Maybe I’m getting to be a grumpy old man, but I get irritated by the modernist urging to be positive. Think positive, be positive, say “YES!” to life. Excuse me, but NO!
Positivity and ‘yes’ have their place, but my experience is that often the difficulty for people is saying ‘no’. Without ‘no’ the world becomes overwhelming. Because ‘no’ is so hard, the way to avoid saying yes becomes withdrawal, distraction, getting busy, getting sick.
There are lots of reasons why ‘no’ might be hard; the culture of positivity is just one. Developmentally, we have to say ‘yes’ to lots of rules, particularly at school or for our own safety. Or perhaps mum and dad just didn’t allow ‘no’ when you were very young, or later school life was very achievement focussed, which can crush individuality. Saying ‘no’ is very important for both toddlers and teens.
However it happens, ‘no’ is our boundary. Here’s a simple game I use in workshops that you can try with a willing partner (they might say no, after all…):
Stand facing each other some distance apart. One of you walks towards the other until they feel you are getting too close and say ‘stop’, holding up the palm of their hand as a barrier. Swap around and try it the other way. Do it a few times. You may find that you each have different ‘safe’ distances. You may find that saying ‘stop’ is difficult, or that it is difficult to hear. There’s no right answer, but it tells you a bit about where your boundary is.
How does ‘no’ fit with this exercise? Well, saying ‘no’ is about personal space; where you end and the other begins. If you find it difficult to hold your space (to say stop) then perhaps you avoid situations where you have to say ‘no’, ‘stop’, or ‘I don’t want that’. Or perhaps you say ‘yes’ and then feel resentful.
So say ‘no’ to something today. You may feel better for it.
First published in Penny Post March 2015