6 things you don’t owe anyone an explanation for, according to psychology

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In a world where people can be downright nosey, we often end up over-explaining ourselves.

We inadvertently allow others to pry or question our choices when it’s none of their damn business. Or we feel the need to offer up detailed justifications for the decisions that we have made.

A lot of this happens without us realizing it, and so it flies under the radar. But it’s time to reclaim our autonomy and reassert our boundaries.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the things we don’t owe anyone an explanation for.

1) When you decide to say “no” to anything

Maybe you’ve heard it said before:

No is a complete answer.

So why then do so many of us feel the need to excuse and explain ourselves when we turn something or someone down?

Regardless of whether or not you have people-pleasing tendencies, saying no can be uncomfortable when we don’t want to disappoint others.

The psychological reason for this is because as human beings, we can’t help but seek out validation from others.

Of course, when your friend messages to invite you out, I’m not suggesting you shoot back with a slightly icy-sounding “no” and nothing else.

But before you launch into a paragraph detailing exactly why you can’t, consider whether you need to.

The point is, it’s okay to say “Thanks, but I won’t be able to make it. See you another time.”

The same goes for any other opportunity or request made of us. 9 times out of 10, you don’t owe the other person an insight into your reasons.

When you feel the need to justify yourself, you are subtly undermining your right to choose the experiences you give your time to.

2) If you do or don’t want children

A couple of years ago I was introduced to a new group of people through a mutual friend.

One of the guys, who I had just met, asked me why I didn’t have children.

Luckily, for me, it’s not a sensitive subject. The answer is simply a combination of it never happening and not feeling any strong enough desire to be a mother.

But I quickly pointed out to him that it’s not a question he should casually throw around.

“Oh really, why?”, he asked.

For starters, you could be opening up a big can of worms when you have no idea what someone else may have gone through. 

But ultimately, because it’s also none of your business.

Whether someone wants to (or is able to) be a parent is highly personal, as clinical psychologist Lauren Magalnick Berman, PhD, reminds us:

“For some, the intentional decision to not have children could be simply because they appreciate the autonomy and freedom of a child-free life. Others want to devote their energies to their marriage or career, while still others have no great yearning for children in the first place.”

Whatever your reasons or circumstances, it can be triggering to be asked to justify yourself.

If we want to put a stop to it, we have to be prepared to let people know that it’s not okay to ask.

3) Why you’re single

For some reason, people seem to think your relationship status is something they should be entitled to an explanation about.

So much so that many folks actively go looking for polite yet firm responses to this question.

It’s funny when you think about it:

Nobody ever asks you why you are in a relationship, so why would we ask why someone is single?

Psychotherapist Allison Abrams says so-called single shaming is “negatively judging somebody for not being partnered up and not conforming to society’s expectations… of being married at a certain age”.

It can manifest in impertinent questions like “Aren’t you lonely on your own?” or patronizing comments like “You’ll find someone soon”.

That’s why being asked “why you’re still single” can feel almost accusatory and feeds into this paranoia that if you’re not coupled up there must be something wrong with you.

Of course, that’s nonsense. But if we want to shift the narrative, we have to be prepared to stop justifying being single, as if it is the lesser of two options.

4) Why you’re turning down someone’s advances

It’s a pet peeve of mine, yet I’ve also been guilty of doing it plenty of times.

Someone comes on to you. You’re not interested. But rather than politely say so, you feel compelled to make up a fictional partner.

I think because it feels less awkward and an easy way out. Sometimes for women, it also feels like the safest way out.

You’re still rejecting them, but it softens the blow and gives you a justifiable reason.

But in The Power of Rude: A woman’s guide to asserting herself, author Rebecca Reid explains why this can be a disempowering move.

“The problem is there that you’re effectively using belonging to someone else as a justification for being left alone, when in reality you don’t owe any explanation at all…There is a knock-on effect which comes from protecting men from rejection and refusing to be rude to them. People who don’t experience rejection don’t learn to work with it. It contributes to a culture of entitlement, which in turn creates a bigger problem of harassment.”

Nobody is saying we need to be brutal when we knock someone back.

But we also should be mindful of offering up explanations (especially when they’re a lie) to justify what is our own legitimate choice.

It’s perfectly okay to say “Thank you, but I’m not interested”. End of conversation.

5) Your parenting choices

In the last year, I got a dog. It has struck me how much everyone loves to share their unsolicited advice with you.

You “should” be doing this, you “shouldn’t” be doing that.

So I can only imagine how annoying this is for all the moms and dads out there.

It’s funny how everyone else seems to know best, yet there’s still a world of contrasting ideas about the do’s and don’ts.

Lecturer on child development and counselor for parents, Jennifer White says people love to give their two cents:

“No matter how you choose to raise your children, you will hear about it. Having a family member criticize your parenting hurts, but even an offhand comment from a stranger can sting. Occasionally, the advice offered is a pearl of wisdom to cherish and apply. But often, it’s best to push these comments aside and forget them.”

At the end of the day, it’s your family, and you get to choose what’s best for it.

6) Why you’re not drinking

A few years ago I decided to take a break from drinking for a while, and quite frankly I never heard the end of it.

At every social gathering I attended it became an unavoidable topic of conversation.

Friends would pester me, and strangers would probe for more information.

Peer pressure is far from being a teenage affliction. When it comes to certain things, alcohol included, people find it hard to let it drop.

If you’ve ever experienced this firsthand, it’s not your imagination. Research has found that in countries all across the world, there is a negative reaction to non-drinkers.

But what’s the psychology behind it?

Director of the National Drug Research Institute and Clinical psychologist Simon Lenton says we prefer people to engage in the same behaviors as us.

“Essentially, we are tribal social animals. From an evolutionary perspective, early humans had to form social groups to hunt, gather food, protect each other and survive. As a result, we have evolved tendencies to support group cohesion by conforming to group norms and shunning non-conformity.”

You making a different choice can inadvertently make the people around you squirm.

“When you decide you want to cut down or stop drinking, it can be a bit like you are holding up a mirror to your mates that says “I’ve decided my drinking needs to change and maybe you should look at your own drinking”.

Final thoughts

I don’t think there’s any point in pretending that our choices are always 100% our own in life, and never anyone else’s business.

We live together in close-knit societies, and part of having cooperative relationships means sometimes explaining our motivations and reasons for our decisions.

Especially as some of these will impact those we love, and so they may require further discussion. And not because we don’t have a right to make them, but because it can help to aid our understanding of one another.

But other times our desire to over-explain ourselves feeds into other people’s misplaced sense of entitlement to know things that have zilch to do with them— and that’s another matter.

The more assertive we become in not offering an explanation, the better chance we have of changing that.

Louise Jackson

My passion in life is communication in all its many forms. I enjoy nothing more than deep chats about life, love and the Universe. With a masters degree in Journalism, I’m a former BBC news reporter and newsreader. But around 8 years ago I swapped the studio for a life on the open road. Lisbon, Portugal is currently where I call home. My personal development articles have featured in Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, Thrive Global and more.

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