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Saying no on time is not an easy task as many of you may think.
Maybe it is on “paper”, or in theory, but what I am suggesting is that it is not so easy to do so as if it is raises from within us, from our emotional capabilities.
So, saying NO is not just a matter of grammar syntaxes.

From the perspective of positive psychology, the American psychologist Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, U.S., was the one that popularized the concept of psychology of “Learn Helplessness”. From this Positive Psychology inaugurated in the 90’s, another branch was opened in our field with the intention to ground the bases of our psychological well-being.

Getting into the concept of learned helplessness it can be defined as when we faced with a violent social situation, and in this confrontation we behave passively or without responding effectively to our interlocutor. It is actually like an absence of behavioral responses, as if “that” they tell us or manifest to us does not occurring at the time of the conversation, having a null response, but inside us feeling overwhelm and with stiff inhibition.

Although everything goes very fast in our “internal jurisdiction”, and having perceived with our five senses the aversi­ve act that we repudiate or reject, the subjective feeling that comes to us is a passive, unresponsive attitude, that ultimately as time pass  (in both men and women)… will be part of our personal style (personality traits), ending up with avoiding any unpleasant (social) circumstance, effecting us in our character generating dependent responses on others, unresponding passably to these violent social situations, such as: emotional manipulation, any type of harassment (at work, in the sexual, in the family sphere), envy or jealousy in love, bullying, mobbing, or social archetypes like:  the mother-in-law quarrels, bossy bully..
From this moment, this modus vivendis of our personality traits acquires another trajectory towards the psychopathological carriageway. Clinical depression, social phobia, or the sadomasochistic relationships (in the moral and less sexual sense of the term). From this moment, we start to deal with some problem solving type of difficulties. At the begging we go from saying or thinking “I can do nothing about this o that…” to evade certain uncomfortable situations in a rigid and stereotyped way, may times…, all the time.

At this point, it is a good idea to seek psychotherapeutic help to improve our vital situation.
In this sentimental tie of never ending boucle, the learned helplessness becomes more complex than a mere aesthe­tic or visual question of ineffective, unproductive or insensitive behavior (apathetic or indolent), since as we have said we are building as individuals from the home-family environment, passing by the school, society and culture. Behavior is structured, problems solidify.
These phenomena of our human development are already part of the history of our childhood, they are part of our “mechanisms of adaptation”, our intelligence, initially from our home, with our parents and siblings. So we as ps­ychologists pay much attention to child development in every person and how those persons were living their first social and emotional experiences in their family. Because if parents display an authoritarian, permissive or negli­gent mode of education, there will be many possibilities of developing this feeling of abandonment in adulthood, whether we feel abandoned or vice versa, we are the ones that dump people.

Because it is not only the constant and limitless verbal, emotional or physical punishment in time that causes an irrational subjugation to our social surroundings, but in a way because our figures of attachment (ideal parents, uncles, teachers…) have failed somehow. At this point, psychotherapy is fundamental, and although it will take a considerable time on the part of the patient to strengthen it´s weak spots, it will worthwhile pushing h@m out from this trap in time sort of emotional problem for not saying NO in time.

In this sense, our supposed patient will not acquire a symbolic value of the differences of “you and me” communicational transference. An example of this could be drawing.
The ability to draw in general, whether we do it mediocre or very well, is much more than a simple copy of rea­lity, because for any child or adult with a pencil and a paper in their hands requires the use of an internal image, therefore of an internal value, of an internalized action, which strengthens our personality and sense of ego or self-identity, which is assembled or organized together with our sexual identity for the representation and knowled­ge of ourselves and for others all together. It is as if in the defenselessness learned we were oriented to the needs of others, placed in stereotyped approval, and we may not value properly our themes and interest, as if our Ego were week. A different situation may occur, when we leave behind these powerless fillings and move towards an empathy and an internalized orientated values (our Ego strength have improve, develop). This helps us build a “model of mind” to understand our feelings and thoughts, the actions of others (abuse, manipulation or daily domestic discussions, or otherwise, love, friendship, fellowship) and become active social thinkers, integrated people where NO it differs from the inside with the out­side. It is a stage where we all have to travel, is part of our development. “Yes is you, not me” kind of thinking.

Psychologist have research a “Phase of Opposition” in childhood development that is very important to everybody. This stage of opposition is to say no, we say NO without a logical motivation, but to conquer a reasonable distance from mom. From this moment, this stage will continue evolve to a symbolic reason for delimiting or defining feeling as part of the progress in: Our creativity at work, studying, socialization etc. Giving us the autonomy and the freedom we need, we strengthen up our channel of communication, generating a generous social environment of mutual understanding. So, setting limits of what is mine and what is yours, without offending anyone, but by a logical and natural “individual differences”, we enhance normal or positive psy­chology that seeks the happiness of man.

Though, we have already said that outside this perimeter of normal relationships, we enter the unusual world of the confused fe­elings of fear and shame, pride and competitive self-promotion job unfair play, which in so many circumstances in life in general make us avoid good-deal talking our fillings or other´s fillings and thoughts. In the vein of the movie Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, at 1993. “Don’t be shy, show yourself”, better on: “show your feelings”. This we could say to Bill Murray and his acid sarcastic character at the movie.


-Seligman, M. (1975). Helplessness: on depression, development, and death. Free Press. New York.
-Seligman, M. (2003).True happiness. Ed. Vergara. Barcelona.

David N. Gascón
                                                                   Psychologist in Madrid
                                                                         Tel: 636 55 45 62


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