The Psychology of Why Some People Can’t Say ‘No!’ – Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

“As kids growing up, my sister and I could never understand why our parents always helped with church activities, to the extent that almost every weekend was occupied with major time-consuming tasks.

“Often we would hear them complain about feeling used, but we never heard them say ‘No.’

“Also, they tend to believe and trust everyone, once buying a $3,000 vacuum cleaner from two door-to-door salesmen claiming it would purify air in their home. We were able to unwind that sale under the three-day-cooling-off law.

“This behavior has always appeared to us as not normal, but what happened last week has us even more concerned. They went to Las Vegas for a deeply discounted weekend at a nice resort, attended a timeshare presentation, and bought one for $30,000! They are both in their late 70s!  When we heard about this, immediately we drove them to the post office and sent in the cancellation form.

“Mom and Dad seem to lack internal warning alarms. Why couldn’t they say no? Surely psychological defense mechanisms that aren’t working properly can be corrected. Thanks for your insights.” Signed “‘Concerned Kids’ in Denver, Colorado, happy that our parents did not buy the Paris Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas!”

An Evolutionary Flaw

I put the question to a friend of this column, psychology professor Luis Vega of California State University in Bakersfield. In October of 2020, he was the source for my article, “The Psychology of Being Scammed.” 

“From an evolutionary perspective, while some people have developed strong defenses to fend off predatory attacks — which is the safest way of viewing, for example, timeshare sales presentations routinely conducted by con artists — many have not. These predators are opportunistic, much as we see in the savanna how lions isolate the young, old, the injured. It is the exact same thing when two vacuum cleaner salesmen or timeshare crooks have at you. 

“If we imagine ourselves in those terms, we should be prepared to say NO and avoid dangerous situations. We need to put mind and not heart to work for us. So, why don’t we? Why can’t some people acknowledge that it truly is a jungle out there, unable to imagine themselves in the savanna, walking into the lion’s den, right up to the pack …….


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