of an emotionally unstable person. Some of your common relationships may have to choose sides or risk falling victim to an emotional apocalypse of their own.

Abandonment- Setting a boundary with someone doesn’t mean you are abandoning the person or the relationship. However, for the emotionally dysfunctional person, they tend to see everything in a black or white, all or nothing style. Make sure you communicate that setting a boundary doesn’t mean that you no longer care for them and that you wish for this person to remain in your life, if they can honor your boundaries. However, also be prepared to defend your boundaries over and over again or, conversely, be prepared for them walk out of your life for good.

Threats of physical harm- posting rants on social media, spreading gossip, and engaging in various other forms of passive aggression are to be expected. However, in extreme situations, the rage triggered by having a boundary asserted can lead to real threats of physical violence.  If the emotionally dysfunctional person in your life threatens physical harm in any way, (i.e. I’ll kill you if you break up with me) take the threat seriously. Contact your local domestic violence shelter and make sure you have a plan and resources in place to protect yourself and loved ones before you take action. For a list of local Jacksonville domestic violence resources, follow this link. 

Surviving an Emotional Apocalypse: Summary

  • If you are always the one compromising in a relationship because you fear the other party’s reaction, you are likely in an emotionally dysfunctional relationship.
  • Asserting a boundary should never cost you the relationship.
  • Emotionally dysfunctional people who have a difficult time honoring boundaries may react to boundary-setting in volatile ways. Preparing yourself ahead of time can offer some protection.

In short, be prepared to wait out the storm. Don’t give in, or the temper tantrum will be even more severe the next time you attempt to assert a boundary.

Make your expectations very clear and be prepared to walk away, but hopeful that you won’t have to.

The only way an emotionally dysfunctional person can lose their grip on you is if you make it perfectly clear that your happiness does not depend on having them in your life. Communicate to them that unless you can be involved in a mutually respectful relationship, there is no place for them in your life.

Remember, you can be a good person with a kind heart and still say no.

Good Mental Health, LLC is a counseling and coaching practice located in St. Johns, Florida, offering individual and family counseling to children, teens, and adults. With sessions available face-to-face and via video chat and text, we hope to provide the tools and skills necessary to heal past wounds, grow healthy relationships, and build strong families. For more information, read more about us, or contact us here.

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