Black and white are equally important in a photograph.
The Word No Is Almost Taboo
Or at least it has been in my life.
Taboo because I believe that people don’t like me when I say no.
Taboo because I don’t hear others saying no too often either.
My conclusion has been since growing up that no is a kind of bad word. And so I’ve avoided using it as best I could.
But it leaves me with only a partial vocabulary. In my attempt to have the world like me (by not saying no), I handicap myself.
It’s like driving a car with only an accelerator and no brake. No wonder I don’t want to go more than five miles per hour. No wonder I panic if there’s a slope.
It Takes Courage to Say No
But only if I want someone’s approval.
Wanting someone to like me is the nemesis of saying no. So, if I want to strengthen my ability to say no, I have to question my desire to be liked.
This works best for me one situation at a time. It’s hard to question, “I want other people to like me” in a general way. It quickly becomes philosophy. But it becomes very real and concrete when I’m dealing with a concrete situation.
Here’s An Example
I remember when I was young, my mom wanted me to be a doctor. And I wanted to live in an ashram meditating instead. I wanted my mom to approve of me, which made it very difficult to say a clear no to her ideas for me. My solution was to stay more distant from her.
To some degree, not being able to say no to her cost me having my mother in my life. I remember when I moved to the ashram, I didn’t tell her until a few weeks after I moved. I was trying to stand up for myself, but the best I could do was a cowardly version of it.
If I Was Doing The Work on it Today, I’d Have Some Options
I might start by writing a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet on her:
1. I am afraid of Mom because she won’t approve of me going to the ashram.
2. I want her to approve of my decision.
I want her to let me live my own life.
I want her to forget about medical school.
I want her to stop judging me based on career.
3. She should see that I’m a seeker.
She should let me follow my own path.
She should stop trying to make a duplicate of herself.
4. I need her to respect me.
I need her to let me explore freely.
I need her to love me unconditionally.
5. She is materialistic, selfish, closed-minded, controlling.
6. I don’t ever want her to disapprove of my decisions again.
I can see, just writing this now, that it still has some charge for me after all these years. I’m going to put this in my queue of worksheets to work.
The Point Is that It was my Desire for Approval that Stopped my No
I’d be willing to bet that if I had questioned these thoughts in my twenties, I would have been much closer to having a fearless conversation with her about what I wanted to do.
In fact, I bet I could have even listened to her side with an open mind, without feeling obligated to please her. That could have been a very different relationship.
But luckily with The Work, it’s never too late. I can still do this work now.
The Other Piece of it for me Was Not Wanting to Admit Confusion
I wasn’t 100% clear about my life in my twenties. I felt a lot of confusion in both my career plans and in my personal life. My mom would have probably been a great person to talk with about it, but I couldn’t because I believed that she was expecting perfection from me.
I had assumed since fourth grade that she expected perfect grades from me. And my goal was always to please her by being as close to perfect as I could be.
And I assumed that personal life was the same. I had to be perfect. No confusion allowed. And that left me isolated from her. Separate. Miserable in what I later called my “terrible twenties.”
Again, there is another great Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheets here:
1. I am distant with Mom because she expects me to be perfect.
2. I want her to stop expecting perfection from me.
I want her to be approachable to talk to.
I want her to drop her motives to change me.
I want her to be a safe space for me to explore things with.
I want her to not judge me for being confused.
3. She should see that her desire to influence me keeps me away.
She should tell me that we are all just finding our way in the dark.
She should share stories of how she was confused too.
She should destigmatize confusion for me.
She should be an example of vulnerability for me.
4. I need her to listen without judgment to me.
I need her to accept me as I am.
I need her to love me.
5. She is judgmental, harsh, motive driven, unforgiving.
6. I don’t ever want her to expect me to be perfect when I’m confused again.
So, once again, more thoughts between me and honest conversation with my mom.
The Only Things Stopping me Were my Beliefs.
And now I see that these beliefs can be questioned. I want to do this work even now, after my mother is dead, because the same beliefs that stopped me then from being honest and saying no in the face of her potential disapproval, continue to stop me today with others.
This is how doing The Work on one situation, one relationship, can open up possibilities for the whole of life.
This is why I love The Work.
Through Inquiry, No Becomes Equal to Yes
When I question the stressful thoughts that keep me from saying no, saying no begins to be easier. It becomes a good thing, not something to hide in taboo.
Have a great week,
“Honest communication begins with you communicating with yourself. It means responding with what is true for you, regardless of how someone may react to your answer. First you have to discover what is really true for you. A dishonest yes is a no to yourself.” Byron Katie, I Need Your Love, Is That True?
If you like this article, feel free to forward the link to friends, family or colleagues. Or share the link on Facebook or other social media. If you have thoughts you’d like to share about it, please leave your comments below.
Get two new articles about The Work of Byron Katie every week. Subscribe to the newsletter here.