Are you a Pushmi Pullyu?

Author:Kirti Pant, Debdeep Basu
Published On: 07 February 2017
Views: 2400


“All I can do is follow my instincts, because I’ll never please everyone.”
— Emma Watson

Countless are the people we interact with, infinite their expectations. Swimming in a sea of interactions, most of which demand something from us, it may so happen that we neglect our own needs and drown our true selves.

Going back to the primordial societies, being a member of a bigger group was the best bet for survival. But what was the easiest way to be acceptable in such a society? Social conformation! Failure to do so could’ve meant removal from the group (read: less chances of survival). Coming back to the present, everyone starts out in life wanting to be safe, loved, and accepted. It’s in our DNA. But where it goes wrong is when some of us figure out that the best way to do this is to put aside what we want or feel and allow someone else’s needs and feelings take precedence. This works for a while. It feels safer, and there’s less outer conflict, but our inner conflict grows. If we say “no” we feel guilty, and a “yes” makes us resent the decision later. We’re damned both ways.

In a world where most of our interactions require a “Yes” or “No”, what are you turning yourself into due to a lack of stating your feelings truthfully? When people get stuck in waging the battle between the two heads of “Yes” and “No”, I am reminded of “Pushmi-Pullyu”, the two-headed animal from the classic children’s book “The Story of Dr. Dolittle” by Hugh Lofting. Pushmi-Pullyu was always heading in the opposite direction at the same time. It is crucial to avoid being a Pushmi-Pullyu, because a state of indecision drains your energy away. It’s more like constantly keeping a rope under unnecessary tension.

Sociotropy” is the term used in psychology for the condition of people-pleasing. Aaron T. Beck describes a sociotropic person as one who seeks out close and confiding relationships, and attempts to gain the approval and support of others. Lives of such people are often fraught with complexity and lack of fulfillment, as the driving force behind their lives, more often than not, is validation provided by the external world.

How can you reach your true potential as an individual, when you’re imprisoned in the cage of others’ expectations?


The willingness to help others should come only after you know how to help yourself. If you’re doing things for others because you would feel afraid or guilty if you didn’t, is the action really genuine? Would you want others to help you under those terms?

The greatest acts are those done by choice, not out of fear or guilt. It all boils down to being truthful. Truthful to yourself, truthful to others.

“Yes” and “No” are a negotiation of another person’s request. Both words are very powerful and should be used wisely, with your inner-harmony in mind. If you end up saying “Yes” every time, even though you are aware that the task asked for help in is going to be accomplished at the cost of your personal interests, the answer should be a “No”.

Reflecting deeply on the causes and consequences of sociotropic behavior, one can give a number of reasons why you should say no and that too, with full conviction:

Professional integrity – Do you think before committing to something? Are you sure you can do full justice to every task you take up? Because once you say yes, the world judges you on the result of your actions. Failing a commitment not only diminishes your professional integrity but erodes your chances of building successful relationships as well.

Know your limits – We are humans, after all, with a limited capacity for stress. Taking up more than what one can handle is detrimental to physical and mental health. Most people voluntarily keep piling work on their plate, not realizing the negative consequences before it hits them. Fatigue, anxiety, depression and other medical problems often arise from workplace stress due to employees not being able to handle the volume of work they have taken up.

Grow a spine – How would an assertive, self-respecting person respond to someone trying to bulldoze them with responsibilities they haven’t signed up for? What would such a person do when they’re asked for favors which make them go out of their way? Think for a second, and let the realization sink in. One need not be rude or inconsiderate to say no. Your actions should be an equation dependent on several variables, including your personal and professional equation with the other person, the favors they have done for you, your judgment of their character and so on.

Still confused how to say “No”? Use empathic assertion, which means that you put yourself in the other person’s shoes as you assert yourself. So you let the person know that you understand where they’re coming from, but unfortunately, you can’t help. People need to feel heard and understood, and this is a respectful way of asserting yourself and saying no.
So, here’s some advice for the next time: Say a “Yes” only if you mean it, otherwise there’s always a “No” for you. Don’t be a Pushmi-Pullyu!

What are some pertinent situations when you should say “No”?
Leave your answers in the comments …

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20 March 2017 11:54 AM

When we know that some one is just trying to sleek out of their prime responsibilities we must say No. At times people just toss their work on others even though they can really do it. When one is unaware and not good at the help that is asked for, the person should be genuine enough to say that (No).

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