"When you say Yes to others, make sure you aren't saying No to yourself."
— Paolo Coehlo
Some of us tend to comply and accommodate by always saying yes. Others tend to rebel and shut down to new experiences by always saying no. Neither complying (by an automatic "Yes") nor rebelling (by an automatic "No") are real ways of establishing either closeness in the first case, or independence in the second. Compliance mimics intimacy; rebelling mimics autonomy.
Both reactions are in relation to something external, instead of getting in touch with what we truly want or don't want. In both instances, we are either going against or going along with something or someone and are therefore controlled by forces outside ourselves. Either one of these knee-jerk reflexes can interfere with our authenticity and true individuation, in other words, expressing who we really are deep down.
Many women tend toward accommodation; it seems to a large extent we're conditioned as females not to "rock the boat," to be nice and to put the needs of others before our own. Often we even accommodate when we're not being asked to. (This is not to say that some men aren't under the same influence).
For some of us, it can be difficult to tolerate potential conflict. We don't like to risk upsetting or disappointing others, or hurting their feelings. We want them to feel at one (merged) with us, even at the cost of not feeling "at one" with ourselves, preferring to suffer the conflict inside rather than outside. We sever the relationship with ourselves rather than risk our relationships with others; we abandon ourselves. We might be rejected if our opinion is in opposition to others, or we worry that the status quo might be disrupted if we express what is true for us.
The irony is real closeness and connection develop when we tell the truth, even an unwelcome one.
Alice Walker writes, "we try not to know what we know because we do not yet understand how we are to negotiate change." The difficulty with the truth of our Yes or our No is that once we admit it to ourselves, we have to decide what to do about it. We may have to change our normal (and safe-seeming) patterns and risk that which we have feared.
When our response is "I don't know," when we're unclear or confused, it can alert us to a possible inner conflict between ourselves and the other person. Another trap is second-guessing, doubting and giving ourselves reasons for not saying no: "I'm being petty," "I'm wrong about this," "I'm resisting or avoiding something I 'should' do," making it easy to override a No.
Sometimes a No is a result of my anxiety when I find myself up against a personal threshold: a growth edge outside of my comfort zone or facing something I would rather avoid due to unresolved issues or trauma. Whether the No is for something that really doesn't work for me or whether I've come to a growth edge is a matter of self-inquiry and discernment. If I find myself at an edge, I may not be quite ready to handle the anxiety which arises, or I may chose to push the envelope and explore new options.
Understanding why I say yes when I want to say no is crucial to my growth, as well as understanding where my No is coming from. Learning to know what is right for me and when is an art.
What I am talking about here, ultimately, is our ability to make choices through becoming consciously aware of our automatic responses and to notice when we are accommodating others. It's important to develop our capacity to sift through and discern our deeper motivations for our Yes or our No, in order to live our lives more authentically.
Marla Estes, M.A., Ashland teacher, facilitator and writer, is founder of the School of the Examined Life. She is offering a "Do You Accommodate" workshop on Saturday, March 8. Send 600- to 700-word articles to Sally McKirgan at firstname.lastname@example.org.