No. A simple, powerful, and effective word.
And yet, it’s one that so many of us have difficulty saying. Not to ourselves, mind you, but to others. Or we say “no”, but then feel the need to justify it with a lengthy explanation as to why we’re saying it. Perhaps even feeling a wee bit defensive or resentful in having to do so.
Why does this seem to be more of an issue for women than men? I’ve worked in male-dominated professions most of my adult life and rarely have I heard a male friend, colleague or peer awkwardly explain why he said ‘no’ to something.
I grew up in a firm family household where there were no family ‘discussions’. I was taught to do as I was told. Refusing or having a difference of opinion wasn’t really an option. As a little person, this wasn’t a problem. Mom and Dad were my most important people and I only wanted to please them and be loved by them. Saying no, and being seen as disrespectful didn’t seem the best way to accomplish this. Of course, that all changed once I hit my teen years! A desire to be seen and heard as an independent person had me pushing back big time. Saying no and standing up for myself, for what felt fair and right, took a great deal of courage. I remember standing in front of my parents, trembling from the stress of being in conflict with them and speaking my truth. It took everything I had but I knew I had to do it. Not doing so would have me in conflict with myself.
I think that’s where it started for me. The ability to say no. But saying no without justification took a lot longer and a lot more practice. I had transitioned from being agreeable as a little girl because it was expected of me, to being agreeable to others because it felt good to be the reliable and dependable one. Which was terrific when I was coming from a wholehearted place…not so great when I was coming from ego. Saying ‘yes’ to others from my ego often meant I was saying ‘no’ to my heart. I was setting up an unconscious pattern that everyone else’s needs were more important or worthy than my own. This resulted in times where I felt resentful, irritated, even angry doing the things I agreed to do. The negative feelings were my internal guidance system telling me I had taken a detour! What I learned through all these experiences is that no one could cross my inner boundaries, except me.
So I began to pause before responding to a request. I gave myself an opportunity to check in with my inner Self. If the request interested, excited, inspired, or delighted me it was a ‘yes’. If not, it was a hard ‘no’.
I remember a few years ago, a friend approached me and asked if I wanted to do a Christmas cookie exchange with a few other ladies. I had taken part the year before and we all had so much fun, with lots of laughs and yummy treats to take home. This time though, I had been working a lot of hours leading up to the holidays and was tired. The cookie exchange didn’t feel like fun with friends, it felt like one more thing I ‘had’ to do. There was no mistaking the message from my inner self…no!
So I said, “No, thank you.” No explanation, justification, reason or excuse. A simple and complete sentence. My friend had a look on her face that I couldn’t read. There was a moment of silence and she went on her way. A little awkward, but I was content and relieved that I honoured myself. A few weeks later we met for coffee and she brought up my saying no. She admitted that she was taken aback. No one had ever said no to her before and she found her own reaction to hearing ‘no’ surprising. It opened up an honest chat about expectations we set for ourselves and others and the power of no.
Honouring ourselves and our needs, in addition to others’, is a gift we all deserve!