Finding Freedom in Yes to No and Vice Versa


By: Brian Murray, IMH

“I used to spend so much time reacting and responding to everyone else that my life had no direction. Other people's lives, problems, and wants set the course for my life. Once I realized it was okay for me to think about and identify what I wanted, remarkable things began to take place in my life.” ― Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go: Hazelden Meditation Series

1 Corinthians 10:29
I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience?

How many times have you heard a young child when asked or told to do something respond with a rebellious "NO." Okay, lets take it to the next level, how many times have teenagers been asked or told to do something and they responded with a rebellious "NO." Okay, lets try this one more time, how many times has a grownup been asked or told to do something and they responded with a  boisterous "NO." Ironically these 3 answers have something in common and that is the person responding all have the ability to say "NO." On the other hand, that would mean that they may also have the ability to say "YES."

Sometimes, however, this is not so simple for everyone. If you can say "no" without feeling guilty, remorseful or having strong thoughts that maybe I am a bad person then you most likely have the ability to draw some personal limitations. Chances are those who are afraid to say no or have feelings of guilt, shame and remorse are playing life by a different set of internal rules. Those who have the ability to say or express themselves without remorse have a sense of freedom that allows them to do so. For others who do not feel this way and are not able to express themselves freely, there are some areas to look at that may shed some light on the subject.

Not having a sense of freedom and self expression can come from many different areas of our lives. Often feelings of lost freedom presented by guilt, shame or feeling bad about self expression is learned behavior. This stifled way of living creates the idea that a person must tip toe around others afraid that they are somehow responsible for other people's behavior. This leads to not being able to say things like "yes" to a simple request when a person really wants to say "no." The reason for this is the person who is not being truthful of what they really want to say or do based on the idea that if they choose otherwise then other people may become offended or react in an unpleasant way.

There are many underlying experiences that contribute to learning how this works. The following are examples of some possible situations that can contribute to going through the world in in fear of other people's reactions.

  • Growing up it was not permissible to talk about problems and feelings were not allowed to be expressed freely. This results in learning to not effectively express the self and leads to avoiding problems.
  • There was a lot of tension in the house growing up without any real arguments or talking things out were not allowed. Feelings or activities are minimized such as "big boys don't cry" and "real ladies don't act like that." This creates the belief that it is not okay to be ourselves and it's appropriate to be cut off by others.
  • Unrealistic expectations such as I must, should, ought or need to be perfect at some activity. This is about being removed from what is realistic and puts a person into an unrealistic perfectionism that is unattainable. This can also translate into the belief that perfection is what is expected and places unrealistic demands on others. This way of thinking crosses many relationship borders and is found beyond the family unit. Perception of being a failure often leads to feelings of shame and guilt.
  • Stop being so selfish. This thought pattern often leads to putting other people's needs ahead of your own. This is about putting yourself off to the point it begins to cause a great deal of stress or hardship. Internal feelings of resentment begin to build and often leads to anger and problems with relationships on many levels.

Identifying with these behavior patterns can ultimately lead to a person not getting their own needs met. It can lead to low self esteem and difficulty expressing what is important to others.

So what can you do about it? First of all begin to self examine and take a look at the self from a non-judgmental perspective. Awareness and acceptance are often the first step toward self improvement. The next step is to practice self forgiveness. This is instrumental in learning that it is okay for me to be me without worry or fear of what others are thinking or doing. Learning to have freedom of expression can be very liberating. It frees us from ourselves and the confinement of disabling learned patterns of thought. It allows us to be able to find comfort in letting “no” be “no” and “yes” being “yes.”

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