Saying “No”


“No” is a functional word in relationship, not a dysfunctional one.

Most of the time the exchange of “No” is disguised by automatic behaviour patterns from childhood and infancy, wherein we learn how not to be offensive to others when we are the one who says, “No.”

Tracing that back to where it’s an actual “No” – “No, I’m not going to do that” – becomes disguisable. We ask:  “Do you want to go to the movies?” And the other person says, “That sounds like a good idea.” The next question is, “What movie shall we go to?” Negotiating the movie means that someone has to say, “No, I don’t want to go to that movie.”

We have many ways of avoiding. For instance, we might say, “I would prefer…” But when we say, “No”, our message is that we are a separate person with separate attachment needs.

This gets confusing when we are dealing with children. We say “no” to kids without the subtlety, because they have to learn how to create reciprocal relationships with other people. Children just want what they want. We ask them, “Do you want to share your toys?” They say, “No,” and we say, “I think you should. There’s a benefit to sharing your toys.” As one of the children refuses to share, the other child cries. Mom and Dad intervene, and the event becomes an avoidance of the issue: we distract one of the children and give them something else so they don’t fight for the toys.

Learning to say, “No” is about peeling the onion of attachment down to the basics of reciprocal behaviour, which is based on appreciation for the other person, and trusting that the relationship is strong enough to allow, “No”.