Do You Hate to Hear “No,” “Don’t,” or “Stop”? Plus the Weekly Video.

Once in a while, I learn a new word or phrase that allows me to see the world in a clearer way. In law school, I remember that after I learned the concept of “acting in reliance,” suddenly, I saw people acting in reliance all over the place. (For example, when my friend John signed a lease for a two-bedroom apartment because Michael promised to room with him, he’d “acted in reliance,” so when Michael wanted to move in with his girlfriend instead, John was entitled to hold him to his word.)

The other day, I received a very nice email from a reader who used the term “demand resistant” in her note. I’d never heard that term before, so I looked it up. I don’t recall seeing this phrase in the academic or scientific research I’ve read, and I’m not sure where it comes from – but whatever its origin, it’s a useful phrase.

A person who is “demand resistant” has a negative response to expectations, pressure, or obligations. They don’t respond well to demands or to being told that they “should” do something – sometimes, even when they’re trying to place those demands on themselves.

What a useful term! I see human nature more clearly now.

I’d already been grappling with a variation of this idea. I’d noticed that when people make resolutions, some people really resist “No,” “Stop,” and “Don’t” resolutions. They don’t want to tell themselves to give something up or to stop a behavior.

In my own case, I respond very well to “No,” “Stop,” and “Don’t.” I like that clarity. I don’t mind telling myself, “No nagging,” “No gossiping,” “Don’t expect praise or appreciation.”

But I’ve seen that some people respond very negatively to the idea of this kind of resolution – and sometimes, to any kind of resolution. They don’t like the idea of putting constraints on their behavior, at all.

Sometimes, they seem to respond better when a resolution is frame in a positive way. Instead of resolving “No more French fries or potato chips,” they might resolve to “Eat five servings of fruits or vegetables a day.” Instead of “Stop nagging my sweetheart,” they might focus on “Touch more, kiss more, hug more.”

But some people, I’ve noticed, bristle at the thought of putting any expectation on themselves. In that case, I think a happiness project would require a very different kind of approach from mine. Resolutions work for me, but for a very demand-resistant person, they might backfire.

As with all things related to happiness, the key is to know yourself (I remind myself of my First Personal Commandment, to “Be Gretchen”). It’s really true: I can only build a happy life on the foundation of my own nature.

Are you demand resistant, or have you noticed this quality in other people?

* 2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year, this month’s focus is Work. Last week’s resolution, in the month of Love, was to Kiss more, hug more, touch more. Did you try to follow that resolution? Did it help to boost your happiness?

This week’s resolution is to Aim higher.

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
We seek to control our lives but novelty makes us happy.
Happiness and the joy of undertaking a big project.
I’ve waited three years to write this post.

If you’re new, here’s information on the 2010 Happiness Challenge (or watch the intro video). It’s never too late to start! You’re not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For more ideas, check out the Happiness Project site on Woman’s Day.

* If you’d like to learn more about the notion that novelty and challenge bring happiness, a great resource is Dr. Todd Kashdan’s book Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. Fascinating.

  • Marit

    Demand resistant describes my daughter down to a “T”. It makes for a hard time living with her, because her terms are pretty much the only terms she’s willing to live with! Anything that even remotely feels like a demand gets her back up, to the point where she makes her own life very difficult.
    I’m curious to see if you will get any tips here in how a happiness project for this type of personality would work. I could use any tips at all in knowing how to deal with her, because even the simplest request can turn into a major issue.

    • kathid

      Marit, that describes ME to a T. And I’m 60. Sigh.

    • Anna

      I would be curious to know how old your daughter is but my tactic with my son is to try to be fairly light hearted and joke with him when he gets his back up and then, yes I will confess unless he does what I request within a reasonable time frame, I remove privelages. I know it sounds draconian but tough that’s life as I’ve told him if I speed and ignore road signs I will lose my privelage to drive. Many driving rules are about getting along with other drivers and keeping people safe that is what many tasks in a family are about too. Emptying the dishwasher helps you to get along with others because it lightens the load for other family members, putting your skiis away properly stops them from falling on my head when I go into the garage thus keeping me safe. My son used to be fairly demand resistant when he was 11-13 but my husband and I were very consistent with this approach and he has completely come around The truth is he is going to have to do things in life he does not want to and as I have said to him get used to it now life is full of boring annoying tasks you need to do to get to the fun ones so try to make them as fun as you can but do them. Oh and when he used to go into the “I’m going to make everyone’s life miserable by being the dark cloud because I have to take the garbage out and I will remain that way for an hour routine” we just ignored it, unless he was stomping around and then we would ask him to stop. It is totally sress inducing and difficult to deal with what you are dealing with though so good luck I hope I have been of some use.

      • Marit

        Thanks! Looking back, I should have been firmer much sooner. She’s almost 18 now, and some battles don’t seem to be worth fighting any more. Though, if she continues as she is her demand resistance will cause her to fail school and then she’ll be home another year. That year will be tough because I have no intention of going on in the way we are now. Writing this down makes me wonder why I want to keep on going on as we are now… maybe the change needs to start today? Food for thought any way.

  • A yoga discipline called Yoga Nidra is about helping people grow by making them decide on a resolution, called Sankalpa, then putting them in a state of deep relaxation (called a hypnagogic state) and making them repeat their sankalpa several times, for themselves. Any sankalpa must be an affirmative sentence (one will not say “I’m not shy” but “I am articulate” for instance). Looks like a way to work around demand resistance in any of us…

  • I would be curious to know if anyone can come up with an affirmative sentence to replace “Quit smoking”

    • a couple ideas:

      “live longer”
      “breathe clean air”

      Can you think of a behavior that might replace smoking for you? What function does it serve in your life? Is it the ritual? A way of taking a break? I know there is a physical chemical thing involved, so I certainly don’t want to make light of how challenging this is. But if you can think of something that you can tell yourself you want to do — chew gum, go for a walk, write in a journal, do a yoga pose — whenever you get the urge to smoke, it gives you something to work towards instead of away from. Just a thought!

    • Leah

      You totally can. This is how I quit. My mantra was simply “Breathe.” Every time I wanted to smoke, I just thought about my healthy pink lungs pulling in pure air.

    • curlypat

      How about “Spend more time (enjoying the sensation of) filling my lungs with fresh air.” You can use the parenthetical phrase or not.

  • Barbara

    I have seen the term used in a wonderful book about perfectionism called “Too Perfect” by Allan Mallinger and Jeannette DeWyze. They call “demand-sensitivity” “a special sensitivity to perceived demands,” and “demand resistance” as “a negative inner response to those demands.” The way this works for perfectionists according to them is that the perfectionist begins by saying “I want to do something” and quickly transforms it into “I should do something.” At that moment the resistance occurs.So that even the things the person wants to do become obligations that weigh her down. Here’s their advice — “Don’t let the ownership of your life slip away.” I love that. I’ve owned this book for about nine years and it’s been a lifesaver for me.

    • 423

      Barbara: “Too Perfect” is one of my favorite books…sadly I am still a perfectionist but I’m far more aware when I’m becoming loopy!

  • There is another reason other than “demand resistance” (what a great term!) for avoiding issuing commands like “don’t eat ice cream” or “don’t slouch” or “I want to not be anxious anymore”. For many people, the brain doesn’t hear the word “no” or “don’t”. Ever heard the old line “whatever you do, don’t think of a pink elephant”? Of course then the only thing you can think of is a pink elephant. If you are trying to give up ice cream and you keep saying “don’t eat ice cream”, you are constantly hearing yourself say “ice cream ice cream ice cream ice cream” and it can be harder to resist. Saying “eat fruit for dessert” or “sit up straight” or “I feel calm and relaxed”, moves you toward what you want rather than trying to move away from something you don’t want. I find this kind of word-play to be very effective for both my teaching as well as for my Weight Watchers members. It works pretty well on myself, too. 🙂

    • ayirrell

      This is very true when dealing with children running inside we shout WALK instead of dont run as the wont hear the don’t and carry on running.

  • Leah

    I wish I’d known this term/concept four years ago. I was married to a “demand resistant” guy for most of my twenties. He’s a nice guy, but he wouldn’t take a suggestion if he was drowning. He’d bristle if I reminded him to put on his seat belt before getting on the freeway.

    Anyway, it’s probably a good idea to couch our suggestions in positive terms anyway, even if we’re not “demand resistant.”

    Thanks for the informative post.

  • heatherbestel

    I agree with Natalie’s comments about how our minds pick up on the words we use. “Don’t think of a pink elephant” is a great example. In order for our minds to delete the pink elephant, it has to get an idea of what it is in the first place. A bit like a computer, find the word in order to delete it.

    This may seem trivial when dealing with our own beliefs, but put it into context and it can be life saving. Imaging watching your child playing in a play park and they are precariously hanging on to a rope or the bars of a climbing frame. At this point you can’t reach them in time but can call out to them to keep them safe. What would you choose from these two options?: “Don’t Fall” or “Hang on Tight!”. Similarly, if they were happily running toward a main road out of your reach, would you shout “Don’t run into the road” or ” Stop at the edge of the kerb!”

    Camper: When I’m working with my therapy clients helping them to rid themselves of cigarettes, we talk about using the term ‘giving up smoking’ and how it really isn’t useful. They aren’t giving up anything but are actually giving themselves a wonderful gift of health. I think Natalies “Breath clean air” is a wonderful alternative to “quit smoking”. I talk more about it here: Love & best wishes, Heather

  • Another Natalie

    This is a great concept. It also seems like the reverse, ‘demand dependent’ could be a useful concept to describe people who require structure, expectations and/or deadlines in order to be successful.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great point! Absolutely. This is really worth thinking about…I wrestle
      with this end of the spectrum much more than the other end.

  • kathid

    Oh my gosh, what an eye-opener this post is! That is exactly how I am! I have even famously announced to my husband (um, more than once) that he is not to begin any sentence with “You should” or the like.

    Yeeks! Now what?

    • gretchenrubin

      Good question!

      If you’re demand-resistant, if you recognize yourself in this description,
      what works for you? how do you prod yourself to put constraints on yourself?
      How can people avoid getting you annoyed and resistant when they ask you to
      do things? Please weigh in!

      • Angie unduplicated

        Demand resistance develops as a response to irrational and/or dishonest people. Be honest, be totally logical, and always, always dangle the carrot.
        This from fifty years of demand resistance in progress.

      • kathid

        Oh, now that’s the problem. What works? It’s a moving target!

        What has worked lately is that I took the advice in the first chapter of your book and, as I nearly always do, escalated it to an unhealthy OCD-like level. I spent the month of January completely decluttering my home, inside and out, including a shed and the garage. It was a miserable month, but I was determined to go ALL THE WAY finally, and I did. And that has been a major mood-buster. I wish I could do a little at a time (of anything) but that’s a problem for me.

        As for demand resistance, though, nagging never EVER works. Many years ago, when I was a smoker, my well-meaning father-in-law sent me clippings about the dangers of smoking and “mentioned” it every chance he got. Even though I adored him and knew he had good intentions, the more he brought it up, the more I was determined NOT to quit, just to assert myself. (Stupid.) My husband, on the other hand, never nagged, never said a word. And finally I quit on my own terms.

      • Avery Boyce

        Me too, to a T, and all of my life. A couple of the things that have really helped me –

        * You always have a choice. Frequently, the most common choice has been selected by everyone because it minimizes negative consequences, but you can still choose to do something else. Paying your mortgage on time might be perceived as a should by the general public, but actually I just prefer to avoid paying late fees. I could pay it late if I wanted to. Similarly with doing dishes, putting things away, etc. Taking a moment to think about the outcomes of the obvious choices lets you have ownership of the decision, whatever it is.

        * Rephrase other people’s ‘shoulds’ into a belief statement. Your mother believes that it would be better to not buy Tylenol. Do you also believe that? Maybe you believe it too for different reasons, but a lot of the time it’s pointless to argue about reasons when you already agree.

        * After deciding that putting dishes away, flossing and other such small activities are actions that support things you want and are willing to invest energy in (having friends over, not spending money on the dentist), build them into a routine. Routines are not for arbitrarily controlling what you do every day, it lets you go through a series of actions without having to decide every time that you want to do it. Deciding all the time is actually pretty exhausting, so if you and your subconscious can agree that this is truly a good thing and you don’t need to question it anymore, it will be handy to have it happen automatically.

        Oh, and if you’ve decided that something is good but it’s not actually becoming a habit, look to see if you have everything you need to make it easy to do. It was practically impossible for me to exercise more frequently until I bought 5 sports bras. I would get mad at myself for not doing laundry frequently enough until I realized I could just buy more clothes. Everything is a choice! If you don’t have the money to buy more clothes, think about whether you’re spending the same amount of money doing laundry every 3 days.

        This was a little extreme, but I spent a couple of days writing down every household supply, every personal hygiene product, and how I was going to do laundry (where are dirty clothes stored? How do they get to the washer? etc.). I found an incredible number of holes that once I made a decision about what I was going to do, everything became easier. And because I had decided, there wasn’t any resistance.

        Take ownership of your decisions. Assess whatever people tell you as a suggestion, or a statement about themselves. Make sure you’ve made all the supporting decisions to the one you’re aware of.

        Hope that helps.

        • HeatherY

          takshakus – LOL. I guess I should clarify about the Tylenol. It went like this:

          Mom: Did you hear on the news about the Tylenol recall?

          Me: No, but it doesn’t matter – we don’t buy Tylenol.

          Mom: Oh, because they are recalling, um Tylenol PM, Children’s Liquid…

          Me: Mom, we don’t use Tylenol – we use ibuprofen.

          Mom: Oh, because they are saying the batches go back a few years and you should check even the old bottles.

          Me: (still calm) We don’t use Tylenol. There’s that Reye’s syndrome thing, anyway (because I’m my mother’s daughter – I know about every obscure health thing there is).

          Mom: Oh, yeah – right. Well, that’s good…because they are recalling a lot of different Tylenol products.

          Me: (sigh) Well, we use ibuprofen. We don’t use Tylenol.

          Mom: Oh. Well, that’s good.

          I know – she’s just loving me in her own exasperating way. I love her back by not showing her my irritation. I vent to my husband, who just wants me to stand up for myself – calmly but firm. I know it’s the healthier thing to do, I just have a hard time doing it. I do tend to get anxious about health issues from being raised this way, though. By not wanting to confront her or make her feel bad – I end up shutting down, which then leads her to wonder if I’m okay (vicious circle, I know).

          My recent solution was to jokingly explain that I already worry too much and I really don’t want to know every dire thing she hears on the news. I told her if she insists on telling me – I’m going to need to cut her off for my own good – by making a “buzzer” (wrong answer) noise into the phone and ask if she wouldn’t like to change the subject. I think it was the next day when I actually used it. It went surprisingly okay. I guess it’s a mother’s prerogative to not listen to her kid.

          takshakus – I really like your strategies. I’ve used some of them myself. I especially like the detailed one about writing down steps to make something easier to do. That reminds me of Gretchen’s “Identify the Problem” Personal Commandment.

  • My husband used to be strongly demand resistant. One ‘aha’ moment for me was when we moved into a house with a sloping kitchen floor. The first day I had said “you need to level the cooktop”, and he had just grunted at me. The next day, correctly figuring he’d forgotten, I wondered aloud “it’s too bad they don’t make, like, adjustable feet on stoves for when your floor isn’t level..” His head snapped around and he said “They do. Here – I’ll show you.” And he fixed it. I’ve also had very good results with starting a project that will require his help, and either I figure it out, or he will jump in to show me ‘what I’m doing wrong’. He likes to help, and to teach – he just doesn’t like being told to do something.

    Demand resistant, in his case, just means he doesn’t want to do it if it wasn’t his idea. (I’ve found this is also frequently the case with the men I work with!)

    @Marit – with two teens, you can play them against each other. I always think up two tasks that need done, then I say “I need a volunteer”. Whichever kid volunteers first gets the easy/fun task. My kids learned pretty quickly that it pays to volunteer. I also have always made a point of teaching my kids that chores and participation are part of living in a house and having a loving family.

  • I look at DR as the first step in forming contrast – figure out what you don’t want so you can decide on what you do want. Focusing on negative statements only tends to perpetuate them for me.

    Even the word “demand” has a negative connonation. Every thing symbolizing restraint means that I have to break it; resistance is the habitual response. Better to focus on the positive feeling of being in possession of your goal – whether it be a state of mind or a physical possession – than to reinforce the negative.

  • Jill

    I think you have to look at the reasons why a person resists demands/shoulds- They’re not all the same. Me for example- I grew up with a loving but naggy nitpicking mother. Nothing i did was right. So the word should lost all positive meaning. But I can’t blame it all on her. I was spacey and cleaning and impressing others didn’t matter as much to me as her. In the past, I also had a natural defensiveness and a need to prove myself due to lack of self-worth. Combine that with a smidge of self-centeredness and you have a person that wants to/needs to be free to be me.

    It’s the should that really gets me. It implies that I am doing something because of some outside force. I should do it because other people tell me to and because societal norms and pressure says so. Some society shoulds are important to comply with- like being kind to others and not stealing. But when it comes to goals, you will never succeed in a goal because you think you should. You have to genuinely want do it yourself.

  • DavidL31

    I’ve never given a lot of thought to demand resistance, so I find this post eye-opening. I may find out something about myself that I never knew.

    I also have a question about the video for this week: Does anybody think it might be possible to aim higher outside of work? Trying something new in spare time, maybe?

    • gretchenrubin

      Aim higher is a great resolution for ANY area of life. Growth brings

  • Andrea

    I am completely demand resistant, although I had never heard that phrase. Instead, I used to call it my “problem with authority” (which is how my sixth grade teacher described me to my face; I didn’t know what that meant, and had to look it up. She was right.)

    For me, it also depends on who the demand comes from. There are certain people I am utterly DR toward, no matter what they are saying, even if it is good advice, while others (including myself) I am a little better at heeding. A little.

  • Doug

    Re “Aim higher” in your video — I agree. The busier I am at work, the happier I am. (And, usually, busy means I’m struggling to figure something out, that is, I am aiming higher.)

  • Meredith

    This post is very relevant to me right now. I had to talk to an employee today about her attitude towards me — she’s definitely “demand resistant,” although I would have used a less objective label! Marit hits the nail right on the head when she says that someone who is extremely demand-resistant ends up making their own life harder. I don’t know why, but it made me happy to read this post so soon after my unpleasant talk with the employee — maybe because this concept helps to abstract her reaction and remind me that it’s not really about me (despite what she tried to tell me!).

  • Thank you so much to Natalie, Leah and Heatherbestel for your tips, suggestions and references! They are all highly appreciated and have been noted down for everyday reference.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that my dependence is not physical (as I have sat in airplanes for hours and have not been bothered by any cravings or thoughts of smoking, cold turkey if you will). I spend an impossible amount of time thinking about the why and how of smoking in my life.

    Thank you Gretchen for this post! You have just poked a hole in my endless circle 🙂

    • kathid

      Everybody is different when it comes to what helps. But I will tell you how I managed to quit smoking after several failed attempts. First, I stopped thinking of the “failed attempts” to quit as failures. I realized that every time I tried to quit, I learned something that helped the next time. So I reframed the failures as learning experiences.

      The mental motivation that saw me all the way through quitting for good (around 30 years ago now) was that I realized that smoking was really making me miserable. I knew it was bad for me, and that it was unwelcome to others, and the fact that I was addicted was depressing. I knew from experience that quitting would be another form of misery. The difference was that THE MISERY OF QUITTING HAS AN END. Yes, there will be withdrawal, and craving, and all the rest, but after a while that will stop, and you will have quit! On the other hand, continuing to smoke has no end, so the misery goes on and on and on and on . . .

      Another thing I did differently when I quit for good was that I didn’t announce my intentions to anyone, unlike every other time I tried. It was a pact with myself, and it wasn’t necessary to tell anybody else. I decided that the pack of cigarettes I had would be the last, and when it was gone, I was done. I made that pack last a few days (ordinarily it would have been gone in one) and then I quit. People started to notice, and I waved it off with “cutting down” or the like. I didn’t want any congratulations or anything else to knock me off course.

      Your path may be very different–but that’s what worked for me.

  • triciafitz2008

    Oh man I am so demand-resistant but only to myself. I am a successful professional who has a family and manages to keep my household running fine, but when it comes to ideas/resolutions to improve my personal life I cannot keep them worth a dime. Many (if not most) of these worthy ideas have come from this blog which is like a lifeline to me in my search to become a happier person. But when I try to implement these resolutions I just end up resenting them. About the only thing that works (very slooowly) is if I have the same negative experience over and over again – then I can remind myself when I make the resolution and when I am tempted to break it. Much like a rule to get up at 5AM (which I do not have thank goodness), I have to remind myself at the critical moment of the more sane version of myself who thought this was a good idea and try to listen to that inner voice. It’s like the old angel-on-one-shoulder, devil-on-the-other gambit. OK, now I sound totally crazy. But if I give it a shot for at least a month, I can get about a 75% response rate from myself.

  • I think my whole family is demand resistant! Hm …

  • Our mind has always been our enemy when it comes to making change. Unless we are able to become aware of the nature of our mind, we will have a hard time liberating ourselves from our old ways. 🙂

  • Love That! “I can only build a happy life on the foundation of my own nature.”

  • Anna

    I have found I am demand resistant only with certain people in my life who have proven themselves to be overly demanding. I think it is a healthy way to be with people like that otherwise you get walked all over. I would tend to think of these people as the “no resistant people”, the types that can’t stand to hear the word no! For my resolutions telling myself “do this” as opposed to “don’t do this” does not make a difference to the overall outcome, it is my desire to see it through that makes all the difference.

    • keishua

      So true. I think that there is a certain type of person that is very demanding and the only way for some people to deal with them is to resistant. That happens to be my experience. I think that we should take resistance as a signal something is wrong with the situation and not necessarily us.

  • keishua

    That is me. I think that sometimes I feel entraped by peoples demands and it makes me unwilling and resistant. I do think that resistance is a signal. Sometimes we are not ready to do something and we feel pushed. Life becomes unbearable at that point. I think that people who are resistant need space. Typically, when I feel overwhelmed with people’s demands I drag my feet and get mad. I think anger is a sign some thing is not quite right(good or bad) . I don’t think we like being told no or what to do as much as we dislike feeling backed into a corner.

    • ayirrell

      This is exactly how i feel sometimes and i think that by recognising the source of the anger and the reason for the anger helps to conteract the resistance i feel. However i do just need the space sometimes to have a talk with myself and just myself not to be so silly and get on with the task! lol may not work for all though.

      • keishua

        true. I think we need space around the situation to gain perspective Sometimes we see we are misbehaving and sometimes we see we are removing ourselves from danger.

  • ellerobb

    Wow. I have to say – that is me! Demand resistant – tell me no & I take it as a challenge. Now that I have a name for it . . . I can deal with it so much better (particularly when dealing w/ my teen daughter who has the same condition!).

  • Janet

    I just discovered the term “demand resistant” a couple of months ago, and the penny dropped. That’s me! What helps for me is to rephrase things like “I have to work on my novel” into “I want to work on my novel because XYZ”. Including the genuine desire to do something, plus the reasons why I want it, makes sense to me. This also works marginally well for something like housecleaning — instead of saying “This place is filthy, I should really sweep the floor” and not doing anything, I’m trying to think of it as this is my house, I make a choice about the way I live in it, and a messy house is not how I want to live. Something like “don’t gossip” might be rephrased as “I don’t want to gossip because ultimately it just makes me feel bad.”

    Of course, these are internally imposed “shoulds”. Fortunately, I’m self-employed so I don’t have many externally imposed “shoulds”, especially ones that I don’t think make sense. They get my back up and make me shut down — I sympathize with the poster who had to talk to her employee.

  • Nicole Larsen

    I think an extension of this can be for people who are overly perfectionistic (ahem) or “demand resistant,” to create resolutions that are to “resist” instead of “no.” Saying “no french fries” sets us up for failure after one. But maybe “resist french fries” would allow some forgiveness for mistakes. (Or justify a few fries for some other people. hehe)

    • gretchenrubin

      In the case of resisting temptations, like not eating French fries, I think
      the abstainer/moderator split plays an important role.

      In my experience, speaking as an abstainer, saying “No French fries” is NOT
      a perfectionist approach and would NOT be more likely to lead to failure.
      For us abstainers, this approach is much easier than trying to be moderate.
      Abstinence is easier than moderation! But this isn’t true for moderators!

      It seems like that a demand-resistant person wouldn’t be an abstainer. But
      would they be a moderator, either?

      • Janet

        Again, it may depend on how it’s phrased. Another thing that has helped me break bad habits is to simply decide that I don’t do X any more. Then, if I do do X, I say to myself, “Oh, I forgot, I’m not the kind of person who does that any more,” and stop the behavior. There’s no demand resistance because I don’t think of it as a “should,” I think of it as a fact.

        • kathid

          Janet, I like that! I’m thinking that may help me!

      • sunshinecook

        I think I agree with what Janet is saying–a demand-resistant person (or one who is demand-resistant in the scenario at hand) may fall in different places along the moderator-abstainer spectrum (although I doubt they’d be complete abstainers.) They may just need to phrase their resolve in terms of passions, desires, likes, and dislikes instead of “should.” So perhaps the helpful thought would be “I hate the way I feel when I eat french fries” (for the more abstinence-minded folk) or “I hate the way I feel when I eat *too many* french fries” (for the moderation-oriented.)

        I think that fits with what Heather said below too.

      • LaterBetty

        I subscribe to abstinence when it comes to certain foods. I believe that one is too many and a million is never enough.
        That being said, I have been DR for some time now around this and have been abusing my body with food. The result is I am at my highest weight ever. So where to start? Well…today is good, considering that is all I am promised. And to remind myself that today I have a choice to do something loving. So my mantra becomes, “Today, I choose…”. One can fill in the rest of the sentence with any positive, loving words that speak to their “flavor of the day” issue.

        Thanks for all the help you bring to those of us pursuing happiness.

  • karenhphillips

    One of the best challenges I ever took on was editing/composing the newsletter for our local writers guild. I’ve learned to use Constant Contact and improved writing and editing skills. Learning new skills, technology, and knowledge can be intimidating, but once I take the plunge, I feel confident and eager to learn even more.

  • ayirrell

    I am a demand resist and this i have learnt over the last year while doing a pgce primary teaching qualification. I have trouble taking advice that is very firm and give me no choice. I have however been working hard at trying to more relaxed and change. i know that i can never change completely and that i should be myself but i find this a very unappealing aspect of myself which if i can try and be less resistant life will be easier.

  • My positive affirmation is to Be Present. I created a list of goals for myself and work toward accomplishing not restricting or avoiding. You can read my personal goals/affirmations to BE PRESENT at

  • HeatherY

    Hi, everyone! My name is Heather, and I’m HAPPY that my email inspired this post! Discovering the term “Demand Resistant” was a HUGE epiphany for me. Overcoming it, however, is the challenge. The relationship (in my head), between “want” and “should” is the secret.

    Should = guilt which can develop into frustration and anger from feeling trapped by the NEED to be “good” – which then leads me to feel bad about not wanting to do the “right” thing. All of these knee-jerk mental Olympics happen instantaneously when I decide about what task to start.

    These negative feelings have little to do with the actual action required. That’s why it’s so perplexing!

    Example: I don’t really mind doing the dishes, in fact – it’s a chore I kind of enjoy. I am always happier when the kitchen is tidy. So WHY do I resist doing it? I realized that something like doing dishes doesn’t fall into a “perfectionist” procrastination category. Why would I care if I did the dishes perfectly?

    Answer: Demand Resistance! My mother raised me crazy with her hyper-observations and constant “suggestions” about what I SHOULD be doing. She is also constantly telling me things she hears on the news that will sicken and/or kill me and my family – without discerning whether or not they actually apply (Mom, we don’t even BUY Tylenol!). After divulging the ever-so-important information; she then goes on to tell me more things I SHOULD do regarding said information. Perhaps I learned at a young age that I SHOULD do all the things that I SHOULD be doing – or risk immanent doom! (not to mention what the neighbors might think if I didn’t!).

    Want = desire and freedom to choose for myself – without endless circles of bad feelings. Stopping myself from instantly turning a “want” into a “should” is key. It’s guilt vs. desire.

    Oddly enough, I don’t have trouble abstaining from things I feel need to be stopped. I also enjoy moderating things that fit into that category for me. I have decent will power – when the choices seem to be mine. It’s DOING things and the head-games that result – which halt me dead in my tracks.

    • keishua

      You hit the nail on the head. Feeling that you have to do certain behavior to be good drives me crazy. Even if I don’t think the behavior is bad I would rather not do it because i was told I needed to do it to be good. I am not sure if it is a matter of proving things or a matter of having a decision in the process.

  • Gretchen, what an amazing community you have built around your book and your Happiness Project! I am typically very happy and not one to cast aspersions, but I have to say that I have recently been pushing myself tremendously, “aiming higher”, working on something that has been difficult with a steep learning curve, and — today, I wound up in tears and determined not to do any further work in that direction. At least for now. I found that, in doing this difficult work that I am capable of doing but truly hate, I simply felt unsupported, ignorant, ineffectual, and ultimately very unhappy. Now, I’m totally responsible for my own happiness, and I am often happy when other people would not be, but I just had to say that this particular tip did not work for me. I’m now in a place where I am “reaching for the thought that feels better”, as Abraham says. Maybe that’s another way of “aiming higher”. And I really do appreciate all of your wonderful work. Best, Susan K.

    • gretchenrubin

      This is really tough. New challenges often bring frustration, anxiety, anger
      — feeling overwhelmed, incapable, all those unpleasant emotions!

      In my case, I know, sometimes it can be hard to tell whether I should keep
      persisting, blow through the negative stuff, to get to the triumph — or
      whether to decide that a particular challenge isn’t the right one for me.

      Also, if it’s something that is just awful — not something that I wish you
      could do but can’t — but truly something that feels just WRONG, I give it

      Yipes! It’s tough.

      • Thanks for the support and validation, Gretchen! In this case, taking a good, solid break from the work (I actually declared out loud, “I QUIT!”) did the trick. After a good night’s sleep, I jumped back in with both feet and found that I was more effective and felt more satisfied. Cool!

  • Sue

    I recognise the phrase “demand resistant”. I don’t mind so much if other people tell me what I should be doing, and I don’t shirk my responsibilities. I do put plenty of constraints on my behaviour.

    But over recent years, I have found that as soon as I start to think “I ought to…”, then I don’t want to any more! It takes the shine off many things, for example, I ought to go out with my husband more often; I ought to read more novels; I ought to get the garden in shape ready for the Summer (I do enjoy gardening, by the way); I ought to go swimming more often. And so on…

    I’m trying to train myself not to think the words “should” or “ought to” about things that would make me happy. But it’s hard work.

    OK, I’m adding to this now that I’ve read the rest of your comments (oops). I see that I’m not alone, and there are many good suggestions here for overcoming the problem.

    So here goes… I am the kind of person who swims regularly and enjoys spending time with her husband. I love my garden and I want it to look nice so I can relax in the Summer sun, and read a novel or two!

    Is that progress, or what?

    • Janet

      That’s awesome!

  • cerise

    I may be the most demand resistant person in the world. I bristle at every boss, I squirm at every suggestion. I spurn every lover who holds an expectation. I keep friends waiting because I’m always late. I miss appointments and I forget to pay bills. When my phone rings, I don’t answer it, I call back. But so much worse than any of that, I’ve turned every single “want” I have into a “should”. It’s immobilizing. I’m utterely trapped and it’s just getting worse.

    I’ve been aware of it for years and haven’t yet found a real way to get around it. It’s caused multitudinous problems, and I’ve disappointed and hurt many people, but none so much as me.

    I can’t keep resolutions – I can hardly take care of myself. Like a previous commenter, I struggle with things like doing dishes. Everything from normal daily household chores to following through on vacation plans are resisted. I have no schedule, no routine. I live on “my own terms”! Ha! Right. The thing is, now I don’t even know what MY own terms are! Unemployed and alone without a college degree and sink full of dishes?? Great.

    I constantly feel like I’m at battle. Or walking into a brick wall of my own making (i didn’t always know who built that wall..) My best analogy of my demand resistance is that it’s like walking a cat on a leash – myself being both the cat and the walker. You know what happens when you walk a cat? YOU DON’T GET ANYWHERE.

    Sorry for the negativity. I do try to keep the self-talk positive, and as other folks have mentioned here – i try to avoid “no” or “don’t” statements, opting for more pro-active language e.g. “eat healthy”- but i think everybody could benefit from that. I don’t feel like it’s changed the demand resistance much. I’ve also nearly eliminated the words should and must from my vocabulary, at least verbally. My internal vocab still hears want as should though.

    Gretchen, regarding resolutions and your abstainer/moderator model and how it relates to demand resistance I can only speak for myself, but I am a BINGER. I have a pattern of binge/abstain. Saying NO french fries is probably gonna have me eating a very large plate a fries the next available opportunity, but so will the suggestion of LESS fries. For me, the only path to moderation is to give something little or no thought, to be un-attached to the thing.

    Hmph. Actually and furthermore, little thought and non-attachment is my only path to achieving anything at all! How can i get feel good about succeeding only at that which i never really set out to do?

    • HeatherY

      cerise – Oh, my gosh – I so feel for you! I’ve often used the phrase, “I’m just not good at life” – because of the exact exhausting constant internal struggle you described so perfectly.

      It’s not an externally appropriate description because I manage to be responsible and successful quite a bit. I was an A/B student throughout school and college – even if I procrastinated and left everything to the last minute and slapped things together.

      I am also late to EVERYTHING. I was reading a comment section on once that asked what people were compulsive about. Hundreds of people said they have to be early or it stressed them out. HUNDREDS! That was a weird wake up call – that I may be surrounded by people that NEED to be early, and not even know it!

      I know it’s so 90’s to blame your parents and wonder about root causes for hang-ups. The “now” thing is to not care why you are the way you are – just change it. I believe there is merit in that thinking, but discovering what demand resistance is has helped me. I love my parents. Becoming a parent myself has let me see some things more clearly, however. I was a good kid (only child), who was never disciplined. My parents just sort of reacted to me and I kind of had to figure things out for myself. I am coming to the conclusion that my demand resistance is rooted in not maturing past the “pushing the boundaries” stage – tied to being able to fail – and still be loved. This is my best guess – it could be bunk.

      Turning 40 (4 days ago) and more so – having my son (who’s 21 months old) have softened the edges for me though. It is just too exhausting to constantly resist anymore.

      cerise – Please don’t worry so much about the non-attachment. I’ve found that it’s too tiring to “care” so much about everything, especially trivial things like functioning (I know that sentence will sound ridiculous to people who aren’t demand resistant – but we know what we’re talking about). I’ve sort of “given up” and just do what needs doing – without thinking so hard about it.

      You kind of have to “just do what needs doing” with a toddler – which is funny because he’s almost like a gift that way. He gets me out of my own head, and I LOVE to do things for him. I actually WANT to and the “wants” don’t ever even turn into “shoulds” – which surprised the heck out of me about myself, lemme tell ya. Being an every-other-weekend & summers step-mom wasn’t intense enough to shake me – and I was younger when I became a step-mom. My step-daughter was four when I met her, so she was pretty self sufficient, as well.

      I do admit, also, that my husband is my rock. He is a renaissance man of too many skills to count (two of which are work-from-home Dad and laundry – I know, don’t hate me). He is currently perfecting creating Pottery Barn-esque furniture (self-taught) and building a PC server to network our other PCs he’s built (neither of which is his current work-from-home business!). Seriously, the man is like a male version of Gretchen Rubin – you both exhaust me just thinking about all that you accomplish in a day. The thirteen years that we have been together have taught me a lot – and worn down some of my resistance tendencies.

      So I can’t really take credit for as far as I have come. I believe I owe it to my family…and God.

      • cerise

        Heather, i appreciate your empathy! So sorry you experience that same inner battle, though. I’m glad to hear that you’ve been able to work around it!

        I agree that caring about something is what creates the obstacle, (want–>should) that thinking too much reinforces it. that’s kind of what i meant about that non-attachment to a goal is the only way i can get things those things done. this then led me to lament that i only do the things i *don’t* care about.. ack.

        i really like your theory about demand resistance being tied to not getting past the “pushing the boundaries” stage, and being able to fail and still be loved. i think this is definitely a piece of the puzzle for me too. i wasn’t allowed to fail as a kid without major repercussions, and it’s def carried over.. i’m not sure if it’s only about pushing boundaries/testing love for me, or just a plain old fear of failure that results in non-action as a way to avoid not meeting expectations and thusly be judged. two different things. i suspect they are both true for me. ugh.
        as a child my parents were the opposite of yours, they were extremely controlling. I never really learned how to make choices because i wasn’t allowed to – my only path to claiming control was through often passive, often subconscious, resistance. it got a little more deliberate in my teenage years (heheh) but for the most part it was subconscious, as it still is today.

        i’m not trying to say that all of my demand-resistance is subconscious though. i definitely get a real, conscious and visceral feeling of resistance (even anger!?!) to certain external demands especially if it’s an order, and esp if i’m being ordered to do something i had already intended to do – but i don’t always recognize it for what it is, and even if i do it’s difficult to get past. ..a lot of times i find myself suddenly coming up with all kinds of perfectly logical reasons not to do the task. subconsciously..?

        another thing i just remembered is that i have a particularly strong reaction to people who clearly want my approval or act too needy. i get repulsed and *very* resistant to giving them that approval or attention. it’s not always, and it’s not with everyone – i don’t know, i think there is a certain kind of person that brings it out of me and i recognize it as the exact same feeling i get when i’m being told i MUST do something – absolute resistance and something like anger! it’s really terrible! i just hit a *wall* and i’m instantly cold – ICE. it’s really unfair and sometimes hurtful. finding myself without compassion feels like a real failure to me.

        oh jeez, all of this stuff is real mind f***. too bad recognizing the pattern of behavior and knowing how destructive and futile it all is doesn’t make it disappear… ALAS.

        • HeatherY

          Oh, my mom’s controlling – don’t get me wrong. It’s just delivered in a passive-aggressive way. Guilt and all that.

          I have a certain relative that brings out that exact resistance to needy thing (you described), in me. It’s interesting that you mentioned it – because I never made that connection before. It never helped that I was told by other relatives that I “should” spend time with this person and how much they liked/looked up to me. I was kind of awful about it when I was younger. Now I realize the right thing to do is just be nice. I’m trying to take the Saint Therese path.

          Actually, there’s some other relatives that affect me in a similar way. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just that I’m an only child – but the dynamic is that they like being with me and I feel I have to be “on”. I feel smothered by it or something. It’s draining, like they’re vampiric. It’s funny because when trying to explain it to my husband his response was: “They LIKE you, how awful – those bast@rds.” I really should practice Gretchen’s “familiarity/repeated exposure breeds affection” thing. The irony is that if I spend enough time with them – we all relax enough to enjoy each other. I can get something out of it, too. I just tend to knee-jerk avoid them, because of feeling overwhelmed in the beginning.

          You touch on the anger part and that’s important. I never felt I was allowed to be angry. Too much needing to be a “good kid”, maybe. Dad was a door-slammer, silent treatment (also passive-aggressive) to my mom when I was young (he grew out of it), which may have something to do with it too. I have a lot of anger underneath. I still don’t really unleash. I get b/tchy, ranty, whiny or quiet. I envy people who can let go and don’t care what people think. I do realize, though, that those people don’t like that about themselves, either. It doesn’t help that my whole life people have not taken me seriously when I’m angry. They laugh and tell me I’m cute! Way to make me angrier!

          A new thought – I tend to think in extremes. All or nothing. I can’t say “I don’t want to see the relatives,” because I go all the way in my head to the honest – “I don’t want to see you because you make me crazy” – which would be mean, so I can’t do that. I avoid until I can’t anymore – and then just suck it up and visit. This probably isn’t special though, don’t they write articles every year about how to survive holidays with relatives?

          • Marit

            Reading this thread really helped me understand what is most likely going on in my daughters head. Thanks! She too tends to push people away they minute they get needy or demanding (in her eyes). Many a boyfriend has been left by the wayside. This is giving me a lot of food for conversation with her…

  • cimbriel

    I have seen myself in so many things on Gretchen’s blog (I’m an abstainer, not a moderator. What a huge help that one was!)and here is another one. I’m demand resistant! I’m hoping to use this to get my husband to stop asking me to do things. Kidding. But we had something happen last week that is exactly this.

    We have a young puppy with a “drinking problem”. He will drink a gallon of water at a go. Which results in a bladder control problem. To make it all worse, we have a pool so when we let the dogs out (we have 3), he goes directly there and starts drinking, which means letting him out to pee doesn’t mean he’s not going to pee in the house later. So we made the rule – and it’s a good rule – that if we’re about to leave the house and pup has to be in the crate, he can’t be unattended for their last pee break. One of us has to go out with them to make sure he pees and that he doesn’t drink. I think this is a great idea.

    Just don’t tell me to do it.

    We were leaving to go out the other day and hubby asked me to let the dogs out, so I did. As I was walking to let them out, he said “stay out there with him please, so he doesn’t drink.” And I got mad at him for telling me what to do and told him if he wanted something done a particular way, he should do it himself.

    How annoyingly irrational is that?

    I have the same problem at work when the expense reporting tool emails me to say I have expenses on my charge card I haven’t “expensed” yet. The more emails the system sends, the less likely I am to do it.

    I think there are good ideas in the comments here about how to get around this resistance to daily tasks and “ought to’s”. But what about things that happen right in a moment? The request to do something, perfectly reasonable, that I would probably have done with no issue, if only the demand hadn’t been verbalized. How do I get myself to do those things? To make the resistance go away right here and now?

    • Sue

      Oh, don’t you hate it when someone tells you you “ought to” do something you were going to do anyway? The natural reaction is to do the opposite.

      I WILL have a piece of cake if I want one! Who are you to tell me I “should” lose weight? Grrrrrr….

  • Anita

    I think it is really nice to put a different term around an issue but it really only sounds to me like some of the issues that a few of the people have here are control issues. I had a friend who was chronically late for every date we set, even if we were to meet at her house I would be left waiting in my car for sometimes up to twenty minutes only to see her arrive breathless saying how “busy”she was or she had bumped into someone. She had a fit when she was assigned a posting that was not exactly as per her demands when she was the newest person in an office in a field with few openings. The list could go on but I’m sure you get the picture. Sadly because this friendship was not making me happy I had to end it. She was a lot of fun to be around but really only when she was getting her way. My very strong feeling was she was not happy unless she could control every situation and her being chronically late highlighted to me that she had to be in charge. I spent a lot of time waiting for her to show up for appointments and going to the movies she wanted as well as restaurants but I just got sick of it after a while. Phone calls never got answered and they were only returned when “she” wanted to do something. She did this with pretty much every one of her friends and many of us just got fed up. The theme to me was not “demand resistant” but sorry “controller”. I don’t really see a difference if you can’t take direction from other people doesn’t it mean you have to do things your way all the time? Unless you live on a planet by yourself you are going to be perceived as being selfish and well controlling. I’m very easy going and forgiving with my friends which is why it took me a long time to get annoyed with this friend’s chronic lateness as well as her other controlling behaviours but others were not so patient, I think putting a different label on the behaviour can be unhelpful. My friend ended up losing her job for being so difficult and suffered terrible anxiety which she blamed on her boss and her husband. “Demand resistant” to me is a nice way of saying controlling personality and I bet many of the people who wrote in about being demand resistant may find that they may be just a little if not a lot…controlling.

    • Sue

      There is an element in your diatribe that I recognise. I know I like to be in control, of situations, people and life – as do many people.

      But I think you’ll find that most “control freaks” do try not to let other people down as a result of their obsession. The ex-friend you describe just had more of a problem than most. Maybe she has learned to be more considerate since she found that her friends were drawing away.

      For myself, I think my controlling-ness has developed over my adult life. When my children were young (up to 20!), I found it really hard to let them make their own mistakes and take risks, and I became increasingly anxious about going into new situations because I didn’t know what to expect ahead of time. I think (I hope!) that I managed a decent compromise with them, at least they now seem to be pretty capable and independent (at 23 and 20).

      With regard to being late, again there is a degree of tension. I am often ready early if I have to go somewhere, then I get angry at the delay and start to do something else to fill the time, which sometimes leads to me being late. I hate to waste time, I get bored very quickly if I’m waiting.

      It’s a matter of finding a balance, between being in control and being more laid-back in this case. And being aware of the tension between the two states of mind. So we’re back to mindfulness and the middle way – a recurring theme at the moment, I find.

      • Anita

        I find it interesting you felt compelled to call my observations a “diatribe” and sorry but I disagree most people do not try to control other people. You cannot control others, it is not healthy or fair to try to do so. Situations sure you want input, people no.

        • HeatherY

          Don’t tell me what I can’t do! LOL

          Your former “friend” doesn’t sound demand resistant to me.

          I never care when people tell me I can’t do something. I don’t even mind “shoulds” from most people. A previous commenter mentioned how it can trigger with certain people in their life – and for me it’s my mom. The main annoyance I struggle with is my internal reluctance to do things I, myself want to do. I knock the enthusiasm out of them by thinking I “should” do them. A simple re-framing can alleviate it.

          Although I like control (who doesn’t?); I don’t try to control others. That’s just futile. In fact, since I was little; I was embarrassed for the kids in the group who made a scene and had to have their way. I like to go along with the program where everyone’s having fun.

          You can argue the lateness factor as controlling. I know a lot of people hate that. I think all of Gretchen’s lateness factors from her list fit me to some degree. For me, some of the lateness stems from wanting to push the boundaries and see if I’m still loved. Wow. What an embarrassing sentence to type. Gretchen should be charging therapy fees for this community.

          • Anita

            I so loved your response! Maybe you’re right maybe she was not demand resistant. Well then maybe she was just controlling, definately some food for thought. In her case I know the lateness thing was absolutely about control for many other people it is only about being incredibly busy. I guess there is a distiction between controlling and demand resitant but I still think that there are some shared characteristics. Oh and I’m teasing here but could demand resistant people unite I mean who would make the initial request…

          • HeatherY

            That’s the joke – “should” unite. It would never happen. I imagined it like an ironic bumper sticker.

          • Anita


    • cerise

      i hear you saying a rose by any other name still has thorns, and i agree – but we can still have a conversation about the color of the rose.
      i will freely admit i have control issues, and demand resistance can be one way to manifest control. labels however, are only useful as a means to further understanding. the label “controlling” doesn’t shed much light on the issue. i find “demand resistant” is more descriptive of my problem, and identifies it as REACTIVE behavior, as opposed to a proactive exertion of control. One could also call it passive-aggressive, but that label has been widely misused and has (outside of a clinical situation) lost most of it’s utility.

      I’d like to note that demand resistance, at least in my case, works largely on a subconcsious level, i truly don’t want to be late for work, or for lunch with friends. i *try* to be on time. i used to think i was just scattered – but now i see it in the context of this larger picture of resistance to demands. i’d like to think your friend’s behavior wasn’t malicious, just as mine isn’t. but whether it is or not, i can’t fault you for choosing to end your friendship – as it stands, a rose by any other name still has thorns. 🙁

  • HeatherY

    Demand Resistant People Should Unite.


  • 423

    Another thought provoking post! As a person trying to address/moderate my character defects…I have been told that it far better to think about cultivating the opposite of the defect you are trying to eradicate. “Speak Kindly” instead of “Don’t Gossip” is a simple example. I think it keeps the focus positive rather than negative.

  • Nora

    I have become demand resistant over the years as to many people have place to many demands upon me, and I, foolishly, tried to fulfill these demands at my own expense. I find that, while the demands continue (many from an unreasonable boss who is taking advantage of the economic times), I have become less and less willing to try and fulfill them. I have also become depressed and unhappy because I just do not want to live this way anymore. I am seeking happiness, which is how I came to the happiness project. I do have many, many things to be happy about and grateful for but sometimes I miss what is right in front of me because I become so stressed. I am looking for a different job, but the grass is not always greener as I have found out. I am still struggling with keeping my perspective but I get so very,very tired.

    • gretchenrubin

      One of the big challenges of happiness — when to say “yes,” “when to say
      “no” — to yourself and to other people!

  • Susan Joslyn

    I find that, I am indeed, demand resistant, but not all of the time. A good example is: I just started a new job and in having to learn some of the how-to’s, I had to be demand receptive. So, it seems that I am demand resistant when I find no logic in rules or policies. Which makes working in a corporate environment difficult as, this is where rules and policies often are set up for the masses and don’t always fit with every single individual. In my introspection, I will now study why things being done logically are so important to me. Thanks