Why is so hard to take care of ourselves when we get what we don’t want - an experience, a conversation, or a situation that we didn’t ask for, invite, or desire in any way?  In order to be fully empowered to take care of ourselves, we need to learn to know what we want, know what we don’t want and ask for it clearly and kindly without attachment to the outcome. While we are each working on the multiple aspects of living in this empowered way, the hardest aspect for many of us is saying no to what we don’t want.  Many of us learned that when we say no to what we don’t want, it’s like saying no to what we do want at the same time. It gets merged in our minds. For example, if I say no to a meal my mother serves me, it is like I’m also saying no to her love, which is not what I want to do. This puts me in a difficult position in honoring what feels best to me if I can’t separate the two from each other. If my mother or I believe that saying no to her food is saying no to her love, I will feel that I have no other choices available to me but to accept the food she offers even if I don’t want it. I feel that I have to say yes, or it’s like I’m rejecting her love, yet I end up rejecting my own need/desire instead.  We can end up in this kind of quandary with our children – when we say no to them, they often feel we are saying no to their ability, trustworthiness or integrity – even though we are simply protecting their physical well-being. When our children decide we are the target of their pain or unhappiness and let us know it in no uncertain terms, we end up getting something we don’t want. While they complain/blame/shame us for their unhappiness, few of us have healthy ways to respond to their attack. We may attack back, become critical or controlling, freeze inside, or simply withdraw as we did as children. As adults, we need a better way.

We can recognize that as children, we often had to do what others wanted us to do, whether we wanted to do it or not, even when it felt like the wrong thing for us. This had us feel out of control in trying to get our needs met and when our "no" wasn’t honored, it felt as if our needs and wants were not as important as those around us. As adults, we don’t have to do that anymore and can begin to stand up for ourselves and honor our own "no" without making others wrong.

When you are getting something you don’t want, here are some key steps to help you move towards what you do want. Once you recognize you are getting something you don’t want, either at the moment or after the fact, the first thing to do is acknowledge it to yourself and get clear about what you want instead. In my example, I recognized that I was getting a meal that I didn’t want, and thought about what else I could eat that we had in the house or by ordering in. Then, I considered how I could acknowledge what is happening for my mother (giving me her love by cooking for me) when she serves me a meal without making her wrong. By putting it together this way, I acknowledge both of our experiences and am also responsible to take care of myself:

Acknowledge how it is for them: “Mom, I understand and appreciate how you're telling me you love me when you make me a meal”

Acknowledge how it is for me: “Right now, I’m not eating red meat, so I won’t be eating the pork chops you made”

Acknowledge what you are doing to take care of yourself: “I will eat the potatoes and the veggies and if I’m hungry later will make myself some eggs. In the future, let’s plan meals together so we can both eat what we like ”

When we are able to say no to what we don’t want, we are taking responsibility for honoring and tending to our own needs, as well as allowing others to do the same for themselves. No one is right or wrong when we say no to something another is offering, we are simply stating what works best for us and what we are doing to honor our own needs. When you acknowledge what is happening with another before you state your no, you give them a chance to feel fully seen and heard first. This lowers the chances that they will take your ‘no’ personally and helps them hear your message more clearly. By letting them know what you are doing to take care of yourself, you are allowing them to be just the way they are and are not asking them to change or be different to make you feel better. 

What are you willing to say no to today?