The little word “no” is an interesting one. Kids are usually around two or so when they discover the power of this word. It represents the prospect of autonomy, my right to assert myself against someone else’s instructions, suggestions, or rulings. There is power there. There are my rights, as an individual. There is so much more there than these two measly letters might suggest.
And quite soon, I also learn the multitudes of control, authority, and manipulation that the use or restriction of this word holds. Quite possibly, I learn that the circumstances in which I am allowed to use it are a select few. I learn that others might read a ton of meaning into my “no” that it does not in fact have, and that because of that, it might offend, insult, aggravate, annoy, or provoke the recipient. With time, my autonomy and right to say no gets curtailed by all these complicated, and societally almost agreed-upon, interpretations that it gets inflicted with.
Getting our “no” in a twist
Most people will recognise some of this. And as a result, we have the most conflicting relationship with “no”. Maybe we daren’t say it. Or when we need and dare to, we might feel we have to justify it with explanations, excuses, or even lies; or that we get downright resentful at the cheek of this person daring to suggest something that forces us to “be the bad person”. Or, if it’s easy for us to say no, we might believe this comes with a concession that we are, in fact, often “a bad person” for doing so. We might feel we can say no, but that we have to whip up some anger to get the necessary oomph for it to be taken seriously. Or we might find ourselves trying to say no, maybe even getting the word out, and then ending up doing what the other person wanted anyway.
Measuring outcomes with a mistaken yardstick
Also, it’s very easy (and it really is overall where inner work is concerned) to rank how we are doing by other people’s reactions: if they react well, I did it well; if they react badly, I did it badly. So, we might unconsciously or even consciously expect the other person to accept or even approve of our “no”. What we might not realise is that this is not fair at all; while we have the right to express our own wishes and say no to what we do not want, they, too, have rights — including the right to be disappointed or even resentful of us for doing so.
And no, I’m not saying that these would be mature or enlightened reactions — but an unfortunate part of inner growth is that even though we are working through things and being brave and stepping out of our comfort zone, others are not obliged to do the same, or at the same pace, or on the same topics. They are still allowed to react however they please (or however they are incapable of not reacting). They do, in fact, not owe us Perfect Balance.
Normally, of course, we mostly realise this. But when we DO step out of the zone and it all starts getting to be a bit much, sometimes the idea that at least if they love us, they should be on their best behaviour is so compelling that we will need to be reminded that it’s not quite true 😊.
Being the bad guy
As for me, I didn’t find it very hard to say no. But in my early twenties, I noticed that in some cases, I really resented the person for asking me something — like, “Can I come, too?” If I did not want that, I sort of felt they made me look like a ahole for asking and “forcing me” to say so. This fact, of course, meant I didn’t “own it” very successfully, on an energy level. I said no, but also felt really pissed that I had to.
See — there are so many interesting opportunities to get all manner of clothing into a twist over this little word, whether we manage to actually say it or not. My point is, most of us have hang-ups around the word ”no” — even those of us who gladly use the word — and these might be more multi-layered and complicated than we have realised.
Owning my inner responses lets me own my choices
And sometimes, it is complicated. We might not exactly want to rush to somebody’s aid in a particular situation, and doing so will be a real pain in the neck — but we want even less to leave our friend on the side of the road with a flat (or whatever the case may be), so we step up and do it anyway. But if we know why we choose to do whatever we choose to do, it’s less likely we will do so moaning and complaining and feeling manipulated, coerced, or even forced into doing it. Because, in all likelihood and most of the time, this is not the case. Unless someone holds a gun to our head (in which case, it’s still our choice to accommodate them, but I’d say it’s quite possibly an intelligent one), we are the ones choosing. So we might as well make ourselves aware of our true motivations.
Like with all instinctual responses, of course, it’s not like we have to honour them. We can listen to emotional responses, too. And we can most certainly weigh options logically. But when we notice our ”yes/no” barometer in the first place, and when we allow space for our emotions to be heard, this gives us the opportunity to choose more wholeheartedly ❤️