Declining Emotional Invitations

This is a follow-up to the last two posts on emotional consent and how to invite emotional consent.

What if someone makes an emotional offer, either directly or indirectly, and you’d actually like to decline?

Suppose someone starts venting at you emotionally, and you know that if you continue to listen, it’s likely to be draining. Or suppose someone is pretty aware of the importance of emotional consent, and they ask you if you’re up for a heart-to-heart about something important to them. And suppose you don’t feel up to having that kind of conversation.

What’s a good way to decline the invitation, whether that invitation is directly expressed or indirectly implied?

Of course that depends on the situation, your relationship with the person, and how aware they are of the importance of emotional consent. But here are some empowering ways to frame this, so you can decide upon a healthy response.

Is It a Good Offer?

First consider whether the offer of an emotional conversation is a good one. Do you feel good about saying yes to it? Can you say an aligned yes?

Or do you feel it’s a bad, lopsided, or unfair offer? Do you sense some resistance within yourself? Are you thinking something like “Oh boy… here comes some drama,” or “Why do I have to be this person’s shoulder to cry on?” or “Oh no… not more whining today!” or even “How much time is this gonna chew up if we get into this now?”

How’s your energy when you receive the invite? Are you capable of playing the role the other person wants from you? Are you willing to have that kind of experience? Or would you rather avoid it?

Are you feeling generous, kind, and helpful? Or would it be better to decline the offer and focus on other needs and interests?

It’s wise to do a quick check-in with yourself before responding in a way that the other person would interpret as consent to proceed. Even if you do go some ways into such a conversation, you still have the ability to stop, although it’s easier when you catch what’s happening earlier.

If you want to support someone emotionally, that’s your choice. Just remember that it really is a choice. You’re not obligated to be anyone’s emotional punching bag or teddy bear unless you really want to play those roles.

I’d recommend doing a quick assessment (like in your journal) regarding what kinds of emotional offers you’d appreciate receiving. Even say your preferences aloud, like you’re telling life what you want.

I tend to accept emotional intimacy offers that seem:

  • genuine
  • win-win
  • freely made without attachment to outcomes (no neediness or desperation)
  • interesting, fun, growth-oriented or otherwise worthwhile
  • fair
  • honest

I tend to decline or ignore offers that seem:

  • presumptuous
  • obligatory
  • win-lose, lose-win, or lose-lose
  • uninteresting
  • unfair
  • creepy or threatening
  • likely to have a hidden agenda

I like emotional depth, so I’m usually okay having deep and emotional conversations with people. I like them to be purposeful though. Even if it’s pretty one-sided, I want to feel like I’m somehow helping the other person or making a difference. I’m often willing to listen and offer advice and help with growth-oriented people.

I am sensitive, however, to wasting my time and energy. I don’t like feeling vamped or drained. There’s a huge difference between entering an emotional space with someone who has a growth mindset and doing this with someone who has a victim mindset. When I discover I’m dealing with the latter, my shields go up.

Fortunately the victim mindset isn’t too common among my readers, at least not the ones who’ve been reading my work for years. It can be common among their friends, family members, and co-workers though, and good boundary management is essential here.

What are your standards or boundaries regarding emotional conversations? What kinds of offers would you like to receive more of here? Less of?

If you’re not getting many offers in the part of the spectrum you’d prefer, it’s likely because you’re wallowing in partial matches. When you start declining partial matches more consistently, more of the spectrum will open up to you. You don’t get what you want here per se. You get what you’re willing to tolerate.

Declining Misaligned Offers

How would you decline any other kind of offer that didn’t interest you? You have essentially the same options here.

To decline an emotional offer, you could directly decline it, ignore it, make a counter-offer, let it go into your spam folder, etc.

My advice here is to be honest and firm yet compassionate, and let the other person fully own their reaction.

How you respond may depend on how the other person asks. Some invites may be so inauthentic, fake, impersonal, or vampy that you may just delete or ignore them. Others you may politely decline. Others you may accept.

How I decline (if I do that directly) may depend on the invite. It could take one of these forms, for instance:

  • No, thanks
  • I’ll pass.
  • I don’t have the capacity for that kind of discussion right now. Hope you understand.
  • Normally I’d love to, but ___ is a priority for me right now… gotta pass.
  • My intuition says no on this, so I’ll have to pass. Hope you understand.
  • I’m not up for talking about ___ right now, but if you want to talk about ___ instead, I’m game!
  • We’ve talked about this at length before. Why do you want to discuss it again? What other project are you procrastinating on?
  • Goodness no… not a match!
  • Not a fair offer… no.
  • Various expletives

Sometimes you may have to decline more than once, especially if it’s an in-person invitation and the other person is trying to run the entitlement script. You might need to physically walk away as part of saying no.

Incidentally, some people invite an emotional discussion as a delay tactic. It’s surprisingly common actually. What are they avoiding by inviting an emotional discussion, especially one that could chew up a lot of time? Hint: It’s probably some kind of challenging, goal-oriented work.

Also note that it isn’t your personal responsibility to educate everyone who makes a bad offer on how to make a better one. But you may find that worth doing if someone genuinely asks you.

Sharing emotional intimacy can be wonderful, but as with any other part of life, there are aligned offers and misaligned ones. A good way to shift over to the aligned side is to get really good at saying no to misaligned invitations.