3 unexpected ways to escape from soul-crushing obligations

Dec 19 2017, 9:20 pm

We have all had that moment. You wake up on a Saturday morning and realize that the day is filled with social obligations that make you want pull the blanket over your head and never emerge.

You can blame yourself, your partner or whichever friend or family member coerced you to say yes. Anyway you look at it, you now realize that yes should have been a NO.

So how do you extract yourself from this obligation?

If you truly don’t care about the relationship with those involved and it’s within your moral code, you can try lying. However, even if this doesn’t violate your ethics, I really wouldn’t recommend this tactic.  The truth will eventually surface (hint: Instagram) and keeping track of lies is exhausting.

Here are three authentic ways to escape from these obligations, while still keeping the relationship intact:

Swap the commitment

This tactic is relatively simple.

It involves declining the current obligation, reinforcing the desired connection, and offering an alternative in the near future that is attractive to the other person and less painful for you. This works particularly well for extended family or closer friends, who just want to see more of you.

Call your sister up, tell her you can’t make it to her candle party but you would still love to see her. Ask her if she can meet you for coffee on Wednesday instead.

I realize that we could crudely phrase this as a bait and switch. However, I prefer to elevate this as simply choosing to focus on what is important to the other person (seeing you) and offering them an alternative that actually gives them more of what they want (one on one time, instead of a group event).

Override the commitment

This approach works best for an obligation with someone that you are not particularly close to, but you want to avoid hurt feelings.

Is there someone that is close to you that needs assistance with something? You should be able to think of something without having to fib. Use this as a reason to politely decline.

I’m so sorry, Steve, but I have to help my parents out tonight and I won’t be able to make it out to your Ugly Christmas Sweater party. Thanks so much for the invite and we will hang out soon!

To keep this authentic, you need to actually’ help your parents out with something that day. Otherwise you are just lying.

Just say no

Although an excellent ’80s and ’90s anti-drug slogan, these wise words can also apply to a brave way to extract yourself from something you should have said no to in the first place.

I had a revelation when reading The Fire Starter Sessions, by Vancouverite Danielle LaPorte. In the chapter No,Thank You. Yes, Please, Danielle explains that no one can argue with your feelings, so avoid over-rationalizing when you decline something. Although she is mainly talking about declining work commitments, the simplicity of saying no without a lengthy explanation is very much applicable here.

Aunt Betty, I’m so sorry. I know I said I would be there for dinner, but I can’t make it today. I’m really feeling burnt out from work this week.

The key here is to emphasize how you feel and don’t try to justify it. I will warn you that you need to be okay with disappointing people, especially to avoid the temptation to provide a long-winded explanation. Some of us struggle with this more than others.

Disappointing people will not kill either you or them. I promise. Although, depending on how good they are at pushing your buttons, they may claim it will kill them.

Last October I had the opportunity to hear Karen May, VP of People Development at Google, speak and she told a story about practicing disappointing people when she was younger. To break free from her people-pleasing tendencies, she used her brother as an accountability partner. They would celebrate deliberately disappointing people each day, so they could become more comfortable with the feeling of letting someone down.

Trying to please everyone comes at the cost of your sanity. If nothing else, you can use this technique as an opportunity to practice disappointing people.

Emergency Plan B: The guest appearance

Finally, if you can’t muster up the courage to try any of these three suggestions, there is always the Guest Appearance: show up late and leave early.

You have then fulfilled your social obligation with the minimal effort required, and you can reclaim some of that time for recharging at home.

Ultimately, the more discerning we can be when presented with social obligations, the less we have to use any of these techniques. Next week we will discuss how to avoid feeling trapped in the first place.


Now it’s confession time with Secondhand Therapy! How do you deal with soul-crushing social obligations? Tweet me @2ndhandtherapy or leave your comments below.


Feature image: Ball and chain via Shutterstock

DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

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