You keep making that movie date with your friend from high school, but you always cancel. You tell your coworker you definitely plan to stop by their birthday party on Friday, but deep down, you have no intention of showing up. It might be poor form to always say you're going to do things you often don't do, but the psychology behind why you make plans you don't keep is not as straightforward as being flaky or anti-social. It can indeed come from a deeper place emotionally.
"This topic is one that comes up often with many clients I work with," social worker and mind-body coach, Tami Sasson, who has a practice in New York City, tells Bustle. Stating what you really want, or can or cannot do, can feel like a complicated process that has potentially very negative consequences. "Ultimately it comes down to avoiding rejection, abandonment, and loss. Connection is one of our basic needs and when that feels threatened, it can cause major emotional distress."
This is not a conscious process for many of us, Sasson says. We have become conditioned to avoid pain, so that practice of saying "yes" in the moment is a way at achieving a false sense of security. Saying "no" can cause a lot of emotional discomfort, Sasson says.
For some, this struggle can harken back to our emotional reality as children, Sasson says. "So many of us did not have emotionally available caregivers. Our needs were not met and respected with love and care."
As a result, many of us also don't trust the security of our relationships, Sasson says. "The act of saying 'no' could mean that someone won't want to be our friend anymore or that we will lose our 'one and only chance' at this date. If we have never felt secure in relationships or experienced a relationship with healthy boundaries, this makes a lot of sense. We want friendship and intimacy and are terrified of losing it."
Counselor Justine Carino tells Bustle that this often happens with people with whom we have a meaningful past, but don't see how they fit into our current lives or the current season our lives are in. Perhaps this is a childhood friend, or someone you dated long ago.
"It is a way for us to show that we are interested in continuing the relationship with that person and we want them to know that we still care about them," Carino says. "But, that relationship is not currently on our list of priorities. We want to leave the encounter or exchange on a positive note and keep the door open for the future."
Somatic experiencing practitioner, Lindsay Gulanes, SEP, who works with clients on healing trauma, tells Bustle that making and canceling plans is also a form of social anxiety. It has to do with a desire to connect, but sometimes you might feel like you aren't necessarily worthy of the connection.
"Belonging is a key part of biological health and plays a big role in managing stress and anxiety," Gulanes says. "When we make plans it can be an impulse response to a desire to be part of something, to belong."
However, Gulanes says that we all have an inner narrative that tells us about how much we deserve to affiliate with our social group, and we evaluate our standing within the pack too.
"This can cause all kinds of symptoms of social anxiety because we have a push-pull dissonance of wanting to connect but a fear of being not enough or of being rejected or not fully accepted by a group if we invest in a whole hearted way," Gulanes says. She recommends beginning to notice how you feel when you are making or canceling plans, and if there are behavior patterns you engage in that bother or confuse you, it's always a good idea to probe further into them with guidance from a pro.
And listen, don't feel too bad when you cancel things. You have to take care of you. But know that saying what you want and need is important and takes practice.
Tami Sasson social worker and mind-body coach.
Lindsay Gulanes, SEP, Somatic Experience Practitioner, trauma therapy designation.