- Beth Hemmila
Saying "No" can be challenging. My own personal history of saying "No" has been a bit of a journey. I can't remember me as a toddler, but I'm guessing I probably liked exercising my new vocabulary of "No" quite frequently. However, as I got older things changed, my people-pleaser instinct kicked in, and I chose to swallow a lot of "No's" to avoid potential conflict. I struggled with wanting others to be happy with me and the fear of jeopardizing love.
If this sounds like you, and you fear the loss of love from others, potential criticism, and other forms of subtle punishment, saying "No" could be perceived as a huge emotional risk.
Perhaps another way to look at this experience is to first become acquainted with how you receive "No's" from other people. Do you receive "No" with grace and understanding? Do you take someone's "No" personally? Are you able to hear and feel the underlying need this person has that is prompting them to politely decline?
I have to admit hearing some "No's" have triggered hurt and pain. And I'm sure there are people in my life that have been afraid to say "No" to me. Receiving certain "No's" in the past have stimulated feelings of shame and inadequacy such as when I didn't get the job, the person I liked didn't want to go out with me, or something I wanted wasn't going to happen the way I planned.
"No" can be a kind of metaphorical death. Someone or something couldn't fulfill your needs and you are asked to sit and be with the helplessness, loneliness, and discomfort. In this way, perhaps when we react negatively to someone's "No" what's really happening is that we are trying to avoid the suffering of this miniature death. If we get angry or frustrated, our big scale reactions mask our deeper feelings of sadness, grief, or anxiety that may result from hearing "No" and realizing our need might not be met in the way we imagined.
However, if you wipe away all the confusing emotions, the simple truth of "No" is that another person was unable to meet your needs. Your needs and their needs didn't match up and he or she is not able to fulfill your desire.
So if you are a person that has a difficult time saying "No," maybe the place to start is to begin receiving other people's "No's" with compassion. When you hear a "No," begin thinking, "What need can I honor in this person by graciously receiving their "No?" Divorce yourself from "No" being a personal affront and look within the other person. Attempt to see and value his or her need for relaxation, peace, adventure, choice, safety, and independence that is crying out to be acknowledged and begging him or her to say "No" to you.
When you recieve a "No" from someone, see this person as a risk-taker. They are trusting in your love for them as a fellow human being so much that they are willing to say "No" to you. Make yourself the biggest fan of other people's "No's." Become a cheerleader for their "No." This experience of receiving a "No" with grace may empower this other person to continue to take care of their own well-being in the future.
As you start valuing the "No's" of other people, this may lead you to honor and voice your own "No's." Saying and receiving "No's" could be one of your greatest vehicles for developing trust with yourself and others as well as practicing a deeper form of loving kindness.
By being able to say and receive "No's" graciously, you stay centered within yourself and understand that you and others are completely fulfilled, supported, and loved just as you are without any additional needs being met.
Contrary to popular beliefs, learning when to say "No" is a practice in loving kindness.
- Beth Hemmila