“No is a full sentence.” – Unknown
I like to help. I like to be kind. I like to join in.
Usually, these things happen as a result of saying yes. Generally it makes me feel good inside. Better about myself.
But what happens when helping, kindness, and joining in ends up being a burden with too many negative repercussions? Do we continue on the same path? Should we continue to say yes?
Throughout my life, I have had a good relationship with the word yes. Yes has led me to unexpected, beautiful, memorable experiences. Yes has brought me to my beautiful partner and family. Yes has allowed me to approach life with open intention and a limitless heart.
But the light and wonder of the word yes also has a darker side.
Yes has led me to regret, yes has led me to boring and bitter moments, and yes has had me suffering.
Many people I know (me included) burn out in the process of agreeing to things that maybe we shouldn’t. We nurture, we soothe, and we offer companionship—oftentimes to others before ourselves because we say yes.
We are often quick to say yes and dive into tasks, parties, and relationships when sometimes we should be saying no.
This is no mean feat for a person conditioned to play certain roles to please. The transition to kindly, firmly, and confidently say no has been a long time coming for me.
Having experienced one too many moments agreeing to things that deep down I didn’t really want to do, I found it helpful to practice saying no. That tiny word with so much power. That tiny word that has mostly liberated me from the clutches of others’ approval.
It was hard at first. Often I would say no, followed by a long line of excuses, and then I would even offer an alternative arrangement, for fear of offending the other person.
Sometimes I would ruminate about saying no for a long time after the event, beating myself up about it and wondering if the person might ever speak to me again.
Then as I got older I guess, or finally had enough, or maybe it was a natural transition, I started a tentative relationship with the word no.
I danced with the word by creating more space between requests and answers and stopping to feel whether yes felt right. I listened to what I really wanted to do.
There is a beautiful tale told by Clarissa Pinkola Estés about intuition.
In a nutshell, a mother is dying and she wants to ensure her daughter learns to trust her own intuition after she is gone. She hands her daughter a miniature doll, which looks much like the little daughter.
The dying mother tells her daughter to keep the doll in her pocket at all times, feed it, and listen to it whenever she is lost or unsure. These are the last words the mother speaks and the little girl is left holding her doll—a miniature version of herself.
The tale goes on to follow the little orphan as she navigates her way through a difficult time. Every corner she turns, she touches the doll in her pocket and listens for the answers.
Of course the little doll is not actually giving her the answers. The little doll is her. And through the process, she reaches deep within, to listen to her true self and guide her to safety and to love.
According to Estés, the doll represents the inner consciousness of all of us.
If we were to pause momentarily every time we are faced with a difficult decision, we might actually hear the answer from within. Intuition, like many things, needs to be practiced and developed.
Therefore, the best practice for strengthening my relationship with the word no is to pause and feel in that moment. The present. Listening to the doll in my pocket.
It has been liberating to create space between. These days we are really quick to formulate responses in conversation, write hurried emails back to people, voice our opposition to something… It’s jarring and sometimes leads to regrettable outcomes.
In building a better relationship with the word no, space can be created. Stillness. The space between feeling okay and not feeling okay.
All these years, I jumped to yes automatically. I jumped to yes because I was brought up to say yes first. I said yes because I was (and still am in many ways) eager for approval.
Please don’t get me wrong—I am not breaking up with the word yes for good. That is not healthy either. But yes and I are making a ‘conscious uncoupling’ for a while, in order for me to find my inner voice.
I am doing this to hopefully have a better long-term, balanced relationship with the word no, and ultimately those around me. I value both words and the opportunities they bring (and release) for me, and I hope to support my child to learn to do the same.
Life feels so much lighter when we practice finding the space to stop, feel, and listen to the doll in our pocket.
Woman saying no image via Shutterstock