Telling Ourselves No

Recently I have found myself interested in all the ways I tell myself “No.” This line of inquiry came about noticing that as a person I seem to have a somewhat limited outlook on what I think is possible for me. Specifically there are many things that I do not allow myself to do (or even consider doing) because I am afraid of the possible results. Similarly, there are other things that I force myself to do because I am afraid of what may happen if I don’t do these things. In both cases, through my actions, I am saying “No” to my innate impulses and needs.

Having made this observation, I thought it would be helpful to notice what it is that I tend to say “No” to specifically. Through this process of self-observation and self-inquiry, I noticed that I tend to say “No” to most things that I deem as “non-essential.” Things that go on this list include buying items or experiences I don’t need – even though it may be fun, sparkly, or pretty; eating something that isn’t exactly healthy – even though it may be the right amount of sweet, sour, salt, or crunch to satisfy a particular craving; or attending parties or staying out late on a “work night” – even though I may enjoy the particular event or the company involved. As I have a sweet tooth, a somewhat compulsive streak, and need a certain amount of sleep to function, saying “No” in these instances is probably a good idea as doing so enables me to better stick to my budget, maintain my physical health, as well as show-up fully to the things that I do commit to.

However, there are other times where it seems that by saying “No,” to all things that I deem “un-necessary,” I am actually saying “No” to life and all that it could possibly reveal to me. Some examples that fall into this other category of “No’s” include: thinking that I will never have a baby or become a parent, buy a home or a car, take an actual vacation or afford to take time off from work, ask for a raise or get paid well doing things that I love, or adopt a furry creature of my own. In such instances, the underlying belief, or story that I tell myself, is that I cannot have any these things because “I don’t make enough money,” “I do not have the necessary skills to succeed,” or “I am unable of ever earning enough money to acquire the skills to live the life I would like to lead.” All three statements essentially boil down to the belief that, on some level, “I am not enough.”

With such thoughts circulating around my conscious and subconscious mind, it should come as no surprise to realize that (1) I have a general distrust of life, (2) struggle to make the smallest of decisions, or (3) often do not speak my truth. Again because I tend to worry about the unintended consequences of saying or doing the “wrong” thing. These observations then point to an underlying belief that suggests, “Because I am not enough, I can not be loved and accepted as I am.” With such thoughts circulating around, I – in the words of Brene Brown – attempt to meet my need for belonging by settling for its close yet slightly inadequate substitute: fitting in.

Being the naturally curious person that I am, I wanted to know “Why?” That is, “Why can’t I (choose to) love myself as I am? Why do I (choose to) inflict so much suffering on myself?” And “Is there a way out of this cycle?”

To answer the first two questions: Part of me is so afraid of being rejected by others that I attempt to limit that possible rejection by filtering, perfecting, and/or managing everything I say and do. Translation: I reject me first so that (1) others will not have the chance to and (2) if they do, their rejection will hurt less for they will have never known the “real” me to begin with. As futile (not to mention exhausting) as this may sound, I can see how the child version of me thought that this would be a good way to live life. For by changing me, or at least how I was perceived by others, I could avoid the discomfort that comes with putting myself out there and potentially being hurt or rejected.

The trade off, of course, is that by attempting to not be rejected by another, I choose to reject myself. Experience after experience, I choose to say “No” to every spark of inspiration, joy, pain, sorrow, anger, or frustration that I deemed wasn’t essential, or necessary, in order to maintain my perfectly crafted image that I had put out into the world. And instead of suffering the pain that comes from conflict, being misunderstood, or disliked, I experienced the internal, somewhat invisible pain that comes with years of saying “No” to my own wants and needs by not speaking up and going after the things that, although they may be un-necessary, bring joy and light to my life.

To answer the third question regarding how do I get myself out of this situation, well… that is a work in progress. The only thing I know thus far is that I can’t continue doing things that I have been doing and expect a different outcome. What this means on a practical level is that I need to start to say “Yes” to the things that I ordinarily would say “No” to. This includes but is not limited to saying yes to: things that although they are “not-necessary” may bring joy to my life; the possibility of having children, a home, a car, a career that pays well while doing things I love; my own voice and the ability to speak up and be heard; and valuing my own wants and needs. Most importantly, making these changes in my life will require that I say “Yes” to all the discomfort that may comes with doing something that is unfamiliar to me (which in all honesty, could include any and all of the above.)

So the question that I have for you, the question I am working towards answering for myself is this, what are the ways that you say “No” to yourself, your life, or your experiences? What impact is this habit having on you, your life, and your experience of the world? How is this working for you? Do you want to continue on this track or does something need to shift? If so, what small changes can you begin to make in your life, so that you can begin to say “Yes” to your experiences, to your wants and needs, to your ability to thrive in your current situations?

By consciously saying “Yes” to our hearts desires, we may actually get what we want from life.