It had to be bold and confident, not wishy-washy.

I was recently in an emotional intelligence training where we were paired up and talked to each other while dancing through a circle on the floor divided into facts, stories, feelings, and wants saying something like the fact is I’m standing in front of you and I feel awkward and uncomfortable and my story is that we are all uncomfortable with this which makes me feel that this is easier and what I want is to get better at stating my needs. Pretty superficial conversation, I know. But it slowly got deeper between us as we kept going back and forth. What stuck with me the most, was the stating of what I needed or wanted to have happen.

When I was young, getting told no was associated with trouble or something I wasn’t supposed to do even if I didn’t understand why. Many of the times it would turn into exactly what I wanted to do. No sweets after a certain time? Okay, I’ll just sneak these Twinkies into my bedroom and cram them down my throat before my mom comes in to say good night. I’m sure she never noticed. The actions that surrounded no contained fear, exhilaration, and the testing if I could get away with it. If I do that will I get grounded or yelled at and how much do I care? As a youth, I apparently rarely cared about those consequences to my parents’ chagrin.

As a teenager and adult getting told no starts to also incorporate feelings of rejection. Asking someone out, being turned down for a job (or countless jobs in my case), being removed from a project. Rejection of my art from galleries, from my peers or professors, rejection from publishers, journals, and magazines. As an artist, rejection seems to hide around every corner. And all that rejection begins with the word no.

No can mean there is no excuse, not any, hardly any, you’ll be back in no time, forbidding certain activities to giving a negative response. A determiner to an exclamation. You can even use no to affirm through a negative statement – they would never do that, oh no. No’s used to express shock or disappointment. Have you noticed so far that no isn’t ever used in something positive?

In all instances, no is a statement of something that wouldn’t, shouldn’t, or won’t be done. Maybe that’s why there’s been a counter to this with it just feels so good to say yes. Guilty enjoyment of doing something you know you shouldn’t. Guilty enjoyment for that burger and fries, pint of ice cream, one more beer. I’ve been raised that saying yes to some things is riddled with guilt whether through parents or media or my community.

The other side of no is equally disappointing. Saying no to someone else can be just as guilt ridden as the above yes avenging. In work, with my partner, friends, neighbors and extended communities saying no to something can feel so horrible that I just say yes. Most of us are masters at overextending ourselves. I’m definitely a pro. I only realize I’m in over my head when I’m cranky, my head feels like static, I can’t focus, and just want an adult beverage at all times. Then the biggest symptom: I just want to disappear. Rather than saying no, I more feel like tossing my computer and phone out the window and barricading myself in my home with Netflix, pets and my partner. Exercise is even out of the question at this point. I just want to sit and do absolutely nothing. Not even the stuff that rejuvenates me like writing. I end up saying no to everything around me in a state of total teenage revolt.

There’s no winning with no. It’s either restrictive, making it a hidden pleasure to say yes, or its guilt ridden, making it impossible to say no. Feels like an abusive relationship where there’s no right answer. I need an escape route. We need out. It’s against most of our natures to disappoint people so we say yes. On the flip side we want to please and “be good” so we conform to the no’s we’re not supposed to do but in secret enjoy some of these pleasures. The word no carries so much rejection as if they’re bound together in a quilt. I don’t like making people feel rejected, I want to make them happy. But then by the end of the week, I’m unhappy, tired, and stressed out eating that pint of ice cream.

I was also told once as feedback at a job that I needed to learn to say no more often. I’m trying it on but I’m by no means good at it as it tends to fit like my favorite wool sweater. I love the sweater itself, but it’s itchy (I’m constantly scratching my arms and collar) and hot (making me sweat in the easiest of meetings). I always end up tearing it off the moment I get home from work.

Saying no is also, at times, expressing your wants, your needs. By saying no to a new project, I’m respecting my time, my mental and emotional health. I’m embracing self-care every time I say no. This need to please or the ability to manage all the things runs so deep. But I’m tired of pleasing others. Life is too short. I want to make sure I’m pleased and not frantic and stressed out. I’m pretty sure my partner has this all profoundly figured out. I’m not sure I’ll get to where he’s at. But, I am slowly getting more comfortable with the itchy wool sweater of no.

We probably all have a list of things we either should have said no or yes to that we didn’t. Those piles of regrets and hindsights. I’m not sure how many times I’ve said yes to something and then will end up dropping out at the last minute because I only realize after I said yes that I don’t have the mental, emotional or actual time to do it. So then I find myself in a space where I’ve said yes but now have to find ways to get myself out of it while also saving face. Now I feel awkward, guilty, and like someone who can’t be counted on (the worst).

The fact is I have only so much time and so much mental and emotional room. My story is that you don’t care about that and you’ll think I’m lazy or you won’t ask me for something else in the future and that I need you to think highly of me. I feel guilt, a lack of self-confidence, anger, shame, awkward, and unsure. I want to tell you that I appreciate your offer and I hope you’ll think of me again and right now I must say no.

1 Comment

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