My recent blog on “How to Learn to Say No” triggered an unexpected self-awareness. I needed to learn how to say “Yes”. My default response when asked to do something was often “No”. This was intriguing. While I was exploring the mechanisms that caused someone to react with a ‘Yes”, I realized I had the opposite inclination. So what gives?
I realized my initial response would always take care of my own needs and feelings first. In fact I would not naturally consider the impact my response may have on another. For example recently I planned a visit to idyllic Cortes Island where I am fortunate enough to have a second home. One of the gifts of visiting is I get a chance to hang out with a dear friend of many years. One of our shared interests is soccer and when he knew of my intention to come he suggested we watch the Confederation Cup Final together. As my interest in the sport wanes in the warmer weather, I abruptly dismissed the idea. It was not until I began this inquiry that I began a process of reconsidering my reaction. Suddenly I began to see that that this was not about soccer but friendship. It never entered my head that he may have extended the invitation because he wanted to see me. At no time had I considered the feelings that may have been behind the invite.
So why, when faced with choice, is my automatic response more likely to be no, and what can I do to become more conscious in my decision as opposed to reactive? Once again I suspected this is a pattern created in childhood by a coping mechanism. However while I find the situation that is likely to create the reaction of “Yes” easy to comprehend, I could not immediately see what circumstances may lead to the opposite result.
Those who can only say yes are likely influenced by demanding or narcissistic parents where yes is rewarded whereas no could result in a withdrawal of affection and the like. So under what circumstances could “No” become the answer that gets rewarded and affirmed.
I sense the key must lie in my early dependence as a child. At the age of six my mother had a baby girl; my younger brother was only four and she had three older children to care for as well. As a result I became extremely independent.
As a therapist suggested later my needs weren’t being met yet my self-sufficiency as such resulted in this not being a problem. My universe became that containing me and my younger sibling. We create a world that was autonomous of the world around us. Under those circumstances it seems reasonable that self-preservation of this entity became the coping mechanism and a natural consequence of that was to reject things that interfered. In this way saying no, unless it clearly served the primary scenario would emerge as a natural result. Thus my automatic response to anything that does not immediately resonate with serving myself is “No”.
So how to change? Well the first step in this as in any other healing journey is awareness. By becoming aware I can begin to notice when the default response is about to manifest. The second step is to play for time – can I let you know later? The third step is consideration of the other – how will they feel if I say no? Is there a higher good to be addressed? How would I feel if I said yes? Finally there is the conscious response which may be either yes or no but it will be a considered response as opposed to a reactive one.
Recently I had scheduled an evening with a small Spiritual Guidance group that I facilitate. When the number dropped to only two people attending I decided it was not worth the time and energy. However both of the remaining people seemed quite upset. They asked if I would meet with them anyway. I noticed my immediate inclination was to say no but I took some time rather than reacting. I realized that perhaps there was a higher good that took precedence over my feelings so I reinstituted the meeting. It was a wonderful rewarding evening that I am so glad I did not miss. As the Hindu proverb says, “you take one step toward God and God comes running towards you.”