More PsychNotes: Communication
Assertion 101: You Have the Right to Say “I Don't Care”
by Monica A. Frank, PhD
Sometimes saying “I don't care” is harder for people than saying “No.” Yet, have you ever thought “I don't care” but acted in ways to show you do care? In other words, have you ignored what you wanted to prevent conflict or to not hurt someone's feelings?
“I don't care” is usually about shoulds or demands. Someone expects you to care about something:
“You should lose weight.”
“You shouldn't spend so much time on social media.”
“You should care about what happens in national politics.”
“You should have children.”
“You should listen when others talk.”
“You should go to church.”
I'm not saying whether these “shoulds” are right or wrong, good or bad, polite or not. It is just that people have different things they care about. You have the right to choose when and how you care. And if you don't care about something, you have the right to say so.
However, an important premise of assertive communication is to state your feelings or needs without unnecessarily causing harm to the other person. The word “unnecessarily” is important here because some people feel harmed just because you deny them what they want or you disagree them. No matter how you say it, they feel harmed or violated. That is not your responsibility.
Depending upon your relationship with the other person and whether you care about the future of the relationship, there are different ways to say “I don't care.”
For instance, if someone says “You should visit your grandmother” and you say “I don't care” it may affect your relationship with your grandmother. If you truly don't care because she has seriously mistreated you, then it may not matter.
However, if you care about the person but are not interested in changing your behavior to suit them, you may choose to say “I don't care” in less offensive ways:
“That doesn't interest me.”
“I understand that's important to you but it's not important to me.”
“I'm not really into that.”
“That's not my choice.”
The bottom line, though, is you don't have to live your life according to others' dictates. You can let them know that you don't care about the same things they do. And you don't have to explain yourself if you don't care to.
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