Pushy people might intentionally target quiet, empathetic introverts because they think they are easy to wear down.
It was a beautiful summer day. My friend and I bobbed up and down in the pool, gossiping about whatever teenage girls gossiped about back in the late aughts. I was having a good time, but we had been hanging out for a number of hours by that point, and I was nearing the end of my social battery life.
My fun-loving, incredibly extroverted friend, on the other hand, wanted to keep the good times going. She asked me if I wanted to extend our plans — by getting dinner, maybe, or having me sleep over at her house.
The specifics are hazy now, but I will never forget my friend’s response when I (repeatedly) declined, telling her I should get home, and suggesting we make plans another time.
“But you’re supposed to be my pushover friend!” she pouted, splashing me playfully.
I don’t remember how the conversation ended — I’m sure she apologized and tried to take it back — but her comment stopped me in my tracks. Had she not said it, I very well might have given in and agreed to go along with whatever she wanted me to do next. This interaction shook me awake to a reality I hadn’t been aware of: I was the pushover friend.
We stayed close for several years after that, and I still considered her a good friend, but I always kept that memory in the back of my mind. I thought back to all the previous times I’d given in to a pushy person’s demands — not just in this friendship, but in my relationships overall.
As a peace-loving introvert, I don’t always speak my mind. When I do, I take my time to think of a diplomatic response. But too often, this means I end up agreeing to whatever is demanded of me, or I remain passive, letting other people push their weight around.
Well, my fellow introverts, that ends now. I owe my old friend a thank-you for opening my eyes to my people-pleasing tendencies. Since then, I’ve become wiser. While I’m still working on my ability to deal with the pushy people in my life, I’ve learned a few rules that make these types of interactions more tolerable as a soft-spoken introvert.
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Why Introverts Might Struggle to Stand Up to Pushy People
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you probably don’t look forward to encounters with pushy or demanding people. It takes a rare and special person to enjoy sparring with an overstepping family member or negotiating with the salesman at the used car lot.
But if dealing with pushy people feels especially difficult for you as an introvert, you’re not alone. There are several reasons for this:
- Many introverts struggle to set healthy boundaries. I believe this behavior stems from a fear of disappointing others.
- Because many introverts are deeply empathetic, we may forget that we are not responsible for other people’s feelings. Pushy people may use our empathy to their advantage by playing the victim or guilt-tripping us.
- Some pushy people intentionally seek out those who are empathetic, kind, and conscientious of others. Meaning, they may see introverts as “easy targets” or the weakest link in a group.
- Because our social energy is limited to begin with, we may “wear down” more easily than others when dealing with pushy people. Thereby, we inadvertently “train” them — if they just keep pushing, we will eventually give in.
- We may be more prone to people-pleasing. Because we live in an extroverted society, introverts have been made to believe that our need for alone time is unreasonable. As a result, we may put others’ wants and needs ahead of our own.
- Introverts may have a desire to “keep the peace” and avoid conflict, in part because we are sensitive to external stimuli. This could include confrontations that involve awkward conversations, raised voices, and heightened emotions, all of which can make us anxious. On top of that, conflict forces us to articulate our feelings on the spot (often a weakness for deep-thinking introverts, especially in an already-tense or uncomfortable situation).
So what’s a people-pleasing introvert to do when it comes to pushy people they encounter?
5 Ways to Deal With the Pushy People in Your Life
1. Learn to use “no” as a complete sentence.
Saying “no” — even to things that drain our energy — can be incredibly difficult for people-pleasing introverts. When you’re a sensitive and empathetic person who wants to be helpful and well-liked, it’s tempting to sacrifice your own comfort to avoid disappointing someone.
Saying no and setting boundaries is necessary for maintaining your peace and keeping your relationships healthy. The problem is, it’s tricky to do, especially when you’re dealing with a particularly pushy person who doesn’t want to take “no” for an answer.
The key is to learn to say “no” confidently — and as a complete sentence. It makes every bone in my body ache to say “no” without somehow justifying or over-explaining my answer, but trust me — when you’re dealing with a pushy person, offering up an explanation is nothing more than an open invitation for further negotiation. Here’s an example:
“Sorry, but we really don’t want dogs in the house,” I told a houseguest when they asked if they could bring their pup to stay with them on their next visit.
“Why not?” they asked. (In hindsight, this was a trap).
“Well, for one thing, we really don’t want dogs on the furniture,” I said, immediately uncomfortable with where this conversation was heading.
“Oh, don’t worry — I don’t let my dog on the furniture.”
“Well, what if it’s muddy?” I countered. “We wouldn’t want her getting dirt on the carpet.”
“We’d wipe her paws.”
“We have a cat,” I said, truly exasperated now. “I wouldn’t want him to be uncomfortable in his own home.”
“We’d keep her away from him.”
This continued until I ran out of things to say. I opened and closed my mouth a few times, struggling to come up with a good enough reason why I really, really, really didn’t want someone’s dog staying in my own house.
See how they had an answer to every justification I gave them when trying to establish a boundary, until they’d worn me down and I had no more reasons to give?
Don’t fall for it! Instead, be clear. Don’t beat around the bush. Say no confidently, without apologizing. And if they ask why not? “That’s just not going to work for me,” is a totally valid thing to say.
2. Buy yourself some time; no one says you have to answer right away.
Pushy people love to demand an answer right this second, but that doesn’t mean you have to give them one. Remember: You don’t have to answer right away.
Introverts may need more time to process things, and you’re well within your rights to say, “I need to think about that.” Don’t let pushy people put you on the spot! By delaying your answer, you’re giving yourself the time you need to think critically about the situation, how you really feel about it, and how you want to respond.
There’s another benefit to delaying your response: Personally, I’ve found that it’s sometimes tricky for me to spot pushiness or manipulation in the moment because I need quiet time to fully process interactions after they happen. When I’m pressured to answer on the spot, it can be easy to end up agreeing to something I really don’t want to agree to — and then to feel resentment later when I’ve had time to analyze the conversation and realize that I’d been pushed around.
Do you ever struggle to know what to say?
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3. Stay calm so your emotions don’t get the best of you.
It can be easy for pushy people to get under your skin, especially when you’re on the sensitive side. When a pushy person makes a demand I can’t handle, my anxiety goes through the roof and I can easily work myself into a panic. Other times, I get angry when I feel taken advantage of, manipulated, or cornered.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve panicked after a confrontational encounter with a pushy person, freaking out about how they’re stomping on my boundaries and how I’m going to backpedal on my passive response without causing a major conflict… only to sleep on it and realize the next day that I let my emotions get the best of me — and that there is a calm, clear, rational path forward.
My advice? Take a deep breath and try not to let the pushy person get to you. Keep your emotions in check by reminding yourself that you are in control of your boundaries, and that you’ll feel better after you give yourself some time to process and think about how to move forward.
4. Work on your own blind spots.
Now, it isn’t fair to blame everything on the pushy people in our lives. It’s true that we all have blindspots we can work on, and when it comes to dealing with pushy people, that might include certain traits that make you easier to push around and manipulate.
In general, introverts are patient and empathetic, which are marvelously virtuous traits — but they can also be weaknesses in the wrong context. For example, if you’re too quick to give people the benefit of the doubt in order to avoid conflict, or if you’re constantly making excuses for others’ bad behavior when they overstep your boundaries, those wonderful introvert strengths are no longer serving you.
So work on your emotional health: Build your self-esteem and strengthen potential areas of weakness. That way, you will be better equipped to handle pushy people. A therapist may be able to help with this, too.
5. Trust your gut — it’s your intuition trying to tell you something.
Finally, pay attention to your own feelings when dealing with chronically pushy people. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s not always easy to spot pushiness or manipulation in the moment. And you might not have a friend who comes right out and calls you a “pushover” to awaken you to your reputation as a doormat.
If there are certain people in your life who always put you on edge, there’s probably a good reason. Trust that feeling you get when your demanding boss comes and taps at your cubicle window or when your grandma corners you and starts laying on the guilt trip at the family reunion. Examine that feeling further. Could it be that this person has a history of disrespecting you and your boundaries? Hmm…
I’ve been known to make self-deprecating jokes about how socially inept I am, but the truth is, introverts are often deeply attuned to others.
Point being, don’t brush those feelings aside. It’s your intuition trying to tell you something. Practice tuning in and listening to it, and when it raises red flags, that’s your cue to say, “I’ll have to think about that and get back to you.”
You might like:
- Why Do Introverts Love Being Alone? Here’s the Science
- How Introverts and Sensitive People Can Finally Stop People Pleasing
- 9 Ways Introverts Can Improve Their Emotional Health
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