The power of 'no-ing'


Do you find it difficult to say ‘no’?

Do you find yourself in situations you don’t want to be in because you said ‘yes’ when you really wanted to say ‘no’?

‘No’, can be perceived and experienced as a negative word triggering a certain degree of fear and anxiety to anyone who wishes they could just say it more often. I often see clients who express their difficulties when it comes to saying the word ‘no’ and I also find that it is very common that these clients initially seek counselling for relationship issues.

Do you ever ask yourself why you just can’t simply say ‘no’?

When do we learn to say ‘no’? It is generally accepted that the cognitive process of thinking in a child develops in four stages.

Through the first stage – from birth to two years’ old – a person learns that they are separate beings from the people around them and they start to experience their own identity. Thinking about the well-known terrible twos, it is the stage where a child pushes boundaries and often says ‘no’ while assessing the effect it has in the world around them. Although challenging and difficult to deal with at times, this phase is crucial in the development of individualisation and interpersonal relationships. A range of intense emotions are created while the child discovers that their ideas and opinions are important, that their feelings are understood and respected, and that those of others are important too. In other words, a person’s awareness of their own individuality is the ability to identify that I am me, you are you and it is ok to be different.

Be at peace with the “no”

The ability to say no is necessary in maintaining an individual, emotional, intellectual and spiritual independence. In saying ‘yes’, we express a genuine will to respect and meet others’ needs while being aware of our own feelings and boundaries.

In saying ‘no’, we trust the other person’s ability to respect and meet our own needs while being aware of their own feelings and boundaries. Therefore the word ‘no’ expresses individualisation, the aptitude to think and behave independently and – at the same time – to protect ourselves in relationships and be assertive in ways that are respectful of oneself and others.

If understanding the word ‘no’ as a representation of the motivation for taking the necessary self-care action, as a catalyst for confronting challenging situations, making new decisions and bringing about change, can we only do so if our individualisation process has been successful?

A relationship with ‘no’

A failed individualisation process can lead to a person feeling unsure about their own values, who may lack trust in themselves to think usefully when faced with challenges, resulting in repression, displacement or rationalisation generating by the unconscious defence mechanism.

The frustration, anger, sorrow and anxiety I see and hear in counselling sessions is often expressed by a person who feels stuck in either a personal or professional relationship. Their unique sense of identity is lost to the point of discounting their personal qualities and abilities.

Is it as simple as saying that relationship issues are born from a failed individualisation process? There are of course many layers of reasons that contribute to relationship difficulties but I’m a great believer in the power of the word ‘no’ when it comes to safeguarding boundaries in the emotional, physical, cognitive and spiritual aspect of ourselves. And the outcome of being able to protect boundaries is self-esteem.

The good news is that it is never too late for a non-individuated person to separate from their early over dependency on others to define themselves, and to seek counselling support in an aim to be more attuned to their own feelings and to acknowledge and accept their sense of self-worth.

Lila Warren