Learning to say “No” with clarity and conviction allows us to say “Yes” with certitude and passion. I’m talking about saying no to a loved one, possibly our sweetie, or to someone we hope to woo, to somebody we sooo want in our lives. Many people live in a no man’s land between yes and no. They say “yes” and “no” as a calculated strategy to please and to avoid pain and the danger of loss. This is not living, from my perspective.
Attempts at closeness and intimacy without the ability to summon up the word “no” creates a noisy relationship, one filled with anxiety and ambivalence. Real intimacy is impossible without the ability to set a firm boundary, to disappoint our loved one. But be forewarned, “no” does create some dissidence. Our sweetie might say, “What(!) . . . how could you say no if you love me?” Yet the ability to say “no” is the prerequisite for real love, as opposed to fantasy or romantic love where you “never have to say you’re sorry” and a guaranteed “yes” is the currency of love.
Remember the “terrible twos?” Not yours, of course, but someone else’s. All of us have seen or experienced a frustrating child saying “No, I don’t want to get dressed,” or “No, I won’t kiss Aunt Sue.” This is the second most important stage of our lives, second only to learning basic trust in the first year and a half of life. Successfully navigating the terrible twos involves learning to say no believing that we will still be loved and that we are still good people. The alternative is shame and self-doubt that colors the rest of our lives and can take years of therapy to overcome.
Now, we do need to live with the consequences of our “no.” Our loved ones may get upset, may get angry, may even leave us. These are inevitable risks of a dynamic life, a life bounded by the courageous use of “yes” and “no.”