Have you been in a situation when you want to say a simple no and find yourself saying the exact opposite? You want to avoid a confrontation or believe that you might be offending someone. The least you could have done is kept quiet and not said anything but you go ahead and say yes.
This two letter word no could be your freedom, yet you elude it. People find themselves bending backwards to do the things they hate doing just because they cannot say no.
I would think that this is a woman’s problem, but it’s not. Women are not the only ones who struggle with the word no. As per our culture, saying no is an exclusive privilege.
Getting along, conforming and pleasing are lessons that are taught very early in life. This training begins early. We teach our children to say yes, feed our children the ‘I- tell –you- to- do -so’ mantra, “wear this and not that”, “no, don’t play in the rain you will fall sick”, “no, don’t go there”, “no, don’t do that” – no everything! The instructions are endless. In this script, the child loses its own voice. Not knowing when they want to say yes and when they want to say no.
What is even more interesting is that we are comfortable with ‘No, don’t do that’ rather than ‘No, I won’t do that’. There is a world of difference between the two noes that we utter and this difference defines how we manage our lives.
One no asserts power and control, the other sets boundaries and gives structure. Becoming an adult is also about learning to balance between what is socially desirable and what is personally beneficial.
With a no I can assert – ‘this is who I am, this is what I like and believe in, these are my limits and this is how I choose to behave’. No gives us an identity which is separate from others and a space to grow and become our best possible self.
Saying no doesn’t mean you are a negative person. No and negativity are separate entities. While negativity is a chronic attitude which expresses itself with a whinnying need of discontentment, no is a tool of power and change.
We often avoid noes because we fear being rejected or because we might lose important relationships. I have learnt a beautiful lesson in my recent past and it is as such – those who matter will remain and those you lose will allow for newer opportunities to meet nicer people.
Asserting with a no also happens at two levels. One is where we define boundaries with others, and the other where we strengthen our resolves and determine our character.
Learning to say no is not about evading responsibilities but it implies determining oneself. Certain guidelines help and suggest when no is beneficial.
No is important when it keeps you true to your principles and values. To extend a supportive hand is important but if you are one of those people who have difficulty telling your friend that you do not agree on something that goes against your values then you might be faced with an issue concerning who you are and what you believe in. In such cases it is better to lose the friendship that is sapping you out of your integrity instead of going along with the tide and trying to be nice.
In situations where you feel others are exploiting you of your helpful nature, saying no is something you should seriously consider. Before you know it you find yourself skipping your routine because you are running errands for a friend or relative, and prioritising their time against your own just because you are afraid to tilt the balance.
Abuse in relationships is often based on one’s inability to assert. Here a big no is in order although it is probably the most difficult of all. Grandparents, mothers, children and spouses are often victims of such abuse.
No is a good way to begin a new life. It gives one the strength to choose otherwise. For those in unhealthy relationships, saying no is as important as wanting change. Often we compromise out of fear.
Finally no is also a strong powerful tool for self-growth. Saying no to procrastination, bad habits such as unwanted foods, beverages or substances like nicotine, and other drugs is often most difficult. However, this is the most empowering as it gives the self a charge, sets limits, strengthens character and self-understanding, and helps one push boundaries and not give up.
Being aware of the types of noes in your life is as important as being aware of your yeses. One type of yes gives us the opportunity to take risk, be open hearted and seek change. The other keeps us submissive.
Becoming an adult is learning to know when, where and how to you use these assertion and submission traits.
(Writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and the HOD of psychology at Carmel College for Women)