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Putting Pushy People In Their Place


WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Beth Levine

Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo

My friend is hosting another one of those parties where you're supposed to buy a bunch of kitchen gadgets you neither want nor need. She cajoled me into attending, and now that I am here, she is pushing me to buy. "C'mon, there's got to be something you could use," she urges brightly. Wimp that I am, instead of just saying no, I select the least expensive thing-a wooden something-or-other that apparently can be used to shape mini tarts. (Because, heaven knows, you can never have too many wooden mini-tart shapers.) I go home irritated with my friend, but even madder at myself. Why did I let myself get bossed around?

It's hard to stand up to pushy people. And the holiday season seems to bring out their pushiness even more. Often, it's easier to cave than to confront; these assertive types can be intimidating. But there is a downside to giving in too often. Beyond the obvious stress and inconvenience, there may be consequences for your physical and emotional health, says Linda Hatzenbuehler, Ph.D., a professor of clinical psychology at Idaho State University. These can include stomachaches, high blood pressure, and lower back pain, as well as depression.

So if you don't know what to do the next time your neighbor is sure you wouldn't mind watching her kids, follow these instructions.

Defer the decision: "Gosh! Gotta go!"

When my kitchen-gadget friend approached me, I said yes because I couldn't think of an excuse quickly enough. If, like me, you're not so fast on your feet, arrange to talk later, after you've figured out what you want to say. "You have competing pressures when asked to do something you don't want to do," says Mark R. Leary, Ph.D., director of the social psychology program at Duke University. "One part of you wants to please the other person; another part wants to meet your own needs. You need time to weigh the pros and cons."

Assertive answer: "Sounds like fun, but I have to check a few things. Can I call you tomorrow?"

Have a plan: "What if we do it this way?"

Carla Ann Mowry, 46, a stay-at-home mom from Omaha, Nebraska, knows to expect the full-court press from her in-laws whenever a holiday rolls around-Fourth of July, Christmas, you name it. "They expect us to spend the entire day at their house, from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m.," she says. If, like Mowry, you know that someone has certain expectations of you, prepare in advance. "Review situations that have gone badly in the past and practice how you will respond next time," says Hatzenbuehler. "This may feel stupid, but it works: Write a script and try it out on a friend. State politely what part of the request you can meet and what you cannot-and promise yourself that you won't back down."

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