Fair warning, Part 2 is kind of long… Okay, before we get to the topic of middle ground, it’s important to shine a spotlight on the “N” word… No. Also, I’ve thrown in a bit about feelings and conclude with a bit more on attachment.
It is vital that we learn how to hear and accept “no” with at least a modicum of grace when we ask for what we want. Most of us have very little experience hearing and accepting no from others. Growing up, “no” usually meant something frightening or frustrating like a caregiver was angry with us or we were being denied something we dearly wanted. It also is used as a tool by those in power and authority to intimidate and punish, further reinforcing the power imbalance.
For many, hearing “no” feels like a personal rejection, devastating, painfully disappointing, upsetting, angering… It can lead to feelings of resentment, sadness, dejection, confusion, frustration, and depression. We often (unconsciously and automatically) make up stories in our heads about WHY someone said no to us and then we make the stories mean something unpleasant about ourselves. Something must be wrong with me. I must be bad, unwanted. I don’t deserve to hear yes. I shouldn’t ask for anything again.
Is there any way to avoid hearing no and experiencing the awful feelings it brings?
Interestingly, one of the first ways we humans distinguish ourselves as separate entities from our caregivers is to say the word no. Frequently, that normal developmental stage is thwarted by caregivers who punish children for daring to say no. Children who dare to say no are sometimes labeled as rebellious, oppositional, defiant, and trouble-makers. Because it is mostly associated with anger and punishment, no seems a powerful and frightening word.
So, how do we get around actually saying “no”? We can make a habit of saying “yes” to all requests from others (regardless of whether we really and truly wanted to say yes). Simultaneously, we purposely refrain from asking for anything from anyone for a long time. No requests mean no setup for hearing no. As a bonus, we also stealthily build a case for heavily pressuring the other/s to say yes when we make what we believe to be very small, infrequent, and (in our minds) altogether reasonable requests. As insurance against hearing no, we say yes (even when it’s not the truth). This serves the purpose of amassing a large pile of “should” to dump on the other/s and force them to say yes. This manipulation can also serve to obscure the fact that we have convinced ourselves that we are entitled to hear yes. After all, WE said yes to so much more and much more often. Others should be utterly delighted to say yes to one teeny tiny request… It’s only fair, right?
Not so much. Feelings and desires have nothing to do with fairness.
NO THING MORE THAN FEELINGS
What we want and how we feel are ours alone. Truly, there is no objective obligation on anyone to give us what we want or make our unpleasant feelings go away when we are denied. We are all allowed to say “no” and we do not owe anyone an explanation of our reason/s. No. It’s a sentence all by itself.
Despite our right to say “no” it is still hard for most of us to do because it’s associated with unpleasant feelings. However, contrary to popular belief, unpleasant feelings are not “bad” or absolute indicators of catastrophe. Actually, all of our feelings are helpful and provide us with information, yes even the unpleasant ones. Feelings are merely sensory messages from ourselves to ourselves to prompt introspection and signal opportunity to make a choice.
To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, nobody can hurt our feelings without our allowing it. People can say and do all sorts of things… even say no just to TRY and get a rise out of us. That’s their part of the “want” equation. OUR part is to allow or not allow ourselves to take it personally. Our challenge is to notice and choose to not dwell in anger, hurt, entitlement, and sadness. Another challenge is to avoid blaming and/or attacking/abandoning the people who refused our requests or attempted to bait us into reacting. Often, our interactions with others happen very quickly and most of us are unaware (or lose sight of the fact) that we each have agency to choose focus, interpretation, and response.
We feel. It’s what living creatures do. And we do not have to be at the mercy of or overwhelmed by our feelings. When we slow it down, we realize we have agency and options.
Part of the human experience is learning how to balance “I want” simultaneously with “I let go. It takes desire for personal growth and a willingness to learn how to surrender and trust that all is well and all will be well whether or not we get what we want. Can we hear “no” and not take it as a personal hurt or rejection? Can we effectively navigate through our mental stories and emotional reactions to the “no”. I believe we can… and this is a lifetime lesson for most people I’ve noticed.
Let it go? At first glance letting go might be interpreted as ceasing to want. And that is a virtual impossibility. We can hide our wants. We can deny our wants. We can do our damnedest to convince ourselves that we want nothing from nobody. But even then, we want. We WANT to avoid rejection, avoid experiencing emotional pain. We want to not want and argue that wanting hurts too much. Whoa there! Let it go does NOT mean cease wanting. In fact, we can want and let go at the same time!
Right. What the heck does THAT look like? I’m glad you asked… Here are two scenarios that I hope will enlighten you:
1) Imagine yourself in a lovely rural setting, a farm. You are at the chicken coop with the farmer and notice that you really want to hold one of the baby chicks. They are so cute and soft looking. Then, imagine if you will the farmer plucking up one of the little yellow fluff balls and asking you to your open hands into a palm up bowl. The farmer then places the adorable fluffy little chick in your hands. You feel the warmth and softness of the little bird. You want the moment to last forever, so you close your fingers around the chick, holding it so it cannot get away. The farmer is sternly directing you to open your hands and put the bird down. Meanwhile, you keep wanting more ease and softness in your hands and are reluctant to let the bird go. Finally, you put the bird down and it begins to calm as you notice feelings of frustration and increased want for more of the soft, fluffy moments.
2) You want to hold another chick. You know the farmer is now somewhat leery of your ability to gently hold and release the bird. Still, you really REALLY want to hold a chick again. To do that, you must screw up the courage to ask the farmer for what you want, realizing that the farmer is more than likely going to say no at this point… Your options now are to a) emotionally attach to the outcome you want or b) let go.
a) You do whatever you can to convince, manipulate, and make the farmer say yes. But, he says no and you feel angry, disappointed, resentful, self-loathing, and defeated. You may even use this incident as a way to strengthen your story that you never get what you want so why bother asking.
b) You internally, silently let no be an acceptable response as you ask again to hold a chick. At this point, you are simultaneously wanting AND letting go of the outcome. You have made peace with the possibility of hearing no. The farmer indeed says no. You are prepared and at peace. You feel calm, understanding, forgiving of yourself and the farmer, grateful to have had the opportunity to hold a chick in the first place. From that place of internal peace, you may even attempt to negotiate with the farmer for a future visit and another try at being gentle with the chickens.
These are simple scenarios meant to give a sense of attachment versus middle ground.
MORE ON ATTACHMENT
When we attach to an outcome (and we can feel it because the want is intense while the idea of surrendering to hearing no is avoided, suppressed, not truly embraced…) we suffer. It’s just the way it is. And we humans tend to attach. Until it becomes too painful and frustrating to do so. Then, we can attempt to deny and hide our attachment by disowning our wants and finding ways to stealthily get poor substitutes for what we want. OR, we can fully surrender to both wanting and asking as well as hearing yes or no. In surrender, we can find peace. This process is a piece of our personal growth work. Oh, and final tip… watch for your mind judging you about attachment, making you bad and wrong because you’re attached to an outcome and are not letting go. Instead, surrender to the attachment! Make peace with yourself and accept that sometimes, the want is strong for a certain outcome. You can gain bonus points for yourself if you lightheartedly share out loud with someone else about your attachment. Sharing about your internal experience is a way to diffuse self judgment.
As always, feel free to let me know YOUR thoughts on this subject.